Consumer or Consumed?

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Like many of you, we are raising our children outside of their passport country.

Our two oldest daughters have returned to life in the United States. We are currently in Texas for a few months to be near our second-born as she navigates the transition and finds her place in a world that she hasn’t lived in for seven years.  As you can imagine, there are plenty of challenges and painful things to process. 

Our youngest five children have lived almost their entire lives outside of the Unites States of America, their passport country. Our Haitian born children identify themselves as Haitian-Americans without feeling that either country is their home. Our American born children identify themselves as American-Haitians without feeling that either country is their home.

Last weekend we needed to take our two sons shopping for shoes.  They only own sandals and we needed to go buy tennis-shoes for their first practice. For the first time in their lives they are playing on an organized YMCA soccer team. The excitement is palpable, although we figured out that they thought they were playing in a big lit-up stadium with thousands of fans, like on television. The reality of it being at a cruddy junior-high field without lights and only a dozen or so bored parents watching made it a little less epic than they originally thought it might be. How awesome would it be to live inside of the mind and reality of a kid that sees himself as David Beckham before he even walks onto a soccer field for the first time?  (Very.Awesome.Indeed.) Excuse me while I digress.

We entered the shoe store with our sons, ages 9 and 12, and began to search for the perfect shoe in their sizes. Our younger son spotted a pair he liked. He picked up the display shoe and said, “Oh this is a size 3. Do they have other sizes, Mom?” Behind the display there were dozens of boxes of shoes, but having never shopped for shoes in a bona-fide shoe store, he didn’t know the system.  “Yes buddy, these shoes behind the display are all different sizes, see here?” I replied.

We began trying shoes on together.  Our older son said, “Oh, they let you untie them? That’s so nice.”   A bit later our sons said, “Mom and Dad, these shoes cost so much!”  We said, “Well guys, these are pretty average prices for new shoes.”  They continued to marvel at the expense of shoes. Finally Noah picked up the display shoe of a pair of baby-size shoes. “Mom, you’re telling me that $84 for a pair of baby shoes is a normal price?!?”  That is when we realized they thought the prices on the signs were for one shoe.  “No guys, the price is for a pair of shoes.” – we explained.

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My husband and I made eye contact and engaged in long conversations that silently said, “Oh dear Lord, we are entertained and horrified by this all at once. What have we done?!?”

A few minutes later, our almost always-joyful older son began to act odd. “What is wrong buddy?” He couldn’t answer. He didn’t have the ability to identify what was wrong right then.  Later, when pressed, he said, “I don’t usually choose my shoes. They just come to Haiti.”  We realized he had a valid point. He is 12 years old but for the last 7 years I have been buying one pair of sturdy sandals on-line each year and they usually appear to him without much discussion at all, and certainly without entering a store. He was stressed out by the multiple choices and was shutting down, not able to make a decision anymore.

We love raising our kids in Haiti. There are so many things we can shield them from, not least of which is advertising and marketing aimed directly at them. There are huge benefits to them, but as parents we realize that we’ve not done enough to prepare our kids for the future.  If they are going to grow up (it seems like they insist upon this – which is a very large bummer) and leave our home they are going to need to be able to face choices, make decisions, participate in commerce, and understand a shoe store. We find it a tricky balance, teaching kids how to be wise and careful consumers, without teaching them to be overtly consumeristic. They need shoes. They don’t need to be sucked into the advertising vortex that sells them the “shoes will make you happy and more shoes will make you more happy” idea.

The shoe store is just the beginning of the  adapting and practicing they all need to do. We don’t think it is the biggest deal ever that they don’t know these things automatically, but we think it is important that we try to help them learn. Luckily, we have a few months in the USA to work on some of these things.

If you need us we’ll be at Famous Footwear, learning.

How do you strike the balance?  How do you teach a child that is exposed to one or two choices to be able to make a decision when hundreds of choices are offered? How do you teach your kids to shop while raising them in places where there aren’t many shopping options?  How important do you think this is? 

 

 

Tara Livesay works as a midwife apprentice in Port-au-Prince, Haiti 

blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay

 

Back to School, Internationally

Growing up in suburban Minneapolis, every first day of school was essentially the same. I knew the school, the teachers, the students. The school supplies in my backpack, all from Target, were familiar and reliable. I knew the date of the first day and it never changed at the last minute. I knew I would vomit, or at least feel sick, the day before, that combination of dread and excitement too much to handle with poise for a timid introvert.

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learning how to ride the bus to school in Minnesota

Now, sending my children off to their first day of school in the fall, I battle that same dread and excitement (no more vomiting though). One of my kids goes to her first day with a backpack and plastic bag overflowing with supplies, a water bottle cradled like a baby doll in her arms. She goes to the French school in Djibouti. The other two go to their first day of school with carry-on luggage and airplane tickets. They go to boarding school in Kenya.

The first day of school in Djibouti is a moving target and we aren’t always certain until the week before. Students and teachers are constantly in flux, hello new and goodbye old, and in the first week of classes my daughter will likely come home with an entirely updated list of school supplies (speaking of school supplies…we want to buy local but let’s face it, Crayola crayons actually color, cost less than $0.50/crayon, and don’t melt, Scotch tape actually sticks, Elmer’s glue sticks don’t shrivel and dry up before being opened. Some school supplies are purchased in the US.)

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lunch at school in Kenya

School choices are intensely personal and complex and I expect we will host challenging and engaging conversations about school choices and options and successes and mistakes here in the future, keep your eyes open for that. But…

…for now, since many of us are in the busy, chaotic throes of putting kids on planes or on buses or in carpools or walking shoes, busy packing lunches or snack boxes, filling water bottles, shopping for last minute school supplies, re-arriving in our host countries after a summer vacation…how about one quick question:

What school option(s) have you chosen for your family? Here is my answer:

Three different local French schools in Djibouti. A preschool in Somalia. Boarding school in Kenya. One year of American public French immersion school. Intermittent homeschool of history and English. A few weeks of preschool in France. Not necessarily in that order.

