20 Things No One Told You About Moving Overseas

One of the more popular comments we get from people about living overseas is “You are so lucky! You are living my dream! What an incredible way to live!”. They’re right, it’s pretty darn amazing. When we made the decision to move to the Philippines, we knew there would be issues, inconveniences, and life would be far from perfect, but all that was glazed over by the (mostly self-imposed) promise of adventure and life-altering experiences in store. At about six months, the rose colored glasses began to come off, and reality set in. While venting with a fellow foreigner who has been here for several years on a rough day, we asked, “why didn’t you warn us about this?”, and his reply was, “I knew if I told you, you probably wouldn’t come!”. Awesome. Now I know that people probably don’t intentionally withhold information, a lot of it can be chalked up to amnesia from years of not knowing otherwise, and perhaps there is a bit fiendish pleasure of seeing others go through the same struggles we faced when fresh off the plane. Then it’s labeled as “a learning experience”. All that said, forget the adventure, forget the warm weather and the lure of a far off land for a moment, and just take this advice. After talking to countless missionaries and foreigners over the last few years, here are 20 things no one will tell you about moving overseas:

1. You will love fast food, even if you didn’t before. We rarely ate at McDonald’s in the States, but here, it just tastes like home. I have several friends who never stepped foot in a Starbucks until they moved overseas. Food is familiarity, something we all need once in a while. As bomb diggety as the local food is, we all need a fatty burger and a latte sometimes.

Oh yes...you will be
Oh yes…you will be “Lovin’It”

2. No matter how “easy” it is on paper to start a business, get a visa, make a major purchase, or start a “government approved” ministry, government bureaucracy and red tape runs deep. Multiple sources gave us similar timelines for achieving these things, but when we finally got them wrapped up, months after our projections, the response from others was, “wow, that was really fast!”. So, taking twice as long as expected is “really fast”.

3. You will not become a different person. You will not be super person. You will grow and change, but dont expect to climb off the plane and be instantly a new improved you. This is a biggie. I think on short term trips, people are more willing to step out of those comfort zones and stretch themselves, since there is a “now or never” mentality. If you weren’t serving or involved at home, chances are, you won’t serve overseas. If you weren’t an evangelist at home, you will not magically transform once you clear customs. And it’s OK. Missions and ministry takes all forms, the body needs all parts to function. Find your niche, and do YOUR best. However, this is not an excuse for inactivity. Since time is more infinite, and tomorrow is always a possibility, it’s easy to settle for a lower standard. Don’t. Push yourself everyday,Β stretch yourself everyday.

No. You will not become Bibleman, unless you were before. In which case, we might have other issues to attend to.
No. You will not become Bibleman, unless you were before. In which case, we might have other issues to attend to.

4. Your local circle of friends will be more like a revolving door. People come, people go, some stay long term, but friendships need to be held with an open hand. God brings people into our lives for seasons, and it’s important to invest in those friendships while you’re in the same place. If you make the effort, they will bridge the miles later.

5. Speaking of friendships, you will get jealous of friends at home! Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and good old email are phenomenal tools to keep in touch, but they are also tools that can cause jealousy, loneliness, and doubt in what you’re doing. While your friends long to be in your pictures of the beach, or surrounded by adorable foreign kiddos, you look at their pictures of birthday parties, holidays, and wide open spaces and feel a pang of “I wish I was there!”. Remember, social media shows the highlight reel of our lives, not the daily grind.

facebook

6. It’s very hard to vent or debrief with friends back home. Even your closest friends, family, and allies. People will not understand your complaints, they often see it as a long term missions trip. They see you living in a fairy tale. They don’t see everything on this list! It’s important to find someone, a friend, fellow foreigner, or mentor who will listen to your complaints and frustrations without judging, laughing, or sarcastically saying, “wow, must be hard to live your life!”. Yep, sometimes, believe it or not, it’s hard.

