Transition is just the name of the game for expats (short for expatriates, someone living in a different county). I have been told you’re the journey goes something like adjusting to a new place, surviving a new place, thriving for a short time, then preparing to transition out again. Most of the global workers in our sending organization are on the field for four years, and home for one. This is to raise funds for the next term, but also to breathe. Specifically, the work of missions-based expats can easily lead to exhaustion and burn out. That’s whole series of posts in and of itself.
Today is June 20, 2020. It’s our sixth wedding anniversary. It’s also a Saturday morning, so I’m basking in the alone time Mike gives me on Saturdays. Praise God. I share the date because I often write a post and share it weeks or months later. It’s good for context. We are about 10 weeks from transitioning back to America for a short time. My heart longs for home, but also knows I’m sitting in my home. It’s an odd feeling.
As part of caring for our mental and emotional health, our organization sent an email with reflection questions. They are meant to guide the processing we walk through as we adjust to change, the newness and oldness of “home.” To me, the guiding thoughts jump out as posts for this blog. It allows me to process and tell our story at the same time.
The first guiding question is “Describe a significant event, accomplishment, or learning experience from this past term.”
First, just getting on the plane and moving here was a significant event. Leaving with a four-month-old, 13 suitcases and dreams of grander was fun, exciting and new. Living it out proved difficult. The biggest accomplishment is that we didn’t go home!
Within our first week to 10 days I think I asked (or maybe loudly proclaimed), “WHAT WERE WE THINKING?!” In the first month, I casually researched plane tickets home. Oops.
In all seriousness, though, it was very, very hard. Not only was the inevitable culture shock coming in strong, but we also had recently gone through some major life changes: becoming parents and losing a parent. We moved in September 2018. Eli was born in April and Mike’s mother Jackie passed away from cancer in May. There was a lot working against us, and landing while still grieving certainly added the extent of culture shock.
When we hit the one-month mark, I remember thinking, “Twenty-three more months…twenty-three more months…” That lasted for almost the first year. Now, I’m counting weeks and it’s because I can’t imagine leaving!
The second major accomplishment was learning a little (like sedikit, sedikit – the cute way to say little little…means I basically know nothing!) Bahasa Indonesia. Many people here speak a little English. Lots of signs are also in English. But, when you’re in the baking aisle of the grocery store buying staple pantry items, flour, baking soda, baking powder, powdered sugar and corn starch look strikingly similar. I could do a whole post on language blunders!
I am nowhere near fluent in my Bahasa, but I can at least get around and hold a basic conversation. Eli even knows a few words.
The learning experiences are never ending. As a southern, white, American middle-ish class young woman raised traveling to a MSLM majority nation on the other side of the world, I should always be learning. Cultural taboos like never using your left hand to greet someone. Even the oddity of smiling to a man on the street: strangers (especially women) just don’t do that here.
Indonesians LOVE babies. It’s totally normal for a complete stranger to come up to Eli and pinch or rub his cheeks, germs be damned. That was hard at first. Do I tense up and say, “No, please don’t do that?” Do I just walk away from the situation? Honestly, I just kind of judge each scenario. Well, not that we live in the time of Covid-19, no one touches me or Eli. Prior to Covid-19, I just prayed a little prayer of protection. I’ve actually made a couple Mom friends because they stopped me in the mall to see Eli. A smile and a prayer against germs goes a really long way.
There are many, many other wonderful things I learned during this term, but I think I’ll stop there for now. Some of them, I know, are too personal to share. I should process them with God. Stay tuned for three to four more parts to this Expat series.
As always, thanks for reading.