Weird Ways I’ve Had to Adapt

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?

15 Comments

  1. Michelle S August 9, 2017

    A couple of these especially made me say, Yes!! The one about taking a towel everywhere…except for me it’s a kanga, a length of local fabric which the women here use for everything. I can’t bring myself to go very far without one even in the US, now that I know how useful they are. 🙂 And also the one about big bills. We get all our money in “big” bills (i.e. about $5 US) so I have to choose carefully where to spend them to get smaller change for other places. It felt like a unique experience the first time I had too much money to buy what I wanted! But I’ve since learned that it’s not actually unique at all–in fact, it’s somewhat commonplace.
    Another one in this part of the world is to always keep some toilet paper in my pocket, since I don’t have the locals’ skill of splashing water instead of using TP. If I don’t I’m bound to forget when I go out and then be seized with need away from home, and NO restrooms (except mine!) have toilet paper in them.

    1. Ruthie H. August 9, 2017

      I agree, Michelle, with the use of the kanga, which is likely similar to the kitanga here in Uganda. I haven’t mastered its use like the local women, but it serves as a second skirt – to keep your inner one clean especially when traveling, a towel, a blanket, a head-wrap, a handkerchief, etc. And, I definitely agree with you on the TP, it’s wise to carry it with you. I am usually pleasantly surprised when I do find TP in a public restroom – ha! I have also become accustomed to carrying a little package of handi-wipes – ever useful in so many ways.

    2. E M White August 13, 2017

      Yes! I sometimes walk around in a ponya (West Africa) in the States and have gotten mixed reviews. I am still not used to the water option… I am sure I will adjust… One day?
      It’s all part of the wonderful/exasperating adventure! Keep journeying fellow Pilgrim!

  2. Kathleen Smith August 9, 2017

    Love this blog post! Some of my surprise changes:
    Surprised to really, truly like English tea with milk, and am a pain when I return to the States. I seem to want to teach people “how to make tea.”
    Surprised that even after all these years living overseas, I am SO happy to hear that REAL Cheerios may now be found in a London grocery store.
    Surprised that when God asked me to leave my country and said He would give me a feast, He knew my heart even more than I did.

    Thank you for your writing. I am a Relocation Mentor and I love sharing your website with women of many cultures who move to the United Kingdom on His Kingdom business.
    May blessings abound in your day.

    1. E M White August 13, 2017

      I discovered English Tea when in Asia actually! I’ve discovered I have a penchant for it too! There’s nothing wrong with educating people on classy tea drinking options, in my opinion! Keep up the good Kingdom work, it sounds wonderful Kathleen!

  3. sarah August 9, 2017

    Total yes on the towel/kanga/kitanga. In India it was the dupatta- the scarf that sometimes is draped over your shoulders, when you’re not otherwise using it to wipe sweat off your face, bundle a baby or carry heavy items in.
    Other changes that pop into my head: I’m way, way more of a big city girl after living in China. I never expected to be a toenail-painter, but how else to make your nails not look so nasty from all the ingrained dirt from walking Indian streets even after you’ve scrubbed them with every brush and pumice in the tiny local shop? I now like savory way more than sweet. I crave barbecued squid on a stick. And I trust God for things it never crossed my mind to ask Him for in the States- like friends or to be able to get home before the amoeba strikes again or for renewed hope that He will keep using me in each new place or to give me a gift idea when I’m heading to a wedding in a culture I don’t yet understand. And a great change in all of those is that, having a wealth of stories now of all the times God has come through for me, my trusting is much more like trusting, and not just kind of hoping while not really believing.
    Also, of course, we can’t leave out how our language has changed! We’ve all picked up a lot of international vocabulary, like Aircon and wc. But, I feel like each country also changes the proportions of our words. Like in China, I started, in English, to use the words ‘convenient’ and ‘fierce’ all the time bc they are frequently used words in Mandarin. And in India, ‘maximum’ and ‘from my side.’ Currently country, ‘Can?’ and ‘finished’ seem to be popular ones.

    1. Kathy Vaughan August 13, 2017

      I too became a toenail painter! And the language – when I go stateside I catch myself using English in a way that’s common here but doesn’t make sense there. But most of all I relate to learning to really trust and depend on God in so many ways that never were real before. That’s the best of the changes.

    2. E M White August 13, 2017

      I will have to add toenail polish to my list of adaptations! I love your list…yes to all of them. Oh those pesky amoebas… I haven’t tried squid on a stick yet,but discovered dried squid was amazing, so that’s next on my list! I have total faith He WILL keep using, inspiring, loving, and guiding as only He can…He does always come through, in surprising ways, tis true.

  4. Wendy August 11, 2017

    I’m in Japan. I’ve learned to carry tissues and a small cloth like a handkerchief with me for wiping hands after washing or wiping my bike seat or other various wiping usages. I’ve discovered there’s worse things than rice for breakfast, even though it isn’t my favourite, I can eat it. But I’ve also learned that short-grained sticky rice is the best. The long-grained rice common back home is tasteless to me now.Yes, not looking at people in the eye. Not being able to read everything has been a big adjustment. I carry an umbrella with me often, especially in the summer months, as shade. I’ve learned to do most of my local errands on a bike or on foot (and made clothing adjustments accordingly). Just a few of the things that are different about me now to when I first came 17 years ago.

    1. Amy Young August 11, 2017

      Oh yes on the tissue!! And in other parts of Asia . . . a must have for the bathroom :). It becomes such second nature I forget to mention it!!!

    2. E M White August 13, 2017

      17 years means a lot of adjustments, and a lot of faithfulness! I love your list. Especially the rice distinction! Speaking of reading…it wasn’t just literal reading g that disappeared, but figurative reading. I think realizing that body language varies by culture was a bit of a subconscious shock to me. It has taken time to read the different social cues from different cultures, and even now it takes time. Perhaps God’s way of getting us to focus in on people more,and encourage us to slow down more… Keep journeying and biking fellow Pilgrim!

  5. Phyllis August 11, 2017

    Black attracts mosquitoes? I didn’t know that! I had to start wearing black to fit in.

    1. E M White August 13, 2017

      I want to go to your country! 🙂

    1. E M White August 15, 2017

      I just read your post. Love the “m” theme. And so true!

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