7. Things take longer, and are done at a lower quality standard. The rest of the world moves at a slower pace than us Westerners. Which is usually a good thing. It results in lower stress and better relationships. It also results in repairs and other services taking twice as long. We sit back and wonder, “Why doesn’t this guy just invest in a power tool for cripes sake?!? It’s taking him two hours to chisel that hole that I could do with an air tool in seconds! Arrrgh!”. Those are the times to come down off the ethnocentric pedestal and remind yourself that 1) Power tools are expensive and 2) They have been doing it this way for ages, and while we don’t get it, they are fine with it, and the end result is the same. Usually. Work quality is far below what we’re used to, and while it’s frustrating to take the car in to have the same repair done four times, it happens. Guess what? You’re living in a developing nation. This is not the United States, or even “US Light”. You need to adapt, not them.

Who needs a power tool?
Who needs a power tool?

8. Things (aka luxuries!) are more expensive. People will tell you how you will live like royalty, how you can live on $20 a month, and life will be just grand. False. While it’s possible to live “locally” and spend a lot less, most foreigners spend about the same here as they did at home. That said, housing is less, local (market) foods are less, and entertainment is less. But, if you’re craving that McDonald’s, or basically any food that comes from somewhere else, you’ll pay about the same, or more. “Extreme” luxuries, such as tools, kitchen appliances, cars, clothing, etc., will usually run about double. And speaking of clothing…

9. It will be hard to find clothes that fit. The majority of the world is much smaller than us tall, husky Westerners, and anything over a size 6 is a bit of a novelty. If you can find “plus size” clothing, for women at least, the styles are usually styled after Miami Beach retirees, if you get my drift. Eventually, all of your clothes will have holes, stains, and will be thread bare due to the harsh environment, lack of stain removal products, and hours of drying in the sun. When friends or missionaries return for a visit, and they look like they’ve been living on the street, it’s not a fashion statement. It’s all they have. “Holey underwear” spans the entire missions community, not just the Mormons if you get my drift. πŸ˜‰

No. This look is not by choice. This is what remains after years of shopping withdrawals.
No. This look is not by choice. This is what remains after years of shopping withdrawals.
Unless of course...you're fortunate enough to find stunning looks such as this.
Unless of course…you’re fortunate enough to find stunning looks such as this.

10. You will get tired of being stared at. Even after being here a few years, we get daily stares when we leave the house. Everyone wants to be your “friend”. Seriously, and at the risk of sounding narcissistic, I can understand on a minor level what celebrities deal with. There are days I just don’t want to leave the house, or run to the store to pick up two items, for fear of the constant attention. It’s amazing how people study your every move, and watch what you put in your cart. Yes, we buy toilet paper and bread too! Isn’t that just crazy?!? and Andrew, our 14 year old, garners a lot of attention, especially from giggly girls, and as of now, is completely oblivious to it. Other missionaries have said that their kids never “got it” until returning to the States, then they wondered why they didn’t get constant, undivided attention.

Sorry Tom...I get it now. I will never stalk you at Whole Foods again.
Sorry Tom…I get it now. I will never stalk you at Whole Foods again.

11. You will never fully grasp the culture, no matter how long you are in one place. Just like you physically stick out, your attitudes, beliefs, and roots are deep. You can adapt, and accept, but there are things you will just never fully understand. And it’s OK, as long as you accept that things are done differently than you might have chosen.

12. Learning the language takes time. I love movies where the foreign character arrives in America, doesn’t speak a word of English, and within two weeks is fully fluent, complete with pop culture references and obscure idioms. There are exceptions, some people are hard wired to pick up languages, but for us normal folk, it takes time. Years. You will make mistakes, and the locals will laugh, but I promise, they will appreciate the effort. Don’t get discouraged, practice as much as you can, ask questions about vocabulary and grammar, and it will come.

13. You will be confronted with realities firsthand that are hard to imagine. Problems that were faraway and didn’t bare themselves in the “clean” western world will smack you in the face. In the last two years, we have narrowly missed three major typhoons, a phenomenon that before only appeared to us on international news. Privacy is not part of the culture in the majority of the world. This leads to personal tragedies being viewed by all, out in the open, exposed and vulnerable. Grisly car and motorcycle accidents are not covered up or cordoned off. Prostitutes walk the streets openly at night, and dirty, begging children aggressively approach cars at busy intersections. Disease and disfigurement are not covered up. I hate to say “you’ll get used to it”, because that just seems to minimize it, but you will adjust to the shock over time. It doesn’t make it less tragic, but it’s necessary to find a way to cope.

