When we moved overseas, I thought the adjustment would be easy.

I had already lived in our host country for three months as a single woman, so I knew what I was getting into. (Ha!) Of course I knew that going back married with a 3-month-old baby would be different. But still, I could quickly adjust. I was flexible. I had been in cross-cultural ministry for years already. I loved cultures and people, and I was outgoing and not afraid to try new things. There might be a bit of initial culture shock, but I wouldn’t have any serious problems with the adjustment.

Was I ever in for a surprise.

Join me over at Velvet Ashes to read the rest of this guest post!

I am going to quote this morning from an email that I wrote about a year ago. A new couple was preparing to move into our area (although not with our organization) and they were emailing with questions about what to pack. Of course those specifics vary so much from one situation to another, so I will not include the whole email!  But here are the last few paragraphs . . .

"One more thing I will add, totally unrelated to packing. This is something that I wish someone had told me before we came . . .

EXPECT THAT THE ADJUSTMENT WILL BE REALLY HARD!  Maybe it will not be as hard as you expect, and that will be a pleasant surprise. :-) But I was expecting life overseas to be one big, fun, exciting adventure. My short-term trips as a young person were certainly fun and exciting. And those I knew who were living overseas told me how wonderful ----  is, how they love their life here, how much fun the markets are, how nice the people are (and it's all true) so I guess I expected to just love everything as soon as I got here!

But seriously, even moving from one place to another within the U.S. is hard - getting used to a new house, new neighbors, new stores, missing your family and friends. So obviously moving across the world into a totally foreign culture is ten times harder!! I'm not saying this so that you will dread it, or to scare you. You will get used to life here and I have no doubt that you will learn to love it. But I'm just saying that you should give yourself time. Don't feel like a failure if you don't feel immediate love for the people, or if you don't like some of the foods, or if you cry at the thought of going to market by yourself . . . it's TOTALLY normal!

I wish someone had told me that, because I spent my first year here feeling like an absolute failure because I was struggling. No one else told me (at the time) that it was hard for them too. I thought I was the only one. Now I realize that actually it was completely normal and basically ALL expats struggle to adjust! Give yourself grace - it might not be hard right away, it might not hit after you've been here several months. It might be hard in different ways than you expect. The things you think will be a challenge might turn out to be a non-issue, and other things may take you by surprise instead. Just don't have too many expectations, and don't feel alone if you're struggling - because you're NOT ALONE!"

**********

So that's my two-cents. What about you? What do you wish you could go back and tell yourself before you moved overseas? What would you tell a friend who is moving overseas for the first time? Or maybe you're right in the throes of the adjustment yourself, and you need a place to "dump" - or ask a question. This is your chance!

I have to admit up front, I'm not qualified to address this subject, because I personally have not successfully learned a second language. My husband and I were in a language learning (LL) situation for a few months, and then were re-directed. So I'm going to share a few ideas, most of which were shared with me before we began, and then I really need you more experienced ladies to pitch in and give us your thoughts!

As we approached LL, it looked like an impossible mountain to me. How in the world was I supposed to learn to cook, shop, clean, and live in a new place, at the same time as settling into and setting up a new house, and also meet the needs of my children, all while learning a foreign language for the first time? Surely I couldn't possibly do it all?!!

And that, dear ladies, is the only real answer I have for you: YOU CAN'T DO IT ALL.

You have to choose what the priorities are and then let the rest go. Language learning is only for a season. It's okay, for a season, to let some things go. Otherwise LL is what will suffer, because you just can't do it all! Sit down with your husband and pray together and discuss what are the priorities to focus on during LL time.

Here are a few ideas along that line -

1) Keep housework as simple as possible. Lower your expectations. This is not the time for gourmet American meals made from scratch with all local ingredients. This is the time for hot dogs and tuna sandwiches - or whatever simple foods you can get where you live. Find nearby street vendors where you can buy lunch or supper several times a week. Let the house-cleaning go to the minimum. Don't worry about home decorating and really settling in. If you're not able to do it before LL starts, then wait. There will be time later.

2) Be willing to "switch roles" with your hubby. If you are both in full-time LL and not in ministry yet, then you need to be realistic about household and child-care responsibilities. It will not work for you to do it all and him to do nothing. He will learn the language and you will not. Discuss how you can take turns taking care of the children while the other one has study time. Divide up the housework so that you are both doing a share.

3) Get help. This will look different depending on where you live and what your situation is, but I highly recommend getting local help, and ideally someone that has worked for expats before. A cook, a nanny, a cleaning lady, a gardener: I'm not saying you have to hire three or four individuals, but do seriously consider what kind of help is available. Surely paying for help is worth the reduced stress and more effective language learning time.

4) Consider and prioritize your children's needs. They are adjusting to a lot of big changes, including all the stress in Dad and Mom's lives. Be sure to give them the love, security and attention that they need. But also consider what you can put on hold with your children. Are you homeschooling? Maybe this is a year to just do the basics and let some of the extras wait til next year. Consider doing video school or online school that will not require as much involvement from you.

5) Take breaks. We need to be focused on the essentials and let the other things go, but be sure to schedule in some necessary breaks. Make Sunday a "special food day" after eating simple meals all week. Do a holiday craft with your children on a Saturday morning. Find the things that refresh you, and do them on a regular basis.

*****

So now it's your turn! Can we hear from some of you that have been through the language learning season? What worked for you? How did you balance it all? Please share in the comments below!

The other day, my husband and I were talking about what we should be praying towards as we look at moving back to Africa this summer. As we discussed our past experiences overseas, one thing stood out to me - one factor that has made the difference for me between just living in Africa and actually loving Africa. I spent time in a country in West Africa, about evenly divided between the north part of the country and the south. And in both those areas, I had a Friend-with-a-capital-F.

I had a Friend in the north. It just sort of happened - I was helping her with her English and we often ended up laying on the floor in her room talking. We'd go to her farm and laugh and talk the day away. We'd chat about what we were thinking. We went places together, biking and talking. I loved it!

After a couple years, I moved south. This was going to be a new experience for me - a new tribe, a new language, a different culture. I distinctly remember praying about this and asking God to give me another Friend. Not until months later did I realize that He had answered my prayer far beyond my expectations. "Z" and I got so close. She was incredibly patient with my babytalk in her language, and it wasn't long till we could chat for hours (ok, disregarding grammar rules, but hey!) We were pregnant together. Moaned through morning sickness together. Discussed our religions (she was Muslim). Laughed our heads off. Brought each other meals. I'd hold her colicky baby while she got a quick bath. Now that we're living in the States, she calls regularly. She, single-handedly, made the difference for me. I loved living there.

Of course, we had more friends than that. Lots of people I could go hang out with, visit, or have a meal with - there's nothing like African hospitality. Lots of people I related with daily, and loved. But the gift of a Friend-with-a-capital-F... that's on a different level. Someone who will voluntarily open up and share. About anything, everything. Someone that will initiate in the friendship. That will tell me if I'm blundering culturally in some way. That will actually tell me how I am perceived in the village. Someone that treats me like a Friend, not like the foreigner that I am. That is huge!

I am not talking about an official "language helper" here. At the same time, I believe having friendships like this is an ideal way to learn more about the language and culture. Also, I believe it is a powerful antidote for culture shock and loneliness. It means that instead of always turning to your fellow expats or your social media to fill those friendship needs in your life, you can start being blessed by relating within your host culture, too. As wives and mothers, it is easy for us to get stuck in our house, relating to our family only. Don't let it happen to you. I believe God wants you to love your new culture, too; and some genuine friendships are a huge help with that.

Of course, besides prayer, there's some work to this, too.

To begin with, you have to build as many relationships as you can. Make friends everywhere. Keep your eyes open for a potential Friend. Don't expect someone to just walk in the door someday. In both instances I told you about, it took months. You do have to do something - get out of your house, get out of your comfort zone, and get into people's lives. My Friend in the north was actually hiding inside of someone I had known for quite a while, and she didn't pop out until I started spending time with her on a regular basis.

Here are a couple ideas to get started. For example, incorporate a daily stroll with your children into your routine. Maybe there's someone that's always in the same place each afternoon, such as a shop keeper? She might be bored waiting for customers and happy to hang out for a little bit. Maybe there's someone sick or disabled who has all the time in the world? Maybe there's a neighbor lady who would love to help you learn to cook local food, or someone who has children the ages of yours, and you can sit with her while the little ones play.... My experiences are in rural Africa, but with a little creative thinking, these suggestions probably work in other places, too.

Sure, it takes a lot of time, and it is not easy. Sometimes, all you want to do is stay home - the last thing you feel like doing is venturing out, again, to bug people, again. To make a fool of yourself, again, because you don't speak the language well and you don't know the culture well. Sometimes, someone you thought was going to be an awesome Friend, turns out to just be someone who thinks they can get some sort of material benefit from your relationship. It's happened to me, and it's hard. But don't give up! When you do find a Friend, the hard work will pay off.

And when you found her? Go on and find another one :-D

Have fun!

How about you? Have you had a Friend-with-a-capital-F in your location? Any more tips on how to find those Friends or nurture those friendships?

I love going to market. The crowds, the noise, the smells, the colorful piles of food displayed in dingy stalls . . . it's all familiar and energizing. But it hasn't always been that way. When we first moved to Africa, I avoided market as much as possible. It was much easier for my husband to go, so I could stay home with the baby. I went to market about three or four times in our first six months in Ghana. I hated market. I was scared of it. And I felt guilty for hating it, but I had no idea what to do about it.

Then our situation changed, and we were in a much smaller village with a much smaller market within walking distance of our house. We were starting language learning, and trying to immerse ourselves in the culture as much as possible. We no longer had a big grocery store available, and were forced to buy most of our daily staples from market. A couple times a week I would get myself psyched up and head out . . . and after a while I realized, I was starting to enjoy it. Pretty soon I was going almost every afternoon to buy ingredients for supper or the next morning's breakfast. I had friends there to laugh and talk with, neighbors along the way to greet, and I loved buying my food fresh every day.

But there are a few things that I learned, sometimes the hard way, that I wish someone had warned me about. So I'm going to share some tips with you - in case you haven't yet discovered how much fun market can be!

1) DO dress appropriately. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes (and consider suncreen and a hat too!) but make sure it's culturally acceptable. Market is a filthy place, so at first I wore my oldest, stained dresses to go there . . . until I realized that the ladies around me were wearing jewelry, high-heels and sometimes even white embroidered dresses! My dirty, sloppy clothing was an insult to them, so I learned to dress nicely but still practically - I haven't gone for the high heels yet. :-)

2) DO consider what you're planning to buy and how you're going to carry it. Will your purse hold it? Do you need to take a big tote bag? A basket on your head like the local ladies do is more practical but doesn't always work well for us white women. :-)

3) DON'T carry your wallet in your back pocket and be careful carrying a backpack. Most markets have pick-pockets who work quickly and silently!

4) DON'T be afraid to use their systems. Are there carrier girls in the market who will take your purchases to your car? Men with carts who would be glad to move larger items? Find out how much to pay them, and then use them! Likewise, find out from a local friend what is appropriate for tipping people like parking directors, and also how to handle beggars.

5) DO be polite and friendly, but don't feel obligated to engage with every person who calls out to you. This will depend on your market situation. If you have a very small village market where every seller is also your neighbor, then you will want to make friends with everybody! But in a bigger city market there will be lots of people who just want to try to make a sale. They see dollar signs when they see white skin, and sometimes the only thing you can do is smile or wave and keep walking.

6) DON'T be intimidated or coerced. The people where we live tend to be pretty forceful, and it can be intimidating. Don't let yourself be talked into buying something you don't want or doing something you're not comfortable with. I have found that a lot of the time they are just testing you, and are not at all offended when you stand your ground - of course politely, but firmly.

7) DO be careful about your interactions with men, especially if you are alone. Most of the men in our area have a Hollywood impression of American women, and expect us to be "fresh" with them. Also because of cultural differences, what we would consider polite friendliness, they often interpret as much more. I usually do not make eye contact with men, and try to avoid smiling at them or engaging in conversation beyond absolute necessities for business. Again, this may depend on whether you are in a big city market or a small village market. Wherever you are, be aware of what is appropriate for the culture you're in.

8) DO be careful about what you eat and drink! We love to get snacks while we're in market, but do be wise. We get only hot food, especially food that we can watch being cooked or fried while we wait. Avoid eating uncooked fruits and vegetables unless you take them home and disinfect them. Also be careful about drinks. Even a lot of bottled drinks are homemade and bottled in "recycled" containers. Be sure to buy drinks that are actually sealed!

9) DON'T take your small children along. Of course this is really up to you, but we have found that market is not a good experience for our little ones. They quickly get very hot, tired, and annoyed by all the over-bearing attention from everyone who wants to touch and hold the white children.  The exception is that I take my babies along in a front-carrier, so that no one can take them out of my arms and they can sleep contentedly while I shop. I have found my babies to be a great connecting-point with other women!

Alright, I think that's all on my list - now go have fun shopping! I love the variety, the low prices, and the great cultural experience that market has to offer. I am thankful that I took the plunge and forced myself to get used to it, and I recommend the same to you!

*****

Now it's your turn, ladies. I've only been to West African markets. How do other markets compare? What tips would you give ladies in your part of the world? Please jump in and share here to make this helpful to all of us!