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goodbye to the goat on the first day of school in Djibouti

I’m curious and would love to hear how expatriates around the world decide to educate their children.

A word, a couple words (for those with constant changes, a short paragraph): how have you chosen to educate your children?

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, introverted development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

Not Hating Your Husband’s Ministry

We welcome Danielle Cevallos as our guest writer today. Her words come to us from Bangkok, Thailand where she and her beautiful family serve.

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Early in our marriage my husband and I did ministry alongside of one another. However, in the past 5 years, God has called my husband to something that has forced me to really look at how “we” do ministry.  Today he works with an organization that requires him to travel every month. He now trains and encourages national leaders. While it is amazing to see what God is doing all over the world, this has been the first season in our lives where we have not been side by side in ministry.

I would get frustrated that he got to go off into the world and do these awesome things, while I was at home. I wanted to be a part of the adventure and the awesome God things that he got to be part of.

What I didn’t realize at the time,

was that I already was.

I began praying that God would help me to know what ministry “together” looked like in this season in our lives. Here are some things that he gave me

Prayer

About a year ago, God began to  show me that this really is the answer to everything! Yes, God is sovereign. But, he has chosen to use our prayers to change things. To make things happen. When I began to pray specifically for my husband and his ministry, support raising, and the specific leaders that he was working with, my heart became considerably more involved in the work that was going on. I was able to encourage him, and lend a new kind of support that I am embarrassed to say, I had not been giving before.

Hold down the fort

My husband has always been helpful in our home. He enjoys taking our girls places, and working on things with them. He does dishes and folds laundry While he is gone, it is hard.  Early on, I used to let him know, in a no-so-subtle way, how hard it was.  Imagine how supported one might feel going off into the world knowing that your wife was at home, and super ticked off about it. I prayed hard for a heart that was willing and for the grace to make it through the days while he was gone. I thanked God and my husband for how awesome, present and invested he was while at home. Slowly God has begun to change my heart in this way.

Be ready and available

While there is not always an opportunity for us to work side by side, there are times when those opportunities do arise.  I have edited countless newsletters and emails. I have gone on coffee/dinner/support dates. I have travelled to India and worked with the women there. I have written blog posts.  I have worked part time, and as of late, have gotten a job in Bangkok so that we can get visas to live there. When it is needed, I try to be available and positive, for whatever he needs.

Give him time to decompress, talk, and relax

When my husband would come home from a trip I would immediately want to hand everything over to him. I learned that one way to support him was to give him some time when he got home. If that was a dinner out, a late morning in, a long conversation about the trip or a Starbucks, then I tried to give him that.  I want him to feel okay about leaving both before and after returning home. It isn’t always easy, but one more day, night or morning won’t kill me.

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Recently we moved to Bangkok so that my husband could be closer to the work God is doing in Asia. This has been the biggest way I have had to support his ministry thus far. God asked me to leave my life behind for this work. Perhaps the biggest thing that has helped me keep a right perspective is knowing that the same God who calls us, equips us. If he is the one calling my husband, and our family, then he will equip us, both on the front lines and on the home front.

What do your roles in ministry look like within your marriage? What has been helpful in keeping a good perspective on that?

Danielle Cevallos– Danielle Cevallos, missionary in Bangkok, Thailand. Believer in Jesus. Wife to a traveling missionary. Mother of two beautiful young ladies. Friend of amazing women. Southernized New Yorker. Carrie Underwood lover. Fountain Coke/Starbucks addict. Run-on sentence writer, and special educator.

blog: This Life I Live  Twitter: @d_cevallos

Helping your children stay in touch with family and friends when living abroad

Welcome back to Part III in our series on long distance relationships. If you missed them, here are links to Part I (Staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas) and Part II (Long distance relationships: Part and parcel of international living

If you are raising children in a country other than the one you grew up in, you’ve probably wrestled with this question of how to best help your children stay in touch with your family and friends back in your home country.

I know my own parents grappled with this as they country-hopped around the world for 21 years while my siblings and I were growing up. And now that I’m the parent of (soon to be two) “third culture kids” myself, it’s something my husband and I are increasingly puzzling over. In our case the picture gets even more complicated than it was for my own parents. Mike and I currently live in Laos, but because he is American and I am Australian our children are dual citizens and we have two sets of grandparents located on opposite sides of the world. Our children are still very young, but I’m already worried that they’ll struggle even more than I did to define where home is and what it means to them.

Much more so than adults who were raised in one place and then choose to move abroad later in life, children raised outside their passport culture tend to feel split between two worlds, or more. During adolescence and early adulthood (and sometimes later) these third culture kids can struggle mightily to figure out who they really are and where they belong.

If children raised abroad are going to struggle with identity issues at some point (and in my experience, most do) you will not be able to forestall that completely no matter what actions you take to help them stay connected with family and friends “back home”. However, helping children build these important relationships and stay connected to their home culture in other ways can help make such identity struggles less acute and prolonged. If you’re parenting children raised abroad, helping them stay connected to a passport country “home base” is an important thing to spend time and money doing.

I’m going to leave aside the broader issue of connecting with a home culture for now and just focus on some tips for helping children stay connected with important people back home. I’ll be talking mostly about grandparents and immediate family here, but this also applies to key friendship figures in your life and in the life of your children.

Again, I don’t present these tips as a “how to” manual. I also recognize that some of them could prove financially prohibitive for some families. Instead, I’m sharing a list of ideas that I hope will prove to be food for thought and will spark discussion in your own family. As you read through them, be thinking about which of these you’re already doing, what else might work for you, and what you could add to this list.

2b1.     Visit when you can: This goes both ways. It’s nearly as important for grandparents etc to visit the field as it is for grandchildren to visit relatives “at home”. This helps grandkids feel that their grandparents have seen and understand “their” world. It also allows you to spend time together while the children are relaxed and at home, rather than when they are out of their element and busy meeting the myriad demands that come with holidays or home leave. Of course, it’s important for children to visit their “home” country and everyone there as well. We visited Australia either annually or every two years while I was growing up, and that did a lot to help us feel connected to places and people there.