187-02-beggar-in-manila

14. People back home may expect it, but you will not save the world. But, for a few, you can change their world. This falls under the “super human” category. Supporters will send $50, and say, “Here, now you can buy seeds, and start a completely sustainable farm for a village, for life! In one weekend!” Oh, how I wish it was so easy! Projects take time, relationship building, training, and yes, financing. Even the smallest project costs more than expected, and takes time. If you have enough confidence in the person to help fund them, you must have confidence in their ability to be good stewards of what they’re given, and make good, prayerful decisions.

15. You will eventually surrender in the war against the insects. All the bug spray, organic mixes, bug traps, and secret formulas that Grandma swore by will not completely eliminate bugs in the majority of the world. Do what you can, seal you food as tight as you can, check your holey clothes before putting them on, and move on. Extra protein, right?

Ironically...the Visayan word for
Ironically…the Visayan word for “ant” is “amigas”. Don’t know about you, but I have never thought of ants as female friends.

16. When you return home for visits, high on all your experiences and full of stories, just know that not everyone will be as enthusiastic as you are. And that’s OK. We all have interests, and travel is not for everyone. Just spend time with those you love, be yourself, and when stories come up, great! Remember that people at home will have stories too, life didn’t stop for them once you climbed on the plane. Don’t come home expecting all eyes and attention will be on you, remember that only happens when you’re overseas πŸ˜‰

17. You will lose your temper, and have “ugly” un-Christian moments. We all do. As a missionary, or even an ex-pat, yes, we are supposed to constantly walk around with a smile and a Bible in hand, without a care in the world. Not true. We all have bad days. Just like everyone else in the world. We’re supposed to be “representatives” for our country, and the Kingdom of God, but we snap, we say things, and openly express our frustration. This applies to sales clerks, government officials, the street kids that relentlessly panhandle after firmly being told no, and our own families. Fortunately, most people are forgiving, as is our God. Apologize quickly, forgive quickly, and move forward with a smile. Then go home, scream into your pillow, and call your venting buddy.

I need one.
I need one.

But it’s not all bad news!
18. You will find strengths you never knew you had, or develop strengths you didn’t have before! All these “refining” experiences will grow you, if you let them. Your patience, endurance, creativity, and faith will grow in ways you never thought possible. If you want to be successful, all these attributes are necessary for survival.

19. You will find sentimental connections with your adopted culture, and will really miss things if/when you return to your homeland. While you’ll never fully adopt the culture of your host country, you will build deep connections with parts of it, and the people that are a part of it.

20. You will meet people on every economic level and background, and soon learn how alike we all are. Instead of going to “help”, you learn you have come to “partner”. You will learn that other lifestyles are just as fulfilling and legitimate as the “American Dream” we are all brainwashed into thinking is the pinnacle of success.

I know not every one of these will apply to every person, but if you’ve been overseas for any amount of time, I’m guessing you can relate to at least one. Or maybe two. Relating to any of these does not mean you’re a failure, and unable to cope, and ungrateful for your “dream job”, it just means you’re a mere mortal. And that maybe you even throw a temper tantrum on occasion. But know that I can guarantee you’re doing a great job, and having an impact on others.

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92 thoughts on “20 Things No One Told You About Moving Overseas

  1. Thanks for your article Dan and Marlene! I’ve only been in Korea for 4 months, but I can relate to many of the topics you mentioned. There can be daily frustrations along with wonderful discoveries and interactions. – Deirdre

    1. You’re welcome Deirdre! You guys are kind of in that transitional point where “vacation” is over and “reality” is setting in I’m sure. πŸ™‚ If you ever need a vent buddy, we’re here, hehe! And in the same time zone, bonus! Miss you guys!

