Some of you are packing your bags, and with that, packing up a life overseas. There is so much that goes into this – from the practical, like tickets and packing, to the reflecting and the goodbyes. Today we hear from a blogger/writer Becca Garber who has been overseas with the military. As she packs up her bags she lets us get a glimpse into her life and raising small children overseas. You can read more about Becca at the end of the post.
I live in a little town in Sicily, Italy, because my husband is stationed here with the U.S. military. There are about 5,000 Americans here, and most are here for about three years. You would think that a military base overseas would be a close-knit community, and for many individuals it is exactly that.
However, one of the confessions I hear most often from friends and acquaintances is that they – or someone they know – feel very isolated. The list of reasons for their isolation is as varied and complicated as they individual. They miss the community they left, they didn’t chose to move here, or they feel like they are living in a fishbowl in base housing. For those of us that live in the surrounding Sicilian towns, we face further barriers because of language and cultural barriers with our neighbors and a lack of public community spaces.
Becoming comfortable with an isolated, insulated life is not how we were meant to live. I believe strongly that we should live in community, that we should go outside frequently, that we should know our neighbors, that we should welcome them into our homes (a lot! all the time! standing invitation!), that we should cook for them, that we should accept their food, that we should be open and nonjudgmental and communicative and truthful even if we don’t like them.
Even if we can’t speak their language.
The person I’m aspiring to emulate in all of this is, of course, Jesus, who hung out with everyone (saints and sinners) everywhere (temples and wells, open fields and street corners). He came to love and live with people, and I think we are hardwired as humans to need and love and crave human interaction, support, and community.
If you feel isolated, if you want to live in community, the only person who is going to change that is you.
When my young family and I moved to Sicily three years ago, we were warmly welcomed into a wonderful community of Christians, and that helped us to turn around and return the favor to other newcomers. Here are a few things I am glad we did to build our community and avoid isolation in Sicily. (And then I’ll share some things I wish I’d done.)
Things I am glad we did
- We invited people into our home regularly for meals, Bible study, game nights, book club, play dates, birthday parties, holidays, and anything we could think of. As a general goal, we had someone in our home at least once a week for at least one of these reasons. People love to see inside other people’s homes. People don’t mind the scattered toys and dirty floors. If they do, they are probably learning — just like I am — to get over it and to enjoy the real, honest person who was brave enough to invite them in.
- We attended religious services (in our case, the base chapel) regularly, even though we didn’t always like it. If we were in town, we went to chapel, even with visitors. What we didn’t like — the music, the nursery — we tried to quietly contribute to and improve, at least for a season.
- I got very involved in a women’s Bible study; that became “my thing.” Maybe because they offered free childcare? I’m not ashamed to admit it! Either way, those women became my best friends during our time overseas.
- We vacationed with another family. The first time, they invited us to join them on a trip to northern Italy; the second time we invited them to rent a house on the beach with us. Both of these trips were messy at times, but ultimately so much more fun than going by ourselves.
- I met up at the market each week with a friend. We had a standing agreement to buy our vegetables together at 9am on Wednesdays. This kept us both accountable to go to the market in our town, a key part of Sicilian life.
- Because our family was so far away, we invited our friends for holiday meals. I’ve talked on my blog about how I love to fill every seat around our huge farmhouse table.
- I invited other moms to go on adventures with me for the day, like to a nearby town, or to ride a tour train with our kids. Or to go on a hike with their dog if they don’t have kids!
- I invited myself over. A LOT.
Things I wish we’d done
- I wish I had gotten my kids involved in the local culture in some way (preschool, sports, even a regular Italian babysitter). That contact is more for me than for my children, because they will be too young to remember any Italian or maybe anything about Sicily. But those contacts with Italy would have helped me so much. I would have had more Italian acquaintances, and I might even have had some real Italian friends. I would also have learned more about holidays, family structure, and food.
- I wish I had taken Italian lessons. I got books but barely studied them. I knew I needed to just bite the bullet, spend the money, and get a tutor for a few months to launch my understanding. But I never did.
- I wish we had sought counseling when we needed it for our marriage or our parenting. There were resources through our church, but we never took advantage of them. Sometimes you just need an outside perspective.
- Lastly and most importantly, I wish I had invited people over sooner, not just after I got to know them pretty well. The best place to get to know someone is usually over a meal, even if the meal is peanut butter and jelly with both of your kids in a messy kitchen.
Think about the place where you live right now. What will you regret not doing after you leave? What were your expectations when you arrived? How can you make them happen?
Parenting and marriage are hard work, especially so far from home. You need people and you were designed for community.
Read more on Becca’s blog, where she writes about living in the shadow of a Sicilian medieval castle with her husband (a veterinarian in the military) and two young children. Becca loves living in Italy, reading with her children, blood oranges, bluegrass concerts, ICU nursing, knitting, and that all-too-brief period of time every night between her kids’ bedtime and her own. One day she hopes to write a novel, live on a farm, work as a nurse in another culture, and maybe – if she’s really brave – have more kids.
This post originally appeared in Becca’s personal blog and has been adapted for ALOS. Picture credit http://beccagarber.com/