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.