  2. I think another big change is that your definition of ‘home’ changes. Your world gets SO much bigger, and home becomes at least two places. I feel completely at home here (Kazakhstan), but sometimes I want to go ‘home’ too! You define home more deeply, more richly, more widely, than you did before – and no matter what home you’re in, you can be homesick.

    1. Absolutely…we just returned from our first trip “home” since moving to the Philippines. The homesickness goes both ways, after 2 weeks in the States we were ready to come back, but wanted to bring everyone with us! While it’s hard to miss people wherever you go, it’s awesome to have welcoming, open arms wherever you go! πŸ™‚

  3. I have been in France for almost 2 years and I can relate to many of your comments. I will be using some of the and give you all the credit. I am getting ready to go back to the States in a couple of weeks.. I will be raising more support and it is challenging to talk about being a missionary to Europe because people in the States don’t really see it as a mission field. I have had the comments, “you are so lucky and you are living a dream!” However, they don’t seem to get it that it takes money and a lot of it to live here in Europe. I will be coming back with a work visa to develop jobs here for many who do not have works as well. There are many refugees here from Africa and the middle-east who do not have the means to support themselves. This is the first step in working with French speaking countries in Africa to do the same thing. Anyway, I digress – thank you for the article and I’ll be sure to pass it along.

    1. Hi Karen! My name is Lucia, I’m from Uruguay. My husband and I are leaving on a year-long missionary training Gap Year with an organization called World Horizons. We’ll be doing 3 months of training in Wales and then a 6 month placement in Lille, France. Would it be okay if I emailed you sometime? I would love to hear from someone like you with all your experience in missions in France. In which part are you? My email is luciaayala23@gmail.com and this is my Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/luciaayala23

    2. I have had a few friends serve in Europe, and people really don’t understand that every location has challenges…just because you aren’t smacked upside the head daily with stifling poverty doesn’t mean your job is easy! I honestly think the “western world” is probably the most difficult missions field of all, for a number of reasons. Hope you have a great time in the States, we just returned, things are definitely different!

  4. I am leaving for missions in just 1 month! I am from Uruguay and I’m going to England and France, with a short trip to India. I am super excited, and I’ve been reading a lot to try to fit in as much as I can. The only culture shock I’m expecting is when we go to India, but maybe I will find that Europe and Latin America are very very different indeed… In my case, I think that I will experience the opposite of a few of these items. In my country it’s expected that you arrive a little late everywhere (even formal things), and we’re very laid back and NOT work-oriented people. We’re also very warm and welcoming to foreigners, and I was told this is not so much the case in France. I will have a bit of catching up to do, I guess…

    1. The biggest difference I found in customs between Latin America and Europe was a matter of time. In Latin America, I was told not to arrive on time because it would not be polite to rush my host. In Europe I was told to be exactly on time because it would be rude to keep my host waiting. Write back and let me know what else you find. And Good Luck esapim@gmail.com

  5. Thank you for your honesty. It is good for us who stay in our home country to listen to your words. God is with us wherever we are. I am thankful that I can still hear god.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this. Travel is quite different than living, but I still have some small experiences like these you describe. The first thing everyone should be aware of is that ‘everyone knows that if you have blue eyes, you are very rich.’ Don’t laugh, I have heard it on three continents. It’s not funny because it makes you a target for kidnapping.
    I have traveled to places where the children have never seen blue eyes. They surround me and I can’t walk, they like to touch my skin, they want to talk to me, some want to be adopted and go to America. They think it is like the movies.

    1. Blue eyes, and grey hair! (at least on men!) Grey hair means you are successful here, kind of funny, but you’re right, also not, it makes you a target! Thanks to a very “no nonsense” mayor here who has zero tolerance for criminals, it is very safe, but it’s always in the back of our minds. And yes, so many people think America is how it’s portrayed on TV, we all live like celebrities, oy!