 2.     Help contribute to the cost of travel: My parents have a policy that’s still in effect that they’ll pay half of a return air-ticket to Australia for all of us (children, spouses, grandchildren) every year.  This has helped us travel to spend time in Australia at times when we would have decided against it for financial reasons. This could go the other way, too. If you have parents or relatives that would love to visit but can’t afford to, consider whether you could contribute to the cost of their travel. Encourage other friends and family members to help subsidize travel instead of buying other birthday or Christmas presents.

 2h3.     Blog: If you live far away from friends and family, think about keeping a family blog on which you post pictures of yourself and the children and share little stories about your lives. If you’re worried about privacy you can easily set it up so that only approved people can log in and view it. This allows grandparents and extended family to easily keep up with photos and the like.

 4.     Send paper copies of photographs in both directions: If you have grandchildren overseas, send their parents photographs of yourself (especially photos of you with your grandchild). Ask the parents to show these photos to the children, or even display them where children can see them. When your grandchildren visit (or you visit them) think about making a scrapbook or photo-book full of pictures of things you’ve done together during the visit. This will help the children remember all the fun you’ve had. If you’re the one raising children overseas send photos and videos home as you can, especially if you don’t blog. There are few things that mean more to grandparents and siblings than photos of their grandchildren or nieces/nephews.

 5.     Send letter, postcards, cards, or packages: Children love to get mail of their own – send your grandkids letters, cards, photos, or packages addressed to them by post occasionally. Packages are especially exciting, and several small items usually go over better than packages containing one big item. Also consider sending some of your favorite children’s books. If you have a copy of the same book on your end, you might even be able to read it to them via Skype at some point. You can also take a photo (of yourself or something they love) and have it made into a puzzle. Send them the puzzle to put together. Finally, if they’re old enough to have their own email account, you can email them as well. From the other side, if you’re the parent of children living overseas, help your kids draw pictures or write short letters or post-cards to send to their grandparents.

 6.     Involve children in some Skype calls: Make sure you involve your children in some (but not all) of your Skype or phone calls home. Schedule these “all family” calls for times when your kids are not likely to be too tired or hungry. Resist any temptation to make the calls extra long to make up for preceding weeks of no contact (you don’t want to turn these calls into infrequent extended chores that children learn to dread). Use a webcam whenever internet bandwidth allows. Even if your computer doesn’t have one build in, external webcams are cheap, easy to set up, and add enormously to the quality of the contact (if grandparents don’t have webcams on their end, buy them one for Christmas and install it during a home visit). Consider making these calls a regular part of your routine (e.g., every second Saturday morning).

2jFor those on the home front, recognize that children often freeze up or struggle to talk via telephone or computer. Help them by asking a couple (not dozens) of open-ended questions that require the children to give more than a simple yes or no answer. Give children time to come up with those answers after you ask a question – don’t rush in too fast to fill pauses or silence, children may just be struggling to find some words. And try not to take it personally if your grandchild doesn’t seem interested in talking to you on a particular call. Kids are going to be kids at times, whether they’re on a special bi-monthly call with you or not.

Again, I know we’re just scratching the surface of this topic. But, again, this post is already plenty long enough.

Help us out by leaving a comment and adding to this list.
We’d love to hear more ideas about what works for you and your family!

That’s the end of our series on long distance relationships (for now, anyway). Thanks for reading along! If you’re in a dating or marriage long distance relationship, don’t forget to hop on over to Modern Love Long Distance and check us out.

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

Staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas

I’d be willing to bet that most of you reading this post are in a long distance relationship of some sort or another. At some point in their careers, most development workers and missionaries find themselves living far away from friends and family. Some even find themselves enduring long stints apart from those they’re dating or married to. Learning how to live with some of your loved ones half a country (or a world) away is an essential skill for coping well with international living.

This post kicks off a three-part series on long distance relationships that will run in the next week on A Life Overseas.

Today we’ll look at staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas. In my experience, this is usually foundational to thriving while living abroad. Especially early in their careers, missionaries and humanitarian workers can be much more intentional and energetic about forging new relationships with people in their host countries than they are about maintaining good relationships with those back home. I know some may disagree with me on this point, but I believe that doing this is a mistake. For many, allowing important relational networks back home to significantly degrade will, over time, compromise their health, happiness, and effectiveness in their work.

Monday’s post will focus on long distance romantic relationships, and I’ll tell you about a new website I’m launching that day called Modern Love Long Distance. This site will provide quality resources and tools for those in long distance relationships. I’ve been working on this behind the scenes for a year and I’m really excited to see this project go live!

Next Wednesday we’ll discuss helping children stay connected with family and friends back home while living abroad.

So without further ado, let’s get to it …

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Staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas

When you live in a country other than the one you would have considered home throughout your childhood, chances are that part of you will always feel divided. No matter how eagerly you embrace learning about your new culture and forging new relationships, those new friends will probably never completely replace the friends and family you’ve left behind.

Nor should they. I don’t use the word should very often, but I’m about to now. As uncomfortable as it can be to straddle two worlds, missionaries and development workers should work to maintain important relationships “back home” even as they’re working to integrate into a “new home”.

This is perhaps easier said than done. It can be tough to stay meaningfully connected to family and friends back home when you’re living half a world away. There’s no doubt that Skype and other technological wonders have made things easier in recent years, but myriad tricky questions remain surrounding the issue of how to stay in touch with parents and siblings, and how to help children (if you have any) grow up feeling meaningfully connected to their relatives.

Questions like: What are my parents/relatives expectations and hopes about the frequency, type, and duration of contact we’ll have? What are mine? How can I help my children feel connected to my home culture and their overseas relatives? What friends am I hoping to stay in contact with? How? How can we share parts of our life on the field with those back home in ways that they’ll understand and appreciate? How can we demonstrate sincere interest in their lives when our daily realities often differ dramatically?

