Steaming mug of coffee in hand, I click join on my family’s weekly video chat.
It’s Sunday morning for me, Saturday evening for them back in the rolling Midwest hills.
Videos pop onto the screen: my parents on the desktop in their bedroom, siblings joining from spots in college or beyond, wherever the years take them.
I apologize for the music blasting from a funeral or a wedding on the street just outside, or tell them about the woman my teammate and I met that week as we walked and prayed dusty streets. I meet a new sister-in-law across the screen, catch up on the latest news about cousins and my sending church, send virtual kisses to my baby nephew.
Conventional wisdom has said, “Cut ties back home.” This helps you connect right where you, helps you focus on language learning and seeking to understand a new culture. Cutting ties allows you to build new relationships and forge bonds.
And I agree that there are so many things vying for our attention. Social media and technology are wonderful gifts. It can also feel like we are straddling two worlds, always knowing what is going on in our passport country even as we make connections in our local culture. This can be exhausting or distracting, depending on the season and moment. We default to what is easiest, going back to the people we know, rather than doing the hard work of getting to know teammates and operating in a language that doesn’t flow quite as naturally, at least at first, as our own.
But for me, the issue is a bit more nuanced. I served for five years on the field as a single. I mostly had the same in-country team for the entire time, a gift I know a lot of people don’t have in the always-changing, revolving door that team often is. At the same time, though, I didn’t have a built-in support system of a spouse and kids.
Don’t get me wrong, marriage and children add their own layers of beauty and complexity to overseas life.
But as a single, I’m always starting from scratch with connection. This can feel overwhelming when everything else is new and unfamiliar, when I’m trying to keep my head above water and navigate new learning opportunities around every corner.
So, do we need to take singleness and season of life into consideration when we create policies and set expectations (written and unwritten) when it comes to connection “back home”?
I think it starts with conversation. Do you have specific questions you are asking the singles on your team or in your organization about loneliness, connection and community? Single ladies, are you able to share honestly about these aspects of your lives?
We don’t approach these conversations with shame, and we might not even start with hard-and-fast rules. Can we set reasonable goals or check-in points? I know we can all fall into mindless scrolling that isn’t beneficial to anyone. I am pretty introverted so a goal of 5 hours a day out talking to people just isn’t sustainable. What works the best for me, my situation and season?
Our family and friends back home can’t be our only support system, single or married. Building in those support systems with local friends and other expats is hard and beautiful! As a single, I can be intentional about seeking out connection with other singles but also getting to know families. I can even ask for invitations to dinner or to meet at a restaurant, rather than waiting for others to come to me or know what I need.
But let’s also make a place to talk about what singles need related to online connection. Is cutting off ties to family and friends back home the best advice? Those regular video chats with my family buoyed my spirit week after week. They were constant in a swirling world, part of filling my heart to go out and love and serve the people around me.
What are some of the factors we need to take into consideration related to singles and connection “back home”? As a single, what would you love to add to the conversation?