I wish I could tell that serving cross-culturally as a single is easy and delightful. That packing for one and traveling alone are stress-free and enjoyable. That finding your way around a new place and meeting new people occurs naturally and without effort. That working well as part of a team and feeling fulfilled in your ministry are givens.
But if I told you all of those things, I’d be lying.
Because just like serving as a married person, serving as a single is difficult. There are days filled with tears, and friendships don’t always come easily. Culture stress is a given, and confusion about how you fit as a part of your team and what your role looks like is highly likely. However, living overseas as a single brings with it advantages and blessings.
Packing your life into a few suitcases can be stressful, but I frequently reminded myself that packing for one was a blessing. Yes, there wasn’t always someone else to help pull the suitcases off the conveyor belt at baggage claim, but I alone was able to decide what I placed in my suitcases. Craft supplies and household décor never had to compete with tools or toys. My carry-on was filled with my own snacks and electronic devices; no extra room was needed for a surprise for an exhausted child partway through a transatlantic flight.
And even though dragging my two carry-ons through Starbucks lines and bathroom stalls at airports wasn’t ideal, I could eat my yogurt parfait and drink my mocha without worrying about feeding a hungry little one too.
Adjusting to a new culture is an adventure; everything from grocery shopping to cooking to driving to conversing requires energy and practice. However, as a single I had the flexibility in my food budget to purchase pre-made dinners or frozen pizza when life was too overwhelming to think about cooking. I could afford to buy a couple of small packages of chocolate chips, which weren’t exactly cheap, in order to save time when baking. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a married teammate was not to skimp on my food budget. Depending on finances, families are able to have this philosophy as well; however, I found as a single I could purchase Magnum bars regularly for several weeks without damaging my budget. When it came to cooking, I had the freedom to try new recipes and to be creative with my leftovers. Plus, a homemade pizza lasted for four meals! Since I shopped alone, I was often able to take my time and see what new items were available at the grocery store.
Vacationing as a single might seem frightening and lonely. And I will admit that when I lived in Ireland, I did very little sightseeing, and my only vacations were to the US for a friend’s wedding and to Portugal to visit friends. New places were only explored on a very local level. However, when I lived in Portugal, I was able to travel to a multitude of European countries with friends. I saw the Eiffel Tower and explored the Louvre. I meandered the streets of Edinburgh and Basel and London. I was freezing in Brussels and dying of heat in Madrid.
Yes, families and couples often visit new places and take amazing vacations; however, depending on circumstances, singleness provides more flexibility with travel plans. The cost of one plane ticket and splitting the cost of a hotel room is more financially feasible, and sharing an adventure with friends has a unique way of deepening bonds through shared memories.
Connecting with people in a new culture can feel overwhelming, especially as a single, introvert. No husband to help with conversation, no cute baby for people to comment on. Just quiet, American me. However, as I began to make friends, I was thankful for the flexibility I had to meet up with them. A new mom, who was also an expat, and I would meet up at Starbucks or my apartment depending on her baby’s schedule. A single, working friend and I met up for lunch at a mall across the street from her job during her lunch break. A thirty minute drive for lunch wasn’t a problem for me since I didn’t have to worry about picking up a child from school later in the afternoon or scheduling lunch around my schedule and a spouse’s schedule.
The greatest blessing of living overseas as a single was my spiritual growth. Learning to rely more on God for the strength to make it through another day, watching Him stretch and grow me when cross-cultural living pushed me outside my comfort zone, seeing Him use these experiences to make me more confident in my abilities and gifts. Would I have loved to have served overseas as a married woman, to pack for multiple people, to cook more from scratch in order to make the food budget last all month, to take less exotic vacations because of small children, to make friends with the mothers at my children’s school? Absolutely. However, each time I wished for these things, I remembered to look for the blessings God had given me as a single because blessings are found in the having and the not having.
What blessings have you experienced from serving as a single overseas?