  7. I am living in Lapu-Lapu in Cebu, Philippines. This is my fourth mission trip and this time I am staying. I have been here for 2 1/2 mouths. I established friendships and support on previous mission trips. I have had connections with others who helped me to minister. The biggest adjustment has been the heat since I came from Alaska where it only get 70 degrees in the summer, The food prices have been about the same and my expenses are about the same. I am living on a fixed income and have to be careful with my expenses. I agree that going slow and partnering with others is the best way to make a lasting affect. I my focus in teaching and training others to do ministry rather than be the superstar. I just find people who want to l earn and minister to others.. So far I have found people to be very teachable and willing to help. Jesus said that he that is greatest in the kingdom is servant of all. If one approaches others with humility, they are willing to work with you.

    1. Well, howdy neighbor! We’re just down the “road” in Davao! πŸ™‚ Sounds like you have the right attitude for this culture especially, humility is the key. I love the culture here, despite the quirks (which you find everywhere), amazing place overall!

  8. This is great!!! My friend and I laughed hysterically over many of these things because all of them apply. I’ve been in Fiji 7 years, she’s been here 3, and yup…been there, done that! I was home with my family for six months this year, and twice we had missionaries in our home from a similar situation as I am in. It was great to have someone who understood the ups and downs of life overseas. Many times when I visit, people ask me what it’s like to live in a foreign country, and you can see they try to grasp what you’re talking about, but there’s no real understanding. My family was able to sit there and listen as we “talked shop,” and it really helped them get a clearer picture of the day to day experiences that I don’t think of by myself. Thanks for writing so honestly. I enjoyed it thoroughly!!!

    1. Ohhh…Fiji! So, like, you just get to hang out on the beach all day, right?!? haha! We hear the same all the time…most times I forget that there are world class beaches less than 30 minutes from here. It’s so nice to debrief with someone who truly understands. We just returned from the States, and while there I met up with a friend who is teaching in Asia, also visiting the States, and we “talked shop” for hours, we agreed it was nice to have someone who “got it”. Our teenage boys did the same, comparing experiences. πŸ™‚

    2. I am so glad I read these comments and this article!! We are in Fiji too!!! Our family has only been here for 8 months. I laughed about the fast food thing! Weird but true! Great article!

  9. You’ve given people reasons not to go to the ends of the earth, remind them that it’s not an option (Mat. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). You either go, or send someone to go. Anything else is disobedience (Luke 6:46).

    1. I feel, and have observed, that if God has truly called someone to leave their home, family, and everything that they know, He gives them sufficient grace to deal with the daily frustrations and issues that arise. If someone who was seriously feeling called to move overseas suddenly feels otherwise because of something such as food differences or the inability to purchase what they want when they want it, then maybe there needs to be some more prayer and inner reflection as to where they are truly called. I think the difficulties just strengthen our reliance on God’s grace and provision. We deal with a lot of this stuff daily, but wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, it’s home! πŸ™‚ And, reasons 18-20 solidify that feeling in our hearts when the days get rough.

  10. Thanks for the great article!

    Most of these are true for me–and I live in Poland. We look like the people we are living among, but (still) don’t always think like them (after 20 years)! Learning to accept those differences is a huge step. I like your last point, too, about “living the American Dream” as the only valid way to live.

    I remember when we were first here, I had just had a baby–2 months after we got here–, had had maybe 4-5 Polish lessons and someone back in the U.S. wrote me asking me how many people I had witnessed to or seen converted (can’t remember which for sure). It was kind of funny and sad. I didn’t yet know how to put a sentence together in Polish, along with having 4 kids including a baby–and knew no one who spoke English!. I could learn a few rote phrases, but if anyone veered off the “expected answer”, I had no idea what they were saying. Even a simple thing like handing out a tract became a completely humiliating experience.

    Another interesting thing–my husband has a private pilot’s license. Apparently someone in the neighborhood heard about that because a woman from down the street rang my “fence phone” and asked me if he could take her to the states with him! I just stared at her a second and then as graciously as I could, I told her she had to get a visa and a plane ticket in order to go to the states just like everyone else. I couldn’t believe it!

  11. I wanted to add that there is a tendency for anyone who has taken a short-term missions trip to think that they have experienced “culture shock”. I don’t think it sets in on a short term trip. When it is short term, it is almost all novelty and new and fun experiences. You know you are leaving in a few weeks/months.

