Oh dear reader, welcome to the wild, wonderful, infuriating, fulfilling, expanding life overseas. Part of this journey of serving and giving a part of your heart to another culture is that you will adapt in ways you don’t exactly expect. To give you a personalized idea of what I mean, here are some examples of ways I’ve adapted the past several years….
- I had to give up my Jane Eyre-Gothic penchant for the dark, mysterious colors and fabrics…not because black was too somber emotionally, but because it attracts too many mosquitoes.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) was correct … I have indeed learned to bring a towel everywhere.
- Need to cover up a body part that Western-fit clothing is showing off? Wrap a towel. Just got splashed with something in the street? Towel. Find out the public restrooms where you’re staying also have nonexistent coverings in the shower department? Towel. Feeling chilly? Blankety-towel. Need to sit down suddenly, take a nap in an airport, or modestly cover up some roadside business? Lay down, pile up, or hold up a towel. I assume it could also be used to swat away creatures, but I haven’t tried this one yet.
- The evil eyeball, the hairy eyeball, and the cursed third eye idioms help me remember that people don’t stare into everyone else’s eyes overseas. That’s so Western. Avert thine eyes, woman!
- I have to walk a lot of places in flip flops, then break out the good shoes once I’m at my destination, or the jungle/sand/various street debris will eat away at them. Maybe this is a thing some women do Stateside as well… but I didn’t get the memo until I had burned through at least three pairs of shoes in a twelve month period.
- Milk comes in many more forms than I realized. Strawberry and banana flavored little bottles. Powdered, of which there is an art form; whisking with a fork is recommended (pre-coffee, by the way, to avoid excessive lumps–it clumps less in water than caffeine). I’ve found soy and almond milk, taste varying by brand, is still my favorite.
- Being punctual is overrated. When you learn that no one shows up on time, you stop stressing about getting yourself somewhere on time. Groovy!
- Also, bring a book everywhere. It has less uses than a towel, but is still handy.
- I try to pay in exact cash. A lot of cashiers just don’t have as much change on hand, the farther you get from big areas, than you may be used to. This makes my non-math mind protest in agony, but it’s a good way to make life easier on the stores and cashiers (or you can just bless them with extra dough, but how long can you afford to keep that up?). And of course if there is no cashier, you really have to make sure you don’t have big bills.
- Wherever you go, there you are. But sometimes you can drop off some baggage along the way. People always say you can’t escape yourself by traveling, but I’ve come to think that’s phase one. Just like one goes through culture shock in phases, so one’s identity transforms in phases. Eventually living overseas does change you–and I would have to say it’s a great refining fire when you let God master the kiln.
- Community means perseverance, and perseverance means making my needs and compliments known… and forgiving. Lots of forgiving. And lots of putting up with idiosyncrasies. We are all weird over here, people, myself definitely included. Even you, dear reader (sorry but…forgive me! Sorry-not-sorry!)
- I have found that Therapy = Awesomeness. It’s not weak to ask for help (be it over transition, grief, experiences overseas, etc.), it’s actually very strong, and biblical. A Christian counselor, it turns out, is basically a super-wise friend who has great listening and mentoring skills, and probably some, you know, education in how your brain is processing things. So utilitarian and holy at the same time, love it!
I can’t foresee how you will adapt, in mindset, style, foods, or habits. But don’t be caught unawares when you find yourself changing. It’s all part of the adventure!
If you’re on the field, what adaptations surprised you? How did you creatively go about your new life? What advice would you welcomingly give a woman new to the field?