Tips For Your First Year

And now I will state the obvious: your first year is memorable. Whether you’re a TCK going to the field as an adult or this is your first time to live on foreign soil longer than a summer project, you will remember your first forever. Here is a bonus tip from my first year: do all that you can to avoid group flights. If you are with an agency that sends a herd of people together to the field, it’s mostly to remind you hell is real and what you’re doing is important. It’s also a secret test if you’re willing to pay the price. I’m convinced of this.

In all seriousness, you are crossing a line. To this day I think of my life as BC/AC. Before I moved to China and After I moved to China. When did I first go to China? Three years BC. When was my first niece born? Six years AC. Chances are, it will be the same for you. Your life will be marked by this year. With that in mind, I do have three tips for you:

1. Welcome to the emotional edges. Chances are you are going to experience more highs and lows this year than you normally do. For some, you will camp out on the high side feeling exhilarated, flooded with joy at the sights, sounds, and conversations. Or feel genuine awe and wonder at small miracles you used to take for granted. Electricity? A washing machine? The internet? A care package? Could life be any better?!

For others, I’m sorry to say, you might find this year being one of severe loneliness and disappointment in yourself, locals, teammates, and God.  You might be awash in hopeless over how big the task is and how little you are or in shock at things now that you can’t imagine will devastate you.

In agony, a person new to the field told me over the phone, “Amy, I just don’t think I can team with them. This is so unacceptable. I don’t know what to do.” I couldn’t image what her teammates were doing that stole her joy since she couldn’t wait to get to the field. She was undone by teammates drinking Coke at meals. U.N.D.O.N.E. by it. We returned to this conversation over and over throughout her first year and every time she was equally distressed by them.

But for many of you, you’ll be a mix of both. The highs are high, enjoy them. You are blessed to do what you do. But the lows are low. I wish I could spare you. When you feel them coming, don’t hide them out of shame. You’re normal. Get people praying for you and be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to be low. It’s not fun, but it’s okay.

2. Know you’re going to change. How can you not when the traffic is different, the views of women are unlike back home, even standing in line (hello, how different can it be? Um, very.) is unlike anything you could imagine. You might be exposed to poverty in ways that will ebb at the edges of your soul or live in a land that is so “beyond God” you don’t know where to start. You might see your home country in ways that make your heart beat with pride or make you feel shame and embarrassment and confusion.

Here’s the other thing about the ways you’ll change, you may not see the depth of it for years. Some changes will be small in terms of affecting who you are as a person. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things how you cross the street? No. But in other more significant ways, you might find you are no longer as in sync with your home culture. This call comes with blessing and loss, doesn’t it? So, for better or worse, you’re going to change and grow. As will your friendships, your marriage, and your parenting.

3. Enjoy! If you happen to be with cynical old-hands, please ignore their grumpiness. I admit, over the years it got harder and harder to be thrilled with new teammates reporting on using a squatty for the first time!!!! (The exclamations were them, definitely not me) down to every little detail. I get it. Your bladder was full, you were desperate, it smelled, urine came out, you lived. I’m very impressed.

This is what I’m talking about. Ignore me.

My first year was pre-internet, pre-Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Wechat, Skype. When I returned home for a few weeks after my first year, I brought with me five full photo albums with about 1,000 pictures (Okay, there were WAY more because I glued pictures into the front and back on the wasted blank pages.). I couldn’t wait to share my life with friends and family. I’ll never forget this comment:

We get it, you ate food.

Well now. But you don’t get how exciting pudding is from a care package! Or did you see how round those tortillas were I rolled? What, you don’t like a close up of the cooked eel?

Enjoy! Take pictures of whatever you want. Be excited over . . . everything. Be moved by how much bigger and amazing God is than you could have imagined. God said, “Taste and see that the Lord is good, happy is she who takes refuge in me.” Do.

If we were sitting down chatting over a cup of chai and you ask me what I’d suggest for the year, that’s what I’d have for you. Welcome to the emotional edges. Know you’re going to change. Enjoy!