As I’ll share in more detail on Monday, I have a lot of experience trying to answer these questions. However, if you were hoping for a definitive how-to manual on this topic, I’m sorry. One thing that all that experience has taught me is that there is no one-size fits all on this topic. There is no one “right” set of answers. And what might work well for you in one phase of life may not work at all well five years later.

Figuring out how you want to (and can) stay connected with your family and friends long distance is a continual process of reflection, dialogue, and adjustment. It’s also, often, learning to live with the feeling that nothing you’re doing on this front is working perfectly.

With that disclaimer, here are some thoughts on ways to stay connected with family and friends.

1.     Realize and accept that many of your friends (and even your family) back home will not be proactive about staying in touch with you when you move overseas. Many people, especially those who haven’t lived overseas themselves, are not good at reaching out to distant friends. Some of your closest friends won’t email or call you regularly, read your blog, or keep up with all of your newsletters. Try not to take this too personally or get too hurt. Just accept that if you want to stay in contact with key family and friends you will have to initiate most of the contact and make the lion’s share of the effort to keep these relationships going.

2.     Help those back home “see” your life: When your friends and family back home talk about their lives, you’ll largely be able to imagine what they’re discussing. When you move overseas, your friends and family won’t have that luxury. Try to help them “see” your life by through photos, stories, and short videos. Consider starting a blog. This will allow people to dip into your story when they have time and energy and will save you from sending lots of individual “update” emails. If you’re worried about privacy you can always program your blog so that only approved viewers can log in. If you’re not a blogger, think about sending out a monthly newsletter to a mailing list of friends and family. (Hint, keep these newsletters to 1000 words or less and include one or two stories and some photos.)

3.     Talk: Emails, blogs, newsletters and the like are great, but actually talking to someone is important too. When it comes to family or others you want to stay closely connected to, you might find that it works to catch up via Skype or phone “when you have time”. If, however, you find that you never “have time” and months are slipping past between calls, think about how often you would ideally like to talk to various family members or important friends. Then try to work out a rough schedule. For example, you may want to plan to talk to your parents weekly or twice a month. As a side benefit, setting up a routine like this can also help manage your family’s expectations about how often and when you’ll get to talk. Finally, don’t forget to give close friends the occasional call. You might only talk once every four to six months, but those infrequent chats can go a long way towards maintaining your relationship in between visits.

4.     Visit: Nothing beats face-to-face time for building relationships. Travelling back and forth from many places in this world is still a time-consuming and expensive prospect. However, if you live overseas and relationships back home are important to you, budgeting time and money to go home regularly is a must (and frankly, I don’t think that “once every four years”, although regular, is often enough). Also, encourage family and friends to visit you if they can. You’ll be able to spend more relaxed quality time with them when you’re “at home” and in your own routine without all the distractions that come with vacations or home leave. They’ll also leave feeling much more connected to your life overseas.

I know I’ve just scratched the surface with this topic, but I don’t want to drown you with a 50-page post. Instead, I’d love to hear from you about this.

What do you do to stay connected with family and friends?
Get specific – we’d all love to learn from your tips, tricks, and stories.

Join us back here on Monday to learn more about Modern Love Long Distance and how it’ll serve the ever-growing number of us who spend significant time apart from their significant “other”.

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Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

Holiday Grace

Tomorrow is the 4th of July – Independence Day in the United States and a national holiday. It’s a day that causes laughter and cross national joking in expatriate communities where those from Britain and the United States work and play side by side; where nation building dissolves and friendships build strong.

I grew up knowing Holiday Grace. Grace that seemed shaken together, running over, doled out in extra measure during holidays celebrated far away from family and passport country.

Because holidays were times when my parents, native to Massachusetts where picture-book houses and white picket fences abound, would feel the tug of  home and family. Home and family would grab the heart and squeeze with a vice-like grip of unbelonging and a loud ‘What am I doing here, six thousand miles from all that is familiar?”

Holidays were the times when it was too easy to use the words “God forsaken” knowing that God does not forsake. Holidays were the times when it was easy to feel ‘foreign’. 

There was the time when my mom felt desperately lonely in a small city with no other English speakers, no other expatriates. The large house we lived in was surrounded on four sides by mosques, the Call to Prayer loud in the morning hours and lonely in the evening. It was Christmas time and her heart throbbed with a longing for Christmas at home in New England. Her mind was far away with real Christmas trees, snowy evenings, and family – but her body was in a small town in Pakistan. Holiday Grace came when missionaries from a town two hours away made the long trek on a dusty, partially unpaved road to surprise our family on Christmas eve.  She had gone up to the flat roof and was looking over the city, tears of longing and pity welling in her eyes, when she heard the ever familiar sounds of “Joy to the World.” She thought it was angels heard from the rooftops. And in many ways she was correct. These friends brought Holiday Grace to a young woman’s aching heart as they sat and drank hot cocoa and laughed together until late in the evening.

There was the time when we had no sugar, no flour, and little butter at Christmas. But somehow Holiday Grace abounded and our kitchen was full of spicy goodness. There were Thanksgiving meals at an international boarding school, where those who were not from the United States celebrated hard and graciously. And there were the Eid celebrations when we were invited to join the feasts of our Muslim friends, experiencing the Holiday Grace of acceptance from our adopted country.

Each holiday seemed to be met with this extra grace, Holiday Grace.

I went on to raise a family overseas and began experiencing Holiday Grace as an adult. But it was in our fourth year living in Cairo, Egypt that Holiday Grace came in a way I could never have imagined, much less orchestrated.

It was text-book unmerited favor surrounding me.

It was the 4th of July, Independence Day for the United States, and six months prior I had given birth to our fourth child. The summer was well upon us, the heat broken by trips to the swimming pool at the International School. My husband was in full-time Arabic language study and many of our friends had left for either their passport countries or holiday spots in Egypt. With four kids I was quickly running out of ideas for fun. I was in survival mode.

