New Girl

by Laura Parker on August 8, 2014

The following post is one I have been re-living as of late, as we re-enter living in SE Asia after a two year stint in the States (original post is here). The whole family is thrust constantly into those awkward situations of being the new kids on the block, and I’m reminded of how hard it is to live that reality. So, for you new-to-a-situation missionaries, I get it. It’s tough, but hang in there, time will eventually erase the new. And for you long-termers, open up a little. We all know goodbyes suck and maybe you’ll have to say them to the new ones, too, (and I know you’re tired of the millions you’ve said so far) but that doesn’t mean the relationship doesn’t have immense value.

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She answered my questions with the minimums –one sentence or two at the most. And, try as I might, she kept responding to my best-friendly with no leading comments of her own, checking her phone, obviously occupied with people not right in front of her. And then she delivered the ultimate subtle-shut-down; she asked no questions of me, the New Girl, at all. 

And so I busied myself with watching Ava play, and I tried not to take the social rejection too seriously.  I tried not to think about all the questions I’d like to ask her about this new place I’ve landed, and I ignored the loneliness of isolation, again, that started to creep in.  I told myself that the tears I blinked back were irrational at best, and that this woman sharing my space had probably just had a bad morning.  I reminded myself that she couldn’t have known that we Parkers had been waiting all week for this chance to interact with other expat moms and kidsShe couldn’t have understood how much hope we had put in this morning.

And I get it, I do.  She’s been here for years, not months. And her plate is full already–with activities and friendships and ministry and kids. I was there, honestly, just six months ago in a quaint mountain town in Colorado.  I was struggling to pursue the friendships I already had, and spotting new moms at the park found me a bit less eager to exchange numbers for fear that I wouldn’t, actually, have the time to call, after all.

But, this week I tasted New Girl, and I am still choking on the bitter. I tried to connect and fit in to this culture of other expat missionary moms, and I found that maybe I’m more square-peg than I thought.  I was reminded that white faces don’t automatically erase gulfs of culture and generation, personality and beliefs.

And I know that this is a season for me as New Girl.  And I know that, perhaps, eventually, I’ll be the one logging years, instead of months.  Maybe one day, I’ll be the girl with more answers than questions on this piece of foreign soil. But, I pray that when that day arrives, I’ll keep enough margin in my schedule and in my heart to speak vulnerable. To ask questions.  And to get the New Girl’s number.

And then make the time to call it.

*****

Okay, be honest. On a scale of 1 – 10 (10 being the epitome of friendliness), how open are you to building new friendships with those that have just landed in your area? The newbies or the younger ones or the short-termers– are you subconsciously shutting down relationships before they begin?

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About Laura Parker

Living on three continents and moving 15 times in 15 years of marriage, Laura is no stranger to transition. Recently living in SE Asia with her family, Laura now serves as the VP of a counter-trafficking organization which her husband began, The Exodus Road. Laura is the co-founder and editor here at A Life Overseas and writes at her blog, http://www.LauraParkerWrites.com.
  • Dalaina May

    Just yes. Not even one month in and shocked by the lack of interest from the rest of the expat community here. We’ve had one dinner invite that was also a meeting with the people in charge of us so I don’t know if it counted. Had several rejections of play dates. It’s incredibly disheartening especially because I see my kids so lonely and craving relationships. I could handle it for myself – I’ve got skype and facebook, but my sons are just stuck until someone decides that they are worth knowing. Here’s to hoping that it looks very different for both of us in 6 more months.

    • Carin

      Be patient Dalaina, you will connect with someone and that someone will have a network of people to connect you with.

      • Dalaina May

        Oh, I know. This is our second post, and I get that it takes times. But. It seems like this particular place is so much less welcoming than the last one we were in. And I just don’t see how it got to be “normal” here. When I was the person 5 years of experience & a big workload & more friends than I needed, I didn’t ignore the new people regardless of whether or not I expected them to be my new best friend. It’s just… rude. And unkind. And hurtful. And unnecessary. A phone number exchange and a follow up call or a play date or a dinner invite is not a huge commitment, and not doing so is really ridiculous no matter how much someone has on their plates.

  • Carin

    This is so true Laura!! I have been the new girl and now I am not….and as we are getting ready to leave this field and go to a new one, I am now the one who doesn’t engage the new girl…The new ones keep coming, but I am in transition and am thinking of the good-byes I will be making and the new I will have to learn to embrace. I apologize to the new ones coming in.

  • Trevor Watson

    Do find this site so very interesting. Thank-you to all those that welcome new folks, answer all their questions, show them around and give them time.Perhaps their example is the reason we welcome others and the lack of it the reason we don’t. Thank-you Laura for the reminder that every relationship is important. When we pour out of the fulness of our vessel we do not know what treasure we are making room for.

  • Richelle Wright

    It is an interesting question, Laura. Because if you ask me how open I am, on your scale I’d say I’m a 9.5. If you ask me how good I am as a confirmed introvert at initiating relationships, I’d say I’m a 2.5 or so – partly because often the thought doesn’t even cross my mind because I’m lost in my own very busy world and partly because it is a scary and unnatural thing for me to reach out and initiate.

    Of course, that’s no excuse. I’m fortunate in that I’ve got several extrovert kids and an extrovert husband who often times do it for me. One of the things I’ve found I can do and do well (my teacher/helper side takes over and it isn’t so scary) is take new folks grocery shopping, show them around town, invite them for dinner (either to come to my house or take them to a restaurant), take them a meal… or cookies… or doughnuts… especially those first few days after they arrive. I need to work on continuing to invest after those initial weeks… I’m not so good at that.

