10 Essential Expatriate Travel Skills

I recently met a woman who heard I have lived in the Horn of Africa for sixteen years WITHOUT AMAZON PRIME. She figured that was probably the hardest thing about those sixteen years. If she only knew…

Being sans immediate doorstep delivery of all the things does not constitute suffering in my worldview. That said, it does make expatriate life a bit more challenging and requires a bit more creativity. There are some important skills to develop. When prodigious amounts of travel are required to see your children, attend a wedding or funeral, pick up your life-saving medications, purchase new running shoes, or simply get a break in an English-speaking country, there are some important skills to develop. When navigating two worlds, there are some important skills to develop.

If you already live abroad, you know of what I speak. If you don’t, but are planning to move, here’s some skills to start developing now.

travel skills

  1. Packing the right amount of peanut butter. How long will you be away from peanut butter? How many children do you have? How lazy are you when it comes to dinner (if you’re anything like me, the answer is: very)? If you’re packing a load of this liquid gold, here’s an easy link to order it. Via Amazon. Because why not just buy the 80 ouncer?
  2. Knowing exactly what 50.0 pounds feels like. Airline staff will be impressed and you won’t have to literally spread your underwear all over the airport floor in front of everyone, re-shuffling.
  3. Accurately guessing what style and size shoes your toddler/tween/teenager will wear eighteen months from now.
  4. Purchasing the right running shoes to get through the next 2,500 miles. My go-to’s lately are Brooks Ghost and Altra trail shoes, nice and wide for my toes, and great for off-road.
  5. Sitting nearly upright for fifteen hours at a time without losing your mind.
  6. Walking off those fifteen hours in preparation for another 8-10 before doing it again, while in a cramped airport lugging carry-ons, purses, computer bags, backpacks, diaper bags, strollers, and 1-3 zombie children.
  7. Filling out visa and immigration paperwork with one hand, the paper balanced on soft-sided luggage which is balanced on top of your thigh which is leaning against the metal bars that hold up those red ropes, so that you can stand in line while filling it out instead of getting stuck at the back of a group of not-from-around-here tourists, while hollering at your children and passing out Cheerios, while holding your pee and ordering everyone else in the family to hold their pee because you are NOT going to the back of the line.
  8. Peeing from any level of squat regardless of the availability of toilet paper or hand sanitizer or bathroom stall doors or bathrooms.
  9. Calling two countries home.
  10. Knowing that ‘home’ has multiple meanings.

What have been some of your essential skills?

*image via Flickr

*contains affiliate links to things you can order on AMAZON PRIME!

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About the Sexual Abuse of Third Culture Kids, Resources and Way Too Many Links

(trigger warning: sexual abuse and mental illness)

A few weeks ago a report came out updating and filling in holes regarding the ongoing sexual abuse of kids at a school run by New Tribes.

Marilyn Gardner wrote a prayer of repentance at A Life Overseas. As a TCK who went to boarding school at a young age, Marilyn has a special tenderness and insight into what this kind of abuse did to those kids.

The Southern Baptist convention has been rocked by accusations of rampant abuse. Protestants cannot and dare not point fingers at the Catholic church or priests. This article is long and devastating. And the Southern Baptist convention has responded, finally.

Just in the past six months, I know three TCKs who lost the battle with mental illness. I’m not saying mental illness and abuse necessarily go together, but that there is a lot of brokenness and grief that isn’t often addressed well in the world of expatriates. TCKs face this in unique ways, sometimes by nature of living in the home of their abuser at boarding school, sometimes leaving a country before resolution has been found, sometimes having no safe place or safe person to tell. There are so many goodbyes, so many losses, so many fears and insecurities. There is so much vulnerability and hunger for belonging.

Books and Resources about abuse and Third Culture Kids

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. A novel, yet it rings deeply true on many levels. The person who loaned this to me almost two decades ago said, “If you go to Africa, don’t you dare live like this.” I like to think we haven’t. There is so much to wrestle with here.

Between Worlds, by Marilyn Gardner, about her experiences growing up in Pakistan and boarding school. Also, Worlds Apart, which digs deeper and goes into vulnerable places. I love her words.

Rachel Cason’s site: Explore Life Story

Amy Young lists 8 resources for expats walking through darkness at A Life Overseas.

Finding Home, Third Culture Kids in the World, especially the essay by Sezin Koehler

Letters Never Sent, by Ruth Van Reken

Misunderstood, by Tanya Crossman

The Story Women Need to Tell, about sexual harassment. We need to lead our kids in conversations about harassment and abuse, so they will know their stories are safe to tell and that they are not alone.

The Trouble with Third Culture Kids, by Nina Sichel Nina also has an article in this incredible book, Writing Out of Limbo, about growing up abroad.

Noggy Boggy writes candidly about his experience with mental illness and life as a TCK.

Time Doesn’t Heal Assault if Victims are Silenced

12 Resources for Churches (and others) to Prevent Sexual Assault

How to Really Talk about Mental Illness

(Thanks to Sarah Bessey for the last three links)

Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere : Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile by Lois Bushong

I know I’ve covered a ton of material and provided an overwhelming amount of links. Everything from sexual abuse in the church to among Third Culture Kids to mental illness.

Maybe it is too much to be actually useful.

Maybe one link to serve one person. In that case, I’m content.

Be blessed, be healed.

*includes affