Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to Survive Your First Year Overseas

3 friends with 3 months, 12 years, and
 3 years experience in the Middle East.

When you first move overseas, every day poses a mystery waiting to be solved: how to get a phone line, how to communicate to the electrician that the lines he installed last week are loose, how to buy furniture and appliances using a bargaining system you don’t really understand.  Even going to the corner grocery for bread is a stressful event.  Then you start language study and things really get interesting!

Your first year overseas is a crash course in cross-cultural adaptation.
  You’re stretched way beyond your comfort zone. It can be a stressful, lonely time. Some days you just have to hunker down into survival mode to get through. You might ask yourself, “What am I doing here anyway?” 

If you are new on the field, hang in there! God’s grace will be sufficient for you today. Little by little, life will get easier. Here are some ideas for getting through your first year:

Don’t lose perspective

Some days you’ll enjoy connecting with your new culture.  Other days will be frustrating. You might experience depression as you miss friends and family, but still haven’t established a new support base. On the hard days, take a deep breath and realize that things will get better.

Think long term

When we moved to Turkey, the first year was hard.  The second year got better, and after three years we crossed a threshold.  We felt at home, and we were better equipped to serve after three years of experience. 

Make daily time with God a priority

This is what has enabled me to live 12 years in spiritually dry environment where fruit is slow in coming and discouragement often rears its ugly head. Even 15 or 20 minutes a day of scripture reading and prayer make a difference and help you to see God’s perspective on your new life.

Don’t expect too much of yourself

Unrealistic expectations can add to your stress levels.  If you’re expecting to learn the language, become an expert on the culture, make lots of friends, and develop a wonderful ministry the first year, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment.  Don’t burn yourself out.  Remember that slow and steady wins the race.  Focus on language study.  Make one or two friends. Focus on language study. Invite people to your home. Focus on language study…

Relax and have fun

Take regular time off to do things you enjoy.  Take your kids to the park. Take advantage of sightseeing opportunities.  Explore the resources available to you in country for pursuing your favorite hobby.

These are just a few ideas.  In my next post I’ll write about five more suggestions for keeping your head above water during your first year on the field. 

I’d love to hear from you. If you’re new on the field, how are you doing?  What is working for you? If you’ve been overseas a while, what tip do you have for new workers in the first stages of adjustment?


Stefanie Brown said...

I'm not on the field, but being a part of missions and the lives of missionaries is a huge part of our lives.

Great stuff you shared! Thank you for being an encouragement to those God has called to live away from "home".

I'm your neighbor at Open Your Heart Tuesday today...

Missional Mama said...

Your post is right on. For me, I would say the first six months were great and then after that until about year two was really hard for me. I think you hit it on the head that after a few years though you do start feeling at home. I think that is what is hard with one and two year mission stints, people are just starting to get there and they leave.
Looking forward to your next post!
Amy @ Missional Mama

OliveTree said...

Thank you Stefanie.

Amy that is funny that you mention the first six months! That is exactly how it was for me. At month six, the honeymoon phase wore off!

us5 said...

great thoughts, Olive Tree. one more tip for new workers overseas...be encouraged by blogs like this one! :)

Denise said...

Wonderful thoughts, thanks for sharing.

Alida said...

I love your list and totally agree with you!!

One of the things that helped me get through my first year was remembering to pace myself. I knew that I could only handle so much each day of each week and I stuck to that.

OliveTree said...

Those are all great suggestions. Pacing myself is one tip I can still use today!

Rosilind Jukic said...

This is EXCELLENT! What a great post for new missionaries. I made the mistake of expecting way too much of myself way too soon. Now that I've been on the field for 8 years, I can say that I wish I would have taken myself a lot less seriously and relaxed more my first year. I probably wouldn't have had the health problems I struggled with later on.

I am your new follower! Stopping by from On Your Heart Tuesday. Blessings from Croatia: A Little R & R: www.littlerandr.org