After spending four years huddled in close quarters with small, close-knit teams on the twentieth floor of a concrete apartment block on a college campus in one of the largest cities in northeastern China, our family moved to a different “one of the largest cities in northeastern China.” The cities were vastly different as were our experiences with team.
Upon arrival in our new city, we found the team spread out throughout the neighborhood instead of crowded into one building. We still lived in what would qualify as “close quarters” to most independent Americans who often live sprawled out in suburbs, far away from their places of work and worship. However, the one square mile area in which teammates lived was as big as Texas, compared to one floor of a high-rise.
Living side-by-side with teammates in our previous city created instant closeness. Need a cup of sugar? Send a kid over to the next-door neighbor who is also your teammate and shares a wall with you and hears you yelling at your kids! Need a shoulder to cry on? Head over to your neighbor’s place (which…you guessed it…is also your teammate) and cry while she stands over her single-burner hotplate cooking for her family. Want to play? Step into the hallway where toddlers ride wheeled vehicles of every sort and start a game of dodgeball!!!
Our shared spaces as well as our individual apartments, tiny as they were, became a commune and a refuge. We took shelter from the freezing outdoor elements, homesickness, and the harsh language and culture of our host country together in our concrete haven. (We did a lot of outreach, and the safe, cozy and friendly environment of our home base allowed us to do that well as we also invited others in!)
Back to the next city: to get to a teammate’s apartment I had to bust out a map, get my bearings straight, smile nicely at guards hoping they would let me behind locked gates, choose the correct entry to the building, enter the correct door code once I found the door, climb stairs (or wait for someone to call the card-swipe controlled elevator), find the right apartment and knock. Even more bewildering to me, I heard other new foreigners exclaiming how awesome it is to be so close to teammates OR how awful it is to live so close to all the people they work with. I was not prepared for this kind of reverse culture-shock because I hadn’t moved back to my passport country or changed countries…just cities and organizations!!!
It took about a year to adjust to the new normal of teammates living across the neighborhood, and I finally learned all the door codes and gate tricks. It also took a year to figure out who my people were. Not only were teammates spread out in different buildings, there were so many people on the team it felt like a small town to me. As the newbie, I had no idea how to navigate this complicated community where people had long histories and already established groups. I was used to the smaller model of team where eight people are put together as the only North Americans on one huge college campus and it’s easy to know who your people are! I’m not saying one model is better than the other, but I do know the small team living in extremely close proximity was so much easier for me in the beginning!
If you’re moving from one city to the other and finding yourself confused, take a step back and acknowledge that team will be different from one place to the next. The goal is not to recreate what you once had, but instead to find what God has for you in your new city. It may not look like you expected and it may take months longer to adjust than you think it should, but trust God to show you your role and your people in your new place.
Have you been disoriented by an in-country move because of the difference of team from one location to the next? In your experience, what has been an obstacle to developing close team relationships? How do you go about finding your people in a new place?