Oh and we’re glad you’re here. Truly.

~~~

What do you think of these tips? What would you add?

Here are three more posts for those new to the field: M’Lynn reminded us of the realities of team and expectation those new to the field might have. Lauren gave first-year senders and goers the freedom to go slow. And Hannah gave insights for twenty-somethings.

This post is a repost from Velvet Ashes and the image designed by Karen Huber. Velvet Ashes is running a month-long series right now for folks new to the field, check it out.

Debriefing Resources

Debriefing

Thanks to the facebook followers of our A Life Overseas page we have a list of debriefing resource links. Please share any resources you have found helpful. We would love to bulk up the list with resources around the globe.

Other names for debriefing include: home assignment, re-entry counseling, member care, and processing for repatriation.

Christian Training Center International at The Inn (Franklin, North Carolina, USA)

Life Impact (various locations around the world)

Link Care Center (various locations around the world)

Mission Training International (Palmer Lake, Colorado, USA)

Missionary Health Institute (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

The Rest Initiative (Maitland, Florida, USA)

TEAM (various locations around the world)

Thrive, empowering global women (various locations around the world)

TRAIN International (Joplin, Missouri, USA)

The Well Member Care Center (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

ONLINE:

Member Care Radio

Expatriate Connection

BOOKS:

Re-entry: Making the Transition from Missions to Life at Home” by: Peter Jordan

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes” by: William Bridges

Trauma and Resilience” by: Schaefer and Schaefer

As Soon As I Fell: A Memoir” by: Kay Bruner

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As stated up top, if you have links to resources that could help in the area of debriefing, counseling for repatriation or re-entry, member care, processing for home assignment, or other related needs those living overseas might have, please share.  Thanks! Be well and take care, my friends.

Sink and a Dolphin Will Catch You

ocean

Though pixilated, I can see she is attentive. Her words come through clearly, even if the imaged is delayed. Our weekly Skype sessions have been a lifesaver during a very desperate time in my life. If you would have told me a year ago I would be seeing a counselor I would have rebuked you with all the masked insecurity and spiritualized pride I could muster. Oh, things have changed.

A few months ago I wrote a graphic letter to some friends, pleading for prayer. I told them, “I feel like I am trapped in a drowning car and I can’t get out.” They prayed. The events that led me to agree to weekly counseling happened so quick that I didn’t have a chance to protest. I am now very much pro-counseling.

During our most recent session I shared with my counselor about that plea. That as I have been meeting with her I feel like I am out of the car, but I am still weary, exhausted even, as I am treading water. I explained that some recent occurrences have felt like someone deliberately pushing my head under water for too long. I am gasping, sputtering, and disoriented. But now I have my head above water again, barely, as I have been facing the emotional, practical, and relational realities associated with each difficulty.

I thought she would be in awe of my superb analogy.  

Not fazed she said, “You know, sometimes I tell people they need to stop treading water.”

I balked, “Just quit? And drown?”

She said, “Not necessarily quit. But surrender… to God.”

There was silence as she let that sink in. Sink in – get it? Ha. Seriously though…

She then continued, “There is a difference between quitting and surrendering. Quitting is saying you are through and it is not worth the effort. Surrender is a willful placement of your whole trust in God.”

That felt like the sweetest rebuff I had ever received. If the Christian faith is anything it is trust in God. That is so basic! But it is a truth I need to come back to right now in my life: surrender.

I bit my tongue and didn’t blurt out my cheeky retort, “Why can’t I just walk on the water?”

Our session ended and I was encouraged to do some journaling as a follow up. As I wrote, my thoughts went back to the sarcastic remark I withheld.

Who knows? Maybe that is the solution God has for me. But I can’t know that until I stop treading water and surrender to Him.

Then an image popped into my mind of friends who told me about swimming with the dolphins on their honeymoon. I pictured myself surrendering and my body starting to sink when along came a dolphin to catch me and take me along to safety.

I smiled. Then the floodgates opened! Floodgates – get it? Ha. Seriously though…

At first the ideas trickled in, I was amused.

  • Walk on water
  • Dolphin
  • Helicopter

Then the flow of possibilities rushed over me and I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up!

  • Deep sea driver
  • Submarine
  • Swallowed by a big fish
  • Big wave pushes me to shore
  • Life preserver ring
  • Scuba gear appears
  • People in a boat rescue me
  • The sea splits in two and I walk out on dry land
  • The water is turned to wine and a an army of giants drinks the sea dry
  • He is floating beside me and waiting for me to stop flailing my arms so He can grab me
  • He is the water, like the Dead Sea, and I would float in Him if I would stop trying so hard

My listy brain would like to present these allegorical options to God as ways He can rescue me when I surrender. That is a superficial relationship of dictatorship, which I want no part of. So the final item on the list expresses my heart to God in this process of surrender.

  • NONE OF THE ABOVE … and that’s okay.

God is so much more creative and resourceful than my measly list of ideas. The main idea is: hope. This is a list of hope. As I surrender I have hope in the grace and goodness of God.

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Are you trapped in a drowning car? Are you tired of treading water? Might you need to surrender to God, once again? What would that look like in your life?

Final thought: If you feel you need counseling, even if you think you “should” have it all together, I highly recommend you prayerfully engage in seeking help. Peace.

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

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