Added to this, my maternal grandmother had died a couple of weeks before. I felt the absence of family acutely. I  heard about the funeral through letters, but missed family so much that it throbbed.

Then came the holiday – the 4th of July.

4th of july 2Many of us who have lived overseas know that embassies celebrate their holidays well, no matter what country. The parties put on by U.S. Embassies were legendary. Free food, entertainment, swimming, games, face-painting, and raffles from large companies that donated prizes like nights in hotels, and free airline tickets to the lucky ticket holders were all there in abundance.

For a time my sadness was in a welcome reprieve.

Accompanying our family were some students  my husband had befriended from the U.S. They were facing inevitable culture shock and when he told them about the “Free party on the 4th!” several of them jumped at the chance to come. They were ready to head back to “real Cairo” where fuul beans, busy streets and the charm of the Middle East flourished,  when they asked my husband if he wanted their raffle tickets. Realizing that he would lose nothing, he said yes and so we had in our possession six tickets to holiday prizes instead of two.

And the raffle started. In what could only be Holiday Grace – I won. Not one prize, but two. The first was a breakfast for two at a large 5-star hotel in the city.

The second? A round trip ticket to anywhere in the United States that I cared to go. Anywhere. That meant a trip to see Family!

I can still remember walking up to the staged area to get my ticket, the feeling of  God’s arms enveloping me like the warmth of the Cairo summer. The missed funeral, the absence of close relatives to celebrate our growing family unit, the lonely ache for people who shared our family history – all that had crushed me during the weeks before faded into Grace.

This was my Holiday Grace. And I would never forget it.

What is your experience with holidays? What extra measure of Grace have you felt during holidays overseas?

Marilyn Gardner – grew up in Pakistan and as an adult lived in Pakistan and Egypt for 10 years. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. Find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries and on Twitter@marilyngard

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Tales of the Awkward

 

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If you have ever left your birth-culture and spent any length of time in a host or second culture, you have likely come to realize that cultural norms and differences in customs can take some getting used to; a learning curve is to be expected. For some of us, the curve is less like a curve and more like… oh, I don’t know … a cliff.

Things as simple as how we greet one another can cause us to break into a cold sweat, even in a tropical environment.

Non-touchy people such as myself need to adjust accordingly to the traditions and rituals of the culture in which they hope to live, work, and build friendships.  

Because it does not appear I will be leaving anytime soon, and because of my desire to be culturally sensitive,  I have been forced to become more comfortable with the Haitian way of kissing (or bumping) cheeks upon greeting. I’d never go so far as to say that it feels natural to me, but I roll with it as best I can.

Every so often I might run into a person that does a two cheek greeting. I’m not going to lie, all that back and forth really throws me for a loop.  I’ve never quite understood the rules of engagement because sometimes people full on kiss your cheek and other times they simply touch cheek to cheek. It is sort of like a cheek high-five. I don’t know when you are supposed to do one and when you are supposed to do the other.  It is quite vexing, I know that much.

Just when I thought I had made the appropriate adjustments, I met a new group. Maybe you have met them? The three kisses crowd.

I give the side-eye to this group, because – THREE kisses? 

That just seems excessive.

Gives me vertigo.

I’ve been doing some charting and graphing and I can confirm that greetings and goodbyes take one billion times longer … but to heck with that observation, what is time anyway?  

One afternoon my teenage daughter’s boyfriend was over visiting her.  He comes from the kiss-the-cheek-crowd so I always attempt to get with the program and follow the rules.  

He was sitting down on the floor with my daughter when I leaned down to greet him.  I fully expected him to remain stationary. I didn’t know he was going to move and I completely misjudged and overshot the distance between us as I approached for my culturally appropriate greeting.  

In one terribly awkward slow-motion moment I missed his cheek, instead kissing below his cheek in the region commonly referred to as, the neck 

Horrid.  

I wanted the earth to swallow me whole.

Embarrassed, I quickly exited the room.  For the next several hours I hoped he didn’t think I meant to kiss his neck.

Creepy mom much?

According to Wikipedia:

A kiss is a common gesture of greeting, and at times a kiss is expected. Throughout all cultures people greet one another as a sign of recognition, affection, friendship and reverence. While hand shakes, hugs, bows, nods and nose rubbing are all acceptable greetings, the most common greeting is a kiss, or kisses, on the cheek. Cheek kissing is “a ritual or social gesture to indicate friendship, perform a greeting, to confer congratulations, to comfort someone, or to show respect.”[1] Cheek kissing is most common in Europe and Latin America and has become a standard greeting in Southern Europe.

While cheek kissing is a common greeting in many cultures, each country has a unique way of kissing. In Russia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro the Netherlands and Egypt it is customary to “kiss three times, on alternate cheeks.”[2] Italians usually kiss twice in a greeting and in Mexico and Belgium only one kiss is necessary. In the Galapagos women kiss on the right cheek only[3] and in Oman it is not unusual for men to kiss one another on the nose after a handshake.[4] French culture accepts a number of ways to greet depending on the region. Two kisses are most common throughout all of France but in Provence three kisses are given and in Nantes four are exchanged.[5]

 

More than a year has passed now, and I fear that teenage boys are still walking around guarding their necks from me .

~                ~               ~

Have you had your own awkward cultural mess-up moment?   Let’s hear it. 

 

Tara Livesay works as a midwife apprentice in Port-au-Prince, Haiti 

blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay

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My Kid Can Cuss in Two Languages

When the new normal cuts against your soul like a cheese grater on your knuckles, what do you do? Do you lift those bloody knuckles and fight back? Or do you woefully bandage them, let them heal, and wait for the next time the scraping starts again?

We live in Bolivia. We are a bi-lingual family: Spanish and English. Eleven years in a place gives you cool skills like that. Did you know that part of language acquisition means learning naughty words? Bi-lingual means double the fun in this area.

My child comes to me with tears brimming. A foul name from a sibling caused the tears. We do the parent thing. We discuss it. We know our child, the one with the silver tongue, has struggled, been bullied, been picked on. We know the defenses have gone up and one survival technique has been to learn rough speech.

It’s only fair to blame Bolivia for this child’s special knack, right? The romantic tongue of this Latin people makes allowances for explicit descriptions and colorful expletives. I should expect complete cultural assimilation from my children, right? Oh that blessed blame game… like those songs that never end, they just go on and on my friend…

My kid can cuss in two languages. Not an ideal bumper sticker. Although, it could be plastered right next to the one about honor roll. My kid is on the honor roll, too. Somehow that balance doesn’t soothe me, though.

Can I be grateful that our children face real issues under our care? Grateful for the cheese grater? It shall not be said they lived a sheltered life. No indeed.

I was about 11 years old when I had to get stitches because I sliced my finger cutting a head of cabbage. I remember my mom had to drag my younger brothers and sisters with us to Doctor Brown’s office. I sat on the tall bench and screamed as the little ones looked on with wide eyes. Plastered stiff against the wall in that tiny room the whole lot of them maintained perfect silence as the needle went in and out of my tiny index finger. Still have the scar. Still one of my favorite childhood memories. No joke.

Even though blood was everywhere, I was in pain, and the numbing shots did not help, I felt a goodness about me. With all those kids around me I knew I was not alone. I knew I would make it through. And it did.

So my kids fight the habits, and sometimes scrape their knuckles. Oh sure, the guilt still drives me to grind my teeth and bite my nails. Questions buzz around like a mosquitoes in my ear when I am trying to sleep. The prayers turn accusatory with a hint of pitiful begging.

Then the scars on the knuckles of my own soul remind me that our humanity is one of our most becoming features. I dare to hope that amidst the pain, goodness can be felt surrounding us.

———————————————-

You can share your cheese grater story below.  Please know, you are not alone.

What compromises do you feel you have had to make for the sake of “the call”?

When faced with a moral conflict how do you decide your response?

Who surrounds you, reminding you of the good in life, when things get rough?

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

The F Word

The end of the school year brings loads of changes, some nearly universal and some unique to people with international identities. Julie Martinez, working and writing in Cambodia shares a personal story and the hopes of a family and a son in transition.

Freaked out.  Frustrated.  Fear.  Failure.  These are some of the F words that we have been slinging around the house lately.  We have also been slinging around the F word Frittata, but that is a different story.  We are in the process of transition and it is creating moments of drama and tension.  My son who was born in Honduras and has lived in five different countries is now returning to America to attend university and emotions are running high.

This is a boy who has grown up in airports.  He can navigate any airport anywhere.  From the time that he was 3 months old he has been a flying across the world. I am afraid that when he remembers his childhood he will tell stories of terrible airplane food and rushing through airport gates laden with carry-ons.  Or will he talk about a lifetime of good-byes?  Of constantly downsizing our lives to fit into two suitcases?

This is a boy who has lived an unconventional life.

Tanzania 01-2005 057He knows how to barter in local markets like an Arab trader.  He can hop on a motorcycle fearlessly and navigate unknown roads in third world countries.  He is unique.  He has been chased by elephants; climbed volcanoes; and has stood where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic.  He has seen the world and much of it on the road less traveled and all before he was 18.

 

So, how does he transition to the USA?  How does he navigate the world of fraternities, finals, football, fast food, and other Americanisms?  My son is a third culture kid which means he is not fully American nor has he taken on the culture of his host country.  He has created a third culture—a culture unique to him.  He travels to America as a hidden immigrant.  One who speaks the language – looks the part – but is missing social cues and cultural meanings.

He knows this and he is fearful—fearful of failure and is freaked out.  His F word is Fear.  Fear is paralyzing, sends people into tailspins.  Fear is seemingly depriving him of oxygen and causing him to make questionable decisions.  My F word, on the other hand, is frustration.  I am frustrated because I can’t help him and truthfully, he won’t let me which also frustrates me.  He will be 18 soon and naturally wants to navigate life on his own.  And the reality is I can’t fully help him—he sees the world through a different lens than I do and he is going to have to figure it out. IMG_1799

Living overseas is wonderful, but there are prices to be paid and they are paid by all.  God calls us and He equips us . . . but there are aspects of this cross-cultural life that aren’t easy nor are there easy answers.  I wish I could wrap up this post with a three-fold solution.  There isn’t one.  The only thing that I can offer is that maybe it is time for a different word.  Not an F word, but a G word and that is grace.  That God will cover my son in His grace and that God in His grace and mercy will lead him and that His grace will carry him in the hard places and through the mistakes and the hard-times that are inevitable.

What kinds of G words carry you through your F seasons? In other words, we would love to hear how grace meets you in weakness and uncertainty.

Julie T. Martinez, Development Director N. Cambodia

People For Care & Learning, follow her blog at People for Care

Fourteen Things Expat Dads Want To Tell Expat Dads

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Last week my husband changed the oil on our car. Then he helped our seven-year old daughter sew a dress because I am worthless with anything remotely craft related. Then the two of them went outside and shot water bottles with a BB gun. This is one seriously rockin’ dad.

Over the years I have met other seriously rockin’ dads and for Father’s Day, I wanted to write about being a father overseas. Alas…I’m not one. So I enlisted the words and wisdom of wise, fun, creative, deep, spiritual dads, men I admire for even more than their dad-ing. These are men committed to serving God and their local communities but I am convinced that one of the greatest gifts they are giving the world is their children, because of how they have lived and loved and parented.

They have over 50 years cumulative experience in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In honor and celebration of these dads and with the aim of encouraging and inspiring other dads, here are fourteen things expatriate dads do well, in their own words (condensed and combined by me).

