After Moving Season

by Ellen Bragdon

It’s September again. I’m back in Southeast Asia, and that means rainy season, so my umbrella better be in my purse at all times. I’ve stubbornly put out my fall decorations, though this place has never seen “fall,” and I’ve just paid $7 for a small head of Australian broccoli.

In June, another expat on Facebook posted, “It’s PCS (permanent change of station) season again. Thanos just snapped his fingers… and they’re gone.”

We’ve been doing this expat thing for only 2 1/2 years, and I can already count up on both hands the number of friends that we’ve made and have moved on. This summer was particularly bad for our family on the lost friends spectrum. A lot of the families that arrived when we did moved on in June. They were the ones that had power of medical attorney for our kids. They were the ones that had our extra house keys. Those relationships formed an important background of support for us. We knew they were there if we needed them.

We spent 6 weeks in the U.S. this summer soaking up the free Dr. Pepper refills, the piles of queso and chips, and the green space and playgrounds. I was ready to return to my own bed and my own space (and to a diet where I would hopefully lose the 5 lb. I gained in the U.S.) But I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel to be back in a place where I’d be reminded that some precious people weren’t going to be a part of my daily life anymore.

I said to myself that I needed to put on my big girl pants, take a deep breath, and dive in again to the endless work of making friends. I’m still saying that to myself. Saying it doesn’t make it any less hard to do, though. Some days, I’d rather curl up in my yoga pants on my couch with a book and decide to make do with friends from 18th century British classics.

“I don’t like making friends with people who are leaving.” A friend said this recently, and it got me thinking. I don’t like it, either. The problem is that if you’re an expat, your friendship pool just got really small if you’re only going to make friends with people that probably won’t leave. And even if you’ve decided to have as many local friends as possible, they can leave, too.

The leaving rate is much, much higher in expat life than it was in my old life in the U.S. Even there, though, it happens regularly. One of the families that we were closest to moved away the year before we came overseas. I’ve been texting with friends with unstable work situations in the U.S., and I’ve realized that some of them might be gone when we return. I’ve learned that the only guarantee that I’m going to get is that friends will come and go.

Here’s what I’ve decided at this point in my expat journey:

If you count the cost, the cost will often be too high. So don’t count it. Be open to love and community anyway.

A few weeks ago, I noticed another expat in our community was selling some books on our group chat, and it looked like she shared my tastes. We met, and now our oldest sons have new friends, and I have a regular coffee date. But I had to text those difficult words, “Would you like to go to coffee?”, not knowing what the answer would be.

She told me today that she strongly felt God telling her to be open to making a new friend. I (probably) only have a year left in this country, and she knows that, but she isn’t counting the cost. I thanked her for that, and I thanked God for reminding me that He will provide the relationships He thinks I need.

Another brave family invited us out for lunch after church. They saw that our family was a part of their regular routine, and they recognized their need for new friends as this year begins. We said yes, and now we have friends to go to lunch with, and they now know about a new Bible study close to them to try out.

There are valuable and beautiful relationships out there to be had, but we have to open ourselves to them. I don’t always feel strong enough to try, but I’m going pray for the strength I need. The alternative doesn’t look so great to me.

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Ellen Bragdon lives with her husband and 3 sons in Manila, Philippines. She spends her days homeschooling, searching for imported Dr. Pepper, sweating, and discovering new varieties of Asian food. You can find her at www.suburbansagagoesglobal.blogspot.com.

The Five People Who Shape You the Most

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn)

Soak in that for a minute. Think it through. Is it true?

For you personally?

For everyone?

For me it is one of those brilliantly profound and profoundly frustrating statements.

It makes sense. A lot of sense. So much sense that a piece of me instinctively wants it to be wrong — a feeling which increases in intensity the more I hear it. I have a visceral reaction to anything so quotable it shows up everywhere but that’s the world we live in isn’t it?

A world of instant cliches.

I’ve pondered this quote though and I wonder if it applies in the same way for people like you and me. You know . . . the cross-cultural types. Help me out because I’m curious to know if this is just me or if it goes with the territory.

Here is my dilemma. I don’t know who I spend the most time with. I literally do not have an answer for who those five people would be. I’m like a TCK trying to tell you where he is from.

Even if I could identify the top five right now (simply based on time spent together) they would be completely different from my five three years ago . . . and three years before that . . . and three before that.

My life moves in rhythms that naturally divide my closest friendships into sections of time and geography. I have a BFF at every port but I have never seen any of them in the same room (which makes me think that maybe they are all actually the same person . . . or Batman).

I love that part of my life. I really do.

I love that I can travel almost anywhere in the world and catch up with an old friend. I love the “hello agains”. I love the picking up where we left off as if we never left off at all. I love that the only indicator of time passed is our growing kids. I love the reminiscing about the seasons when we did spend most of our time together and I even love the falsely hopeful farewells.

“Come visit us.”

“Oh we will . . . one of these days.”

I also love that I’m building more of those connections right where we are . . . in this season.

I love talking work stuff and figuring out life problems. I love wrestling through the challenges of the transition that never ends with newbies, stayers and goers. I love bumbling through cross-cultural things with other bumblers and I love deep, heartfelt, sincere conversations that lean heavily on sign-language and Google Translate.

But five?

Just five?

In one place?

Can’t do it.

I could narrow it down though, to the five that I HAVE spent the most time with. The five who have impacted me the most. The five who would go anywhere and do anything for me and know that I would do the same.

They are the five people that I WOULD spend the most time with . . . if we all lived in the same country . . . at the same time . . . and they weren’t too busy fighting the Joker.

This cross-cultural life is anything but average but if I can be the average of my global list of five guys, I’ll be in good shape.

How about you?

Do you know your five? Are they all in one place or spread out?

 

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