We are now officially on our second overseas move. I’m still surprised we now call Bangkok home, especially because a mere three months ago we were unsure we would even be moving. And now here I sit in my new workspace. Same computer, different country. But that’s the life of an ex-pat, isn’t it? It seems to be more the norm that once someone accepts an overseas assignment, they often continue their journey abroad through more than one location. It’s as if living as an ex-pat gets in your blood and as time passes, it becomes harder and harder to picture living your life as you once did.
Although being on our second overseas assignment hardly qualifies me as an expert, I can say that I have learned a thing or two about how different the adjustment is between your first assignment and subsequent ones. I suppose it’s like having a baby. You are absolutely terrified with the first one. Everything you do is new and scary. As you have more and more babies, you begin to feel more comfortable with the process. You are never by any means an expert, but you don’t worry quite so much over every little detail like you did with the first one.
Here are some observations I have made with my second overseas “baby”.
1. Experiencing things for the first time isn’t quite so scary.
Granted, things are different every place you live, but having been through it before I’ve learned that all IKEAs and Starbucks are pretty much the same no matter where you live. 😉 On our first overseas move, I always needed to do something the first few times with someone else in order to gain confidence. This time, I only need to do about half of my new tasks with someone else. Can you imagine if we have three or more international moves? I’ll be running those towns when our wheels hit the ground! I joke, but really, the more you make international moves, the more comfortable you become walking into an unknown situation with confidence. There have been a few times here already I have told myself to put on my big girl pants and just get out there. And hey, I survived! So can going to new places, whether they be a grocery store, mall, or market by yourself still be terrifying? You bet! But having lived in a foreign location previously, I gained confidence in myself enough to get out there quicker this time in order to navigate my way around.
2. You become more patient with yourself.
Possibly the most important thing I learned from our first international assignment is that it takes time to adjust. Possibly a lot of time, and everyone adjusts differently. This time around, I remembered that in our early days after our move to Shanghai I was really only able to accomplish one task outside the house per day and still keep my sanity. In the beginning, if I tried to do more than that, I would inevitably end up in tears by the end of the day. So this time I have been more patient with my progress. I have allowed myself to have “off days” where I just don’t get anything done. If you know me at all, you know that I am always on the go, trying to accomplish more than 24 hours will allow. So, slowing down and living within my newbie abilities is tough but it has helped so much. I think I’ve only had one or two days when I’ve been in tears by the end of the day, and usually, they were a result of the power going out for the 10th time or finding a massive cockroach crawling across my kitchen counter so I would call that definite progress!
3. You learn the importance of putting yourself out there and getting involved quickly.
In all honesty, for me, this has been the most difficult thing to do. An introvert by nature, I find group situations extremely exhausting. I tend to fumble over my words and hover in the back, preferring to follow rather than lead. However, that being said, I also know after my first international move how fleeting time is. People and opportunities come and go practically overnight. I cannot believe almost three years flew by in Shanghai. So, the quicker you put yourself out there, making friends, and learning about opportunities in your new hometown, the more you can make of your brief time there. So in the three weeks we have been in Bangkok, I have been to almost a dozen meetings and met more people than I can count. This is absolutely draining for me, but you know what? I see people I know out and about now. We talk and have begun to form friendships. I know once all the initial meetings are done I will be fully informed and then can choose where I want to get involved. Then things will start to settle down and I can crawl back a bit (just a little bit) into my comfortable introverted state.
4. Adventure becomes your middle name.
I’ve said this before, but prior to our Shanghai move three years ago, none of us owned passports. We had never left the good old USA! Now in the short span of fewer than 36 months, we have been to 10 countries and have been on more adventure trips than I can count. We have hiked The Great Wall of China, been white water rafting in Bali, snorkeled in the Gili Islands, and explored nearly all of Scotland, just to name a few. Not to mention that just living out daily life in a new country is an adventure. So, when we were back home living our peaceful lives, an adventurous day might include going to an amusement park. Now our definition of adventure is vastly different. Knowing time is limited in your assignment, and your new land has many unique opportunities makes you want to get out there, explore and do all the things the area has to offer.
5. God is faithful no matter what.
I cannot even begin to tell you how many threads God had to weave together in order to bring our latest move together. But through the entire process, I could see His hand accomplishing the impossible. Throughout our overseas moves, leaving family and friends halfway around the world, God has been our only constant. Our rock. Through uncertain times, He has been there. Through difficult times, He has been there. Our circumstances have changed so much over the past three years, but He hasn’t. Each move brings me closer to God. I have to rely on Him more and more because I know I simply cannot do it on my own. Before we moved to Shanghai, I got my first tattoo. It’s a cross on my wrist to remind me that no matter where I am in the world, God is always with me. This is my comfort in our ever-changing world.
As you can see, I’ve learned a thing or two (or five) since our first international move. I hope my words will encourage you if you are considering taking on another overseas assignment. The opportunity far outweighs the struggle it takes to get there. You may surprise yourself with your new level of confidence and ability to settle into your new world. I say if you are given the opportunity to do it all again, go for it! You won’t regret it and will come away stronger, more adventurous, and perhaps more faith-filled than you ever thought possible.