 

  1. Raising kids well and spending time with them is more important than ministry and work. One dad phrased it like this, “We were committed to never sacrifice our kids on some ‘altar’ of the ‘great work’ or ‘high calling’ that we were pursuing.”
  2. If possible, don’t work too much. And when the work is done, it is done, time to play.
  3. Commit to taking time off. One dad took his family on a day trip every two weeks to get out of the crushing cement city life.
  4. Enjoy and explore the country together. For one dad this means the beach and hiking in volcanoes and trying new restaurants, crawling around caves.
  5. If something is lacking, create what you can. Be the football coach, or start the team. Pay a little extra for access to a swimming pool. Build a bunny cage. One dad spoke of the lack of outdoor spaces for bikes and play in the city. He makes sure to get his family to grass and trees on a regular basis.
  6. Build habits and memories that transport well. Pancake Fridays. A prayer box filled with photos of family and friends from across the world, prayed through at every lunch. Family scripture memory. One dad is a ‘Tree.’ He forms a shape with his body and the kids scramble up like moneys. He claims this is possible in any country on the planet, even in airports.dad3
  7. Be honest about struggles. One dad shared how valuable it is to share burdens vulnerably with his kids so they can learn and grow as well. Let them know about dad’s work and calling and as possible, help them enter it.
  8. Know each child individually. Their friends, their experiences, their reactions. And respond accordingly.
  9. Celebrate and encourage the unique gifts of your kids and the place you live. One dad takes his son big game hunting and encourages his archery skills (2nd place at the Africa Regional Field Archery Championships!)
  10. Help kids process being a Third Culture Kid. Talk about where they come from and where they are, both the positives and negatives (with emphasis on the positives).
  11. Be wise about immersing them in the local culture and wise about when it is time for distance. One dad spoke of his children’s fluency in the local language. Another spoke of realizing, when his daughter was about to hurl a rock at kids who were teasing her, how much emotional pain she was experiencing and that he needed to step in.
  12. Be flexible about education options. Within one family, four children utilized four different educational opportunities.
  13. Encourage courage. One dad taught his children to use local buses by 10-12 years old. But also draw appropriate boundaries for your context. This same dad said no taxi rides without at least one male teenager or an adult.
  14. Be willing to make hard choices, and to stand by them with faith and joy. One dad said, “We gave up much and our kids gave up much to serve as we did in Central Asia. But we gave up Central Asia rather than leave our kids resentful when that became necessary.”
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sometimes dad scares us

Dads, what have you learned over your years? Moms and kids, how are you going to celebrate the dads among you this Father’s Day?

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

You Owe Me Grace

Friends,

I am 30 weeks and a gazillion eons pregnant. My belly is the size of Canada and my brain is the size of a mustard seed (and, trust me, this mustard seed isn’t up to moving any mountains). Pregnancy and childbirth – it’s a Serious Design Flaw, if you ask me. And it’s not like there aren’t better systems out there on the market. Kangaroos, for example, have a perfectly reasonable reproductive system in place.

(Please note, if you’re tempted to mention Eve, original sin, or anything to do with apples in the comments, don’t. I’m in no mood.)

So I’m currently hanging out with our toddler in the land of ice cream and honey (also known as Australia) awaiting the birth of our second child. Meanwhile my husband, Mike, is starting a new job in Laos, overseeing an in-country move, finding a house, buying a car, etc. He won’t be here for another two months.

I was going to write something about pregnancy and cross-cultural living but, well, mustard seed. Instead, I’m going to share an unpublished piece I wrote shortly after we moved to Laos called You Owe Me Grace. This piece still makes me laugh and think. I hope you enjoy it.

Dom Lennox Head 28.4.13-7

You Owe Me Grace

Ever since my husband, Mike, and I moved to Laos three months ago, perhaps the single word that has best described life is, “eventful”. Few weekends, however, have been as eventful as this last one. This weekend was the first time we bought a puppy home, the first time we cooked dinner in our new place, the first day we took possession of a golf cart as our household vehicle, and the first time we crashed it.

The town where we live, Luang Prabang, is small enough to navigate without a car. We’re still debating whether we’ll get a motorcycle or make do with our feet and bicycles, but while we figure it out we’ve decided to take our landlord up on her offer to use the golf cart that was parked on the property when we first arrived.

I’d like to be able to explain how this afternoon’s accident happened, but I’m not entirely sure. I’ve seen Mike safely navigate four wheel drive trucks backwards down dirt tracks barely wide enough to fit a bicycle (though, come to think of it, how we got stuck down that track in the first place could be the subject of a whole other article, and I’ll tell you right now it certainly wasn’t my fault). I’ve been Mike’s passenger on the back of motorcycles and in cars that he has capably piloted on three continents. I’d say without hesitating that he is a better driver than I am.

Except, apparently, when it comes to golf carts.

The golf cart’s not hard. I mean, sure, it doesn’t have lights, or turn signals, or power steering, or brakes that work well. You can’t see out the plastic windshield at the front very well because it’s all scratched up. And you do have to come in the house on an angle or you’ll bottom out. But, still, the thing is significantly smaller than the width of our driveway, which is why I remain puzzled as to how exactly Mike managed to ramp the curb while turning into the house and then drive full speed into our gate.

As “full speed” here was approximately the velocity of a decrepit ride-on lawnmower, no one was hurt – unless you count the abdominal strain undoubtedly experienced by the three neighborhood men standing nearby during their subsequent laughing fit. These men didn’t even try to pretend that it wasn’t the funniest thing they’d seen all month, and I can’t say I blame them. How often do you get to see two foreigners, carrying three kilos of tomatoes and drinking iced coffee out of a plastic bag, pilot a golf cart into a stationary object?

“I think it’s OK,” I said to Mike after we came to a standstill, laughing a little myself and having no clue whether what I’d just said was in any way true.

I hopped out and stared at the front of the golf cart. It was leaking a black, oily-looking, fluid.

Mike was considerably less amused than the rest of us.

