During the past 6 years, I’ve lived in Asia, Africa, Europe and the U.S. I’ve worked as an English teacher. I’ve worked for a faith-based NGO, and simultaneously as a general studies teacher. I’ve worked as a missionary. My years abroad have not only stretched me professionally, culturally, and spiritually; they have also had a profound impact on my perception of home.
For those of us who travel much, or live abroad, our sense of home is key to our identity. If we always see home as “back there,” then we will never truly be able to adapt here, to call this home. We will always be foreigners in a strange land. And it will always wear on us.
But if we can find home here, or better yet, choose to make our home here, then we have much to gain by staying, and a much better chance of lasting.
As I went about daily life, made new observations or had new insights in each of my homes abroad, I compiled a list of twenty things. Twenty things I loved, and twenty things I was “getting used to.” These lists helped me to appreciate the uniqueness of what I had found in each place, while at the same time giving me a space to vent about the things that were hard.
There will always be things about a “home” that are incredible, and always things that are hard. The same is true even in our passport countries (joys of home-ownership, anyone?) Justin likes to remind me that I’m usually nostalgic when I talk about the places I used to live. I reminisce about the good things I had, the once-in-a-lifetime-experiences, when the reality was, as I was living in the thick of it, I complained or vented about the hard stuff…a lot.
It’s always about perspective. As Tsh Oxenreider puts it in her book Notes from a Blue Bike: “living well doesn’t mean not doing hard things.”
These lists have proven cathartic, a form of therapy, a simple method to orient myself to the tangible and quantifiable things I both love and lack in a new culture.
Perhaps too, through this routine, I’ve unearthed an ability to cope with just about anything, given the right perspective.
So without further ado, here are:
Twenty things I love:
- Doing life & ministry here with my husband
- Fresh. Baked. Bread.
- Jamón ibérico
- The Spanish language (actually 4 official languages recognized here)
- Learning Castilian Spanish
- They have IKEA
- PT is mostly reliable and affordable
- There’s, like, castles here and stuff
- Always stunning architecture to marvel at
- The incredible history (and a crazy number of UNESCO world heritage sites)
- Wine. It’s cheaper than every other beverage.
- A four-season climate
- Spanish olive oil
- Balconies & terraces full of flowers
- Drying my clothes in the fresh air and sun
- It’s totally normal to eat pastries EVERYDAY and not be considered a glutton
- Queso oveja (sheep cheese)
- The neighborhood bar or cafe is the center of life
- Walking everywhere for everything is normal
- How international this place is, and how many languages I hear on any given day
Twenty things I’m getting used to:
- Most everything shuts down during the afternoon for “siesta”
- The late-night culture
- The buzz of youthful “fiestas” in the cities
- Spanish breakfast portions (a crusty piece of bread with jam or tomato puree is NOT breakfast)
- Customer service, or lack thereof
- Exorbitant International postal fees
- Not relying on a car to get around
- The lack of Tex-Mex restaurants
- A culture that shrugs off work easily
- Empty cathedrals
- High fuel prices
- The coffee (just not a fan of café solo or café con leche)
- Still struggling with the language barrier
- Feeling self-conscious (the women here are soooooooo pretty)
- Missing family & friends
- Missing important milestones with my nieces and nephew
- A culture that at best seems cavalier about matters of faith
- All the blockbuster movies are dubbed over in Spanish (just, nope)
- Air conditioners, dishwashers, and dryers are NOT the norm
- Corruption at every level of government (only because it’s western Europe, I didn’t expect it to be this bad)
Justin would like to point out that it took me twice as long to come up with a list of 20 things I’m getting used to.
We’ll call that growth.
(Speaking of growth, check out these crazy trees that grow into and out of each other)
Here’s my previous post from Twenty Things: Japan
Here’s my previous post from Twenty Things: Africa