I’ve lived overseas during three formative times in my life: as a young wife in Karaganda, Kazakhstan; as a mother of young children in Calcutta, India; and now as a mother of two teens and a tween in Kathmandu, Nepal. Here are a few of the more important lessons I’ve learned:
- Lean into community – As an American, I value my independence and self-sufficiency far too much and have learned the hard way that relationships are much more important, especially for surviving and thriving in a difficult overseas environment. The Brazilian/Nepali community that we have joined here in Kathmandu welcomed us even before we arrived by finding us a home in the same housing complex and providing temporary housing for us until we could get our home ready. They have taught me so much about what it means to care for each other as an extended family on a level that many Americans can only dream about after watching movies like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” I’m still learning how to ask for help when I need it, and to be willing to make myself vulnerable by seeking relationships, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.
- Pay attention to my margins – When we write, we leave nice margins on our paper to keep it neat and easy to read, and also to allow for any notes or corrections that might need to be made. In my daily life I am also learning to keep wider margins so that I have the emotional room for changes or corrections that need to be made. I have narrow margins when I am exhausted, or too busy, or worried about my family, or spending too much time escaping from life instead of building relationships. When my margins are narrow, I find that unexpected challenges are much harder to face. Then my family starts asking me why I’m so upset that the power went off earlier than expected, or I can’t find a favorite food anymore, or various other situations that happen regularly here. When I begin to see that my margins are too narrow, I have to step back and take the time to widen them by getting more rest physically, emotionally and spiritually. It does me (and my family) no good to try to keep powering through. I also am trying to keep a regular day of rest so that my margins can stay wider.
- Be flexible and keep low expectations – I have learned how to adapt in ways I never expected when we lived in the US. We currently use an electric coil in a bucket to heat water for “bucket baths”. It was something we did 20+ years ago in Kazakhstan when there was no hot water, and it is coming in handy again while it is difficult to obtain gas to heat our showers. And since the power is off up to 11 hours a day here, we have inverters to keep some lights, the internet (crucial) and certain outlets going. We also put our coffee into a thermos to keep it hot all day rather than expecting to be able to use the microwave to heat a cup whenever we want it. We figure out back up options or other ways to do things that need to be done. Regardless, I still struggle with adapting to new challenges, especially when my margins are too narrow, but that’s when I try to remember to go back to the first lesson and lean into my community.
Guest author: Lori Gerred
Photo credit: Lori Gerred, View from the rooftop
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