    When you know this is where you are going to live, that is when the reality sets in and the real culture shock happens.

    1. Ohhh yeah! Before we moved here for the long haul, we did some short term visits, and did a lot of research on the culture. I thought we had it dialed, we “knew” a lot, but head knowledge is a heck of a lot different! Those quirky differences that were cute for 2 weeks become not-so-cute after a while. πŸ™‚

  12. Thoroughly enjoyed this article and the accurate portrayal of the Philippines you’ve given. I just returned to the US after 2 years at an MK school in Manila. Just thought you’d be amused to know that at least a dozen of my fellow missionary teachers have shared your article for their supporters and friends to read. πŸ™‚ you’ve clearly struck a chord with us. Thank you for finding the words to honestly express what life is like. Blessings on your ministry there, especially in rainy season.

  13. Number 4 can apply to friends back home as well as the country you love in. Who you become close to while you are across the ocean may sometimes surprise you. That cousin you barely remember from family gatherings may be a consistent correspondent while you’re abroad.

    1. We just returned from 2 months in the States, our first visit back since moving here almost 3 years ago, and it really was interesting who we connected with this time. We really bonded with people we have been acquainted with for years, but had never really developed anything beyond an occasional “hello” at church or in town.

  14. My first year in Istanbul I spent Christmas at Starbucks, ’cause it was the only place I could hear Christmas music and not feel completely isolated… and I don’t drink coffee if I can help it. πŸ™‚

    Thanks, related to so many of them and was encouraged simply by smiling.

    1. We have a few Starbucks in town, and yes, it can be our sanity at times! Just a comfy spot with familiar music, nice decor, and quiet. Here in the Philippines though, Christmas is a huge huge affair, it’s impossible to escape it (not that I want to!) But, Starbucks still plays the nicest Christmas music I think, more Western. πŸ™‚

    1. We were in the States this Summer for 7 weeks, and although it was clean, quiet, etc. etc…we were “homesick” for Asia after about 3 weeks. Amazing where God’s desires for your heart will lead you! πŸ™‚

  15. Nicely written! And very true! We have lived in the Dom Rep for 1 year now… Yep, never ate icecream cones at McDonald’s before but now it is the the top treat for us… of course, its the only thing we can afford on the menu too πŸ™‚
    And taking LONGER!! no kidding!

  16. I’ve been serving in missions for 15 years and have served in both South America and Europe. I really appreciate your post here and can relate very well. Your comment related to finding strengths you never knew you had in #18 could very well be missed, but I caught the nuance in what you were saying as I’ve conveyed it before to others. You said, “If you want to be successful, all these attributes are necessary for survival.” You can’t be successful if you don’t survive. Statistics show that most folks don’t survive. They go home. I think this point is driven home by Romans 5…tribulation produces perseverance, perseverance produces character and character, Hope.

    1. I remind myself of Romans 5 over and over, haha! Even when it gets tough, I always *try* to remind myself that it’s character building, some days is easier said than done. Such a lifelong process, huh? πŸ˜‰

  17. You got it! Except for number 1. I’m really jealous cause we don’t have McDonalds or any other American fast food places in Haiti.

    1. That’s probably a good thing! πŸ™‚ Really though, it is nice for that occasional splurge, but on the flip side, people at home sometimes have the attitude of, “well, you have all these Western establishments, how can you possibly have culture shock?!?”

  18. I’ve lived overseas for almost 35 years and I concur with all that you have written. I think it took me much longer than you, to realize that I would never adopt the culture to the extent that my immediate responses to certain situations are the same as locals. The reality is, we will always be different…..the hope we have to look forward to is that one day we will be in our eternal home where we will forever be insiders!!

    1. Fortunately, we arrived in the Philippines with some words of wisdom from long term overseas residents, that being a big one, or else I would probably still be trying to completely assimilate. Now we just accept that we will always be a bit different, and it’s OK. I’ve always been a bit different anyways, even in the States… πŸ™‚

  19. Great article. I was in Manilla and Taclobon earlier in the year. I felt like a celebrity for sure. I remember a little kid in a tiny village asking me if I was on tv. I love the philipino people, can’t wait to someday come again.