“I don’t think it’s OK,” he said, grim, as he got out to survey the damage. “If that’s oil, then it’s definitely not OK.”

The neighborhood men had wandered over to take a closer look.

Bo di,” I said to them, shrugging.

No, they agreed with my rudimentary Lao, “cannot do”. The men went on to say many other things, too, but goodness knows what they were. The options are endless, really. They could have been offering to help us push the cart into the driveway, or they could have been inquiring as to whether we had the brains God gave a water buffalo. Even if I could speak Lao fluently, however, I’m still not sure I would have been able to understand them given that they were still laughing hysterically during the entire one-way exchange.

As Mike and the neighborhood men maneuvered the cart into the driveway I totted the tomatoes, destined for that night’s adventure in “make your own pasta sauce”, into the house. I was chopping away by the time Mike came in.

“I can’t believe I did that,” he said.

“Honey, it’s really OK,” I said. “No one was hurt. It can be fixed. It’s not a big deal.”

“I know,” Mike said, sighing. “But I feel stupid.”

“Yeah,” I said supportively. “I can see why.”

This didn’t quite make him laugh, but it came close.

“You’re taking this much better than I am,” he said. “That’s really good.”

I thought this last statement over while I did the rest of the chopping, and 36 tomatoes later I’d realized something that I’m not at all proud of.

By far the largest part of me genuinely isn’t that fussed about the golf cart. Accidents happen. The money and hassle that will be involved in getting it fixed are annoying, sure, but they are completely overshadowed by the much more important fact that no one was hurt.

But I also realized that there is a small and grubby part of me that can be secretly glad when things like this happen to Mike – a part of me that claps its hands and makes a notation on a mental list of, “silly things that Mike has done in the year and a half since we’ve gotten married”. This list has things on it like: parking ticket in LA (two), leaving a bank card in an ATM, and… driving the golf cart into the gate.

I’m not sure whether it makes it better or worse that I’m not cataloging these incidents because I’m secretly more frustrated than I act when they happen. No, what is happening is much more self-centered than mere repression. The small part of me that rubs its hands in glee at moments like these is happy because I know, I just know, that one of these days I’m going to do something dumb on a scale so epic that Mike cannot yet fathom it. I’m going to book non-refundable international airtickets for the wrong day, or write off a vehicle considerably more expensive than the golf cart, or give the wrong bank account number when I’m trying to transfer money internationally.

Oh, wait, I’ve already done that last one.

The point is, part of me is glad to tell Mike that a dented golf cart is no big deal because I’m hoping – no, expecting – that when I do this next silly thing Mike will smile serenely and tell me everything is fine. Because he will, after all, owe me grace.

Somehow I don’t think that’s exactly the spirit of what Jesus had in mind in Mark 12:31 when he instructed us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, even if my actions in being unruffled by golf cart mishaps seem to check the box.

Oh well, I’m sure Mike will give me more opportunities in the months and years to come to get my attitude and my actions in a decent place at the same time. And who knows, I may even give him some. After all, there’s a first time for everything.

How do you handle these sorts of mishaps (which can happen a lot when you’re living overseas)?

Have you ever caught yourself feeling “owed” grace? How do you combat that?

Lisa and Mike overlooking Luang Prabang Laos

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

Fundraising

The summer heat of Oklahoma turned our dingy, grey duplex into an oven. I shuffled papers around, crouched over my bulging belly on the crusty, rust colored shag carpet. Expectancy within, the birth of our third child. Expectancy all around, our impending move to Bolivia. The two events would occur in the fall, just weeks from each other, respectively. The papers contained names and addresses.

We finished our mission school classes and counted down to our launch. Consumed with the tasks of unhooking from our natal culture, we took a step of faith. Our most recent correspondence announced to the world we had quit our jobs. We would derive our sustenance from the generous financial gifts people sent to us. Per our instruction in missions school, we took strategic steps to divide our contacts in lists for effective communication.

crusty rust colored shag carlet and paper piles

‘List A’ : people who had given money in the past or who were sure to give in the near future.

‘List B’ : folks who needed to stay informed whether they gave or not, and the praying people.

‘List C’ : all the rest.

My two chubby toddlers took sweaty naps while I sorted the print-outs into three piles.

With my brain fully engaged in the act of classifications, a simple voice whispered at the corner of my soul, “I am your only list.” My fingers flew, filing on the floor, as I knelt before the homage to our own proficiency. I breathed out a distracted, “Yes, Lord, you are on the top of ‘List A’”.  In penitence to effectiveness, my sorting sped up.

Then the grace, oh the amazing grace of my God, came in thicker than the squelching humidity sticking to my skin. This time the voice flooded every corner of my heart, “I AM your only list.”

A a parent, I change my tone if I have to repeat myself. I recognized the tone. I let the papers slip from my hands. Palms turned upwards, I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. I repented.

That pertinent conversation, rubbing at my impertinence, happened in 2001. Have I really lived by those words over a decade? When panic attacks, I go back to those words. As I scramble to reduce, cut back, and suck it all in so we can make it, these words bring comfort.  In seasons of abundance and in times of drought I rely, by faith, on my Only Source. My God. Through tears of joy, fear, or sorrow, I can say with Paul,

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

We trade independence and live in dependency. I cringe when I have to answer, “No, we are not with an organization, we are ‘independent’ missionaries.” For I am NOT independent! I am completely and utterly dependent upon my God. I take faltering steps, trusting Him to show us the path.

He overrides my lists. He requires I draw close to Him all the time. He points out His unique provision. Through other people, by creative ideas, and with undeniable miracles, He proves to me He is my only list.

————————————————

listThis piece comes as a response to the many messages, emails, and comments from newbie missionaries who read A Life Overseas.

There are millions of ways to get money as a missionary.

Let’s take up a collection right now. What?! Not a collection of money, silly. A collection of resources in the comment section below. Don’t be shy! What methods have you employed to finance your passion? My kooky list is included…

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage