I love advice. Good advice, of course. I love life hacks. I love wisdom. I love learning from people who’ve done something before. Some people need to make their own mistakes; I prefer to learn from others (and make mistakes in brand new areas).
To that end, I’ve been making a list of advice for myself as I walk through the first weeks of transitioning a family of six to the Middle East. These are the things I’m telling myself (and maybe if you’ve just moved overseas, you should tell yourself these things too).
1. Don’t worry about comparison shopping for now. Just buy the peanut butter.
The first time I went overseas, I lived with some frugal people who had lived overseas a long time. I can’t recall a conversation that didn’t include cost in some way: rising costs, new people being cheated, haggling. This led me to believe that cost was really important. In the long term, I definitely plan on paying a decent price for whatever I’m getting. But in the beginning when the peanut butter is $8 and you haven’t figured out where to find the cheaper stuff, just buy the peanut butter.
2. Your kids will regress. Expect it.
Potty training? Sleep habits? Doing chores without being asked? Your kids are going through a seismic shift. Expect them to be different and be as gentle as you can be. No three year old wants to wet her pants and no amount of asking why she did two inches away from a toilet will help. Kids regress. Expect it.
3. Just because your kids will regress, don’t lower your expectations to zero.
Yes, this is a hard time. Some kids won’t eat; others will eat too much. Some will vent their frustrations through disrespect; others will be mean to siblings. Kids will ride the roller coaster of emotions but this doesn’t mean to give in and give up. Require attention to one another. Meet at the table. Put screens away. Talk. Expect them to hurt and expect them to grow.
4. Drink water. More than you think.
You really are that dehydrated. Drink more water. Drink juice if you’re sick of the taste of water. Drink.
5. Do lots of fun stuff.
It’s hard to be new and not know what to do for fun. So try everything. You and your family will find the fun stuff that fits you. Here, people recommend shopping and big malls. Not my thing. But we’re still looking and trying a bunch of stuff that we wouldn’t try at home.
6. Transition is like a roller coaster: you are on something very big but your experience of it is very small.
Someone much wiser than I am said that once. When you are on stable ground, you can look up and see how big a roller coaster is and what ground it covers. Once you are on it, your experience is limited to the smallest possible reality. Transition is like that. Our family has done a big thing. It will have big impact on each of us. But in this new moment, our experience is very small. That’s ok. But it’s important to know that our experience is not reality.
7. You don’t have anything to prove.
Yes, at some summer in the future, after your body is accustomed to it, 105 degrees won’t feel so hot. That other long-term expat is trying to encourage you (always believe this, even if you suspect it’s not true). Right now it IS hot. So run your air conditioning. You don’t have anything to prove. Make your room cool enough to sleep. Or cool enough to sleep with a blanket on, if that’s what you need. You be your human self. You will adjust. You’ve got nothing to prove.
8. Listen, learn and wait.
Listening to others is a good idea. Be a beginner. Learn. In a year or two, reconsider what you’ve learned. What accepted wisdom can be turned on its head? In another country where we lived, we had a boss who chose a home for us in an area where expats hadn’t lived before. The common wisdom was that expats couldn’t or shouldn’t live there. The two and a half years I lived there were some of my happiest in community. I’m grateful he didn’t accept what he was told. But I’m also grateful that in these early days, I can lean in to the hard-won wisdom of others. Listen, learn, and wait.
9. Live more simply.
Don’t waste your time defining simple. Just live more simply. Your simple is going to be someone else’s luxurious. Someone else’s simple is going to look excessive to you. Live more simply but don’t spend all your energy living simply. Buy a good water filter so you aren’t sick to your stomach. Buy a good washing machine. Laundry by hand stinks, literally and figuratively. Maybe in your place, laundry by hand is all you’ve got. Hire a laundry washing compatriot and grow in your language skills while you scrub out the stink. Don’t be a hero over living simply.
10. Look up.
The other day I was out for a walk with my ten year old; we were on the way to look for a flat. I kept looking down at my feet, around at the cars, at my progress on Google maps. Finally I looked up. I looked up and saw brown hi-rises and billowing laundry and balconies, and I liked where I was a lot better than looking down at the trash and dust and Google map blue dot indicating where I was. Look up. See people (even if you can’t make eye contact). See trees (even if they are dusty). See flowers. See creative architecture. See the picturesque vegetable seller with vibrant eggplant and gorgeous tomatoes. See beauty. Look up.
Elizabeth Hill is currently adjusting to life in a mega-city in the Middle East, after living and loving in small-town Kentucky for the last six years. She and her husband of fourteen years have lived in three African countries and are excited to embark on this adventure in the Middle East. They have four children, including a four-month-old baby, who are riding the roller coaster of transition along with them. Elizabeth loves to paint, drink tea, read and take language lessons, especially when her children aren’t interrupting. She blogs when she can at takingshapeslowly.wordpress.