  20. Great article! I lived in South Sudan for a year and absolutely concur with these points. Especially being stared at ALL the time. It’s a difficult thing after a few months. But I must say, I miss it so much!

  21. Excellent article! My wife and I are 5 months into our lives on the island of Mindoro, Philippines! I was shaking my head yes on virtually everything you mentioned. As Americans we want to “fix” everything “NOW!” and that just DOES NOT WORK here!!!! We have to learn to slow down, enjoy the ride and chill out – which is hard to do in this heat! There are so many things we could learn from the Philippine people about relationships and being content with what we have vs. having to get more “things” to make us happy. They find joy in their daily lives and so many of them have nothing by our standards. We love these people!

    1. Oh boy, and I’m still learning! Living in a bigger city really doesn’t help me in that department either, since on the surface, there is a feeling of “rushing” all the time. But underneath, things take time, and that will never change. My husband, “Mr. Fix It”, loved this comment by the way, good for us both! Enjoy Mindoro, it’s gorgeous there!

  22. We live and serve in the Dominican Republic and I found your article to be one of the better I have read on this subject. We have been here for 6 years and, unless God says something different, are here for good. I have had some of the best times of my life during that 6 years and had some of the toughest. I will say, I was in the corporate world in the U.S. for 15 years before moving to the DR to serve, and I wouldn’t go back to my previous life for anything.

    1. Thanks for reading Chantz! Totally agree with the best and toughest times. There are days I am struggling with something and grumble, “I can’t believe I’m here”, then the next we are out on an immaculate beach, or doing something most people will never get to experience, and I am overwhelmed with God’s beauty, and say incredulously, “wow…I can’t believe I’m here!”

  23. So very true, especially the red tape! Bane of my existence…

    We’ve lived in Mexico 7 years now. My poor, blond haired, blue eyed children are so tired of people touching their hair. When they were babies, people would ask to take selfies with them in the grocery store!

    Lots of times we just look at our fellow missionaries, sigh, and say “Mexico!”

    I’m enjoying your blog, just found it through someone else on FB. Thanks!

    1. We had missionary friends in Mexico, and their red tape stories are insane. We deal with it, but yours makes ours look like nothing. Our son (15 now) still has people approach him wanting a picture, or we catch them trying to work him into the background of their selfies.

  24. Thank you for your post. I’ve been serving in Lesotho for almost two years and I’m heading home in two months. This hits the nail on the head on how I’ve been feeling and the differences between living here and home.

  25. My wife and I have served part time in France for 11 years. We can relate to many of these even though France is a “1st world” country!

    1. I think serving in a 1st World, or even modernized Third World country can almost be harder, since people just don’t understand. Just because it looks like what we’re used to on the surface, doesn’t mean it’s the same underneath, culture penetrates everything, both good and challenging.

  26. Great post! However, and maybe I’ve misunderstood you, but how can you say living overseas can’t make you a different person? After living in Uganda for a year, I have become a TOTALLY different person. I didn’t volunteer much in the US, but after living in Uganda, I now volunteer at least twice a week! Am I misunderstanding what your saying about that? I have changed SO much that I am definitely a different person than I was before I went there for a year. Thoughts? And thanks for sharing!

    1. I see what you’re saying and agree completely, we have changed so much being here as well. But, it has been a slow change, by challenging ourselves and stepping out of our comfort zone over and over. What I meant is sometimes people have this misconception that since they are “now missionaries” (or volunteers, expats, whatever), that they will instantly become superhumans, with abilities and skills they didn’t have before. And yes, they will develop, but it takes time and effort. Just saying “when I get overseas, then I will start (fill in the blank)”. If you didn’t have it when you stepped on the plane, you won’t magically have it when you land. But yes, time will refine those skills that probably are buried deep. Wow…I feel another blog post coming on, haha! πŸ™‚

  27. I travelled the world as a young man and the multicultural contact certainly broadened my outlook. But is also works the other way. My wife and I left England for her to study and me to work in the USA, not as missionaries although our accents certainly opened up lots of great conversations. You may think that there would not be much of a cultural difference, wrong! Only when you live in any different country do you realise that every little part of everything is different almost to the point of anxiety. And yes, I did miss fish and chips, kelloggs crunchy nut cornflakes and heinz baked beans. It also got tiring at times fending off the seriously asked questions such as “do you live in a castle?” “have you ever met the queen?” and statements such as “I think my great great uncle owned a pub in wherever”. And when we went home? Yes we missed the 14 or more different burger chains, nice hotels, big cars, gas stations open 24 hours and no parking charges when out shopping. Also churches with an open attitude and the “can do” culture. So Americans, have a chuckle about it from the other direction.

    1. We have a couple of British friends who now live in the US, and years later, we still tease back and forth about cultural differences. Oh yes, they are deep between the two countries! But seriously, do you know the Queen?! πŸ˜‰ I actually did have a kid ask if I knew Tom Cruise once…couldn’t tell if he was joking.

  28. I feel as if you stole the words and thoughts right out of my mouth … I’ve been in India for 6 months, and finally I read something I can actually relate to..and share for people back in America to help understand me a little more. πŸ™‚ Thank you!

  29. Man, this is me EXACTLY! I’ve been in the Philippines for just over six months, working at an orphanage and the rose coloured glasses are indeed coming off. I particularly relate to the references to McDonalds, the staring and the jealousy of friends back home.

  30. Thanks for this article. Good description of what life in another culture can be like. I would add that you can have the benefit of learning to look at your own culture from an outsider’s perspective, to begin to recognize things that aren’t particularly biblical or Christian, but are just weirdly American.

    1. For sure! I didn’t realize that America has a unique “culture” until being away from it, and having to answer questions from foreigners about why we do what we do…yep, we have just as many (if not more!) weird quirks.

    1. Our temptation as sinners is to respond to the stress of living in another culture by retreating to the company of other foreigners and having a run-down-the-host-culture-and-its-people session. Though it’s good to support one another through the difficulty of adjusting and learning to live in another culture, we need to guard against an extremely critical attitude. All cultures have good and bad things in them. No man-made culture is free of sin and lies, but they also all have some light in them. The willingness to share and the hospitality that poor people around the world practice is a great example of something we wealthy westerners can learn from.

      1. Kathy, that is such an important point! We have close “western” friends that we “debrief” with, but you have to be careful who you share with, or it can become a horrible gripe session. I have had total strangers (other foreigners) come up to me in the grocery store or wherever, and start to rant about the culture, somehow expecting me to “high five” or agree with what they’re saying about how awful it is to be here. On one hand, I feel bad for them, because clearly, they have no one else to confide in, and since we look alike, we must agree, right?! But, I don’t take the bait, and just tell them despite the difficulties, I love being here. And you are completely right about the hospitality, people here are some of the most generous I have ever met, despite having so little.

  31. This is pretty spot on! I’m an Australian living and working in a small town in Malaysia for the past 2&1/2 years and am STILL not used to the constant stares. Being twice the height of most locals and blonde doesn’t help much either! But people do listen to you more and oddly respect you more so it has opened up doors to minister to people.
    You definitely miss some comforts though! I just visited a missionary couple from NY that were here for a while and they served us a veggie platter with hummus. HUMMUS! I never remember being so excited over something so simple. Haha.
    But I agree with you, the more you’re willing to adapt, the more you can appreciate how others live and the beautiful things about this culture and country.
    All the best!

    1. That’s a point that I think a lot of people might almost feel guilty about, being able to use our “whiteness” as a ministry tool. But, use what you’ve got! I teach kids a couple days a week, and I am definitely a novelty, and kids show up just to see me, or touch my skin, etc..and yes, I use it to reach them. πŸ™‚ and I second the hummus, yum!! We were in the States this Summer and I think I ate about a gallon of it…with or without veggies…*blush*

  32. We are missionaries in the mountains of Peru after working in the capital city of Lima for about 7 years. I laughed and laughed while reading your blog. It is very true and having fellow missionary friends on the field is definitely a big help when it comes to coping with the stresses of daily life!

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