    I also think some “types” are easier for me to reach out to – singles or couples I find very easy. Sometimes, families are a little more difficult. You’d think that would be easy with as many kids as I have, but sometimes others families aren’t so excited about dealing with my whole gang… I’ve often wondered if they’ve feared that I’d expect a return invitation and my family is a lot of work… And I have to battle to the point of exhaustion against myself if I’m to show grace to a new person who comes convinced they know it all. Last term I was burn pretty badly that last year by a couple of short term individuals.

    Yet… that’s no excuse… as you so kindly remind us with this post today. And in not too many months, I’ll be in that place again. I can’t say I’m looking forward to being a newbie all over. Hopefully, I’ve learned… and grown… and changed…

  • Kristin Tabor

    Thank you for not ever letting me feel like the new girl when you were there Laura. Wish I could have been sitting next to you, at least being the new girls together.

  • Julia

    Such a challenging topic, as I am now going through a period of mourning and isolation, even though we’ve been in Cambodia for 2 years. But there was a “mass exodus” (!) of many people and families in our close community in the last few months and I feel so alone and dreading “starting over.” We all kind of joke that the fist question you ask new expats is, “How long are you staying?” but there is some seriousness to it. I think I am a very open person, but honestly, if someone is only staying a short amount of time (e.g. less than a year) I have a hard time investing fully in that relationship because it’s too much to handle emotionally!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Hi Julia. Where are you in Cambodia? I’m in Phnom Penh and would love to meet you. We came 2 years ago too. And I’ve dreaded the mass exoduses as well. But I just hate to hear that you feel so isolated. Even if you’re not in the city, we can have an email correspondence. . .
      When I’d been here about a year I definitely had the thought that I can’t be friends with non-permanent people. Since then I’ve adjusted my mindset a bit, and I figure that as long as I have a few friends who at least plan on staying longer term, then I can open my heart to other shorter term people, and enjoy them for who they are, for the time I have with them. Although I did have 2 really rough goodbyes this May, and I was angry at the Universe about them.
      Anyway, point is, nice to meet you on the internet and would love to meet in person. 🙂

  • anonymous today

    When I was young my family moved several times. (just the economy of that time) Then I married a foreigner and moved to his country for a few years. I was so tired of losing friends that at one point I said I wouldn’t do it any more. I would not reach out, try to make friends, only to lose them. But God changed my heart on that point. I try to make the most of the time together, knowing I might learn something new, or they may learn something and we might both be encouraged. Now, on the field for over a year, single, alone, I look with anticipation for people wanting to make some kind of connection. I have met many people, mostly ones that I will never see or hear from again after they leave this place. Sometimes I feel more lonely after they leave than I did before I met them. I don’t hear from folks back home very much either. (or not enough for ME, being alone) But overall I find the loneliness a reason to cling to the Lord, and He always shows up to comfort me, or teach me. Just like this post arriving on my lonely day. Thank you for being honest about being lonely.

  • I don’t know! I hope I do well with welcoming others in, but I know that I come across differently to others than I think I do.

    We’re both new and old these days. We’ve been on the field almost 13 years, but only one year in a place with any kind of expat community. We were welcomed in here beautifully, and since we’ve come (in just one year!) three more couples/families have arrived. We’re trying to be part of the welcome for them, too.

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    Hmmmmm. This is very challenging. I would not say I ignore new people – but I for sure for sure don’t pursue them. I guess I would give myself a 5 right now, maybe even a 4. I’ve done better at times but am just finishing a big task up and have been on “shut out” mode for the last year. Probably time to do better. Haiti is a revolving door of people because we are so close to the USA, it would be impossible to count the friends we’ve met that have come and gone — I do know that some part of me feels like, “If you stay a year, then I’ll invest” — not saying that is right, but it is honest.

  • tattooed missionary

    -1? I have always been an introvert. I do not connect well with others and yet the paradox of being in another counrty blows my mind. I dont have any issues with the locals. It is when I get reconnected again with other peeps from the United States do I go so far inward…and when I meet and greet expats on the field I am cautious. Basically because they are the short termers with the grandiose ideas. So I patienly listen answer and move on. Expats do not define my friendliness it is a connection that has to go much deeper…much inline with the calling. So leave me in the village of my home and let me work. My friends in the states know and understand. If there is a need to minister I listen to God and go for it. I am an awkward kid though close to 45 years old. That is where my brokeness is. And that is where grace is poured out..
    It is a wait and see process…

  • I’m back in my homeland, so I’m not overseas. Everyone speaks English, but for me, the new part is that I’ve just landed a new job and I am the new girl at work. I’m learning a whole new job role in a whole new field of work, and I feel totally out of my element! Everyone has about 11-30 years of experience. It’s like learning a whole new language and I feel like a foreigner AND a toddler, all at the same time. Thanks for writing this post! It encourages me to know that I’m not alone, even in varying “new” experiences.

  • I can completely relate to this blog. I am a fairly new missionary living in El Salvador. I have been here for 8 months now and plan on staying more long-term since I recently just married a Salvadoran man. I am still waiting to not be the “New Girl” anymore. I hate that I continually feel like the outsider. Living overseas has probably been the most isolated I have ever felt. I am still trying to form relationships with the locals, but building relationships overseas seems to be so much more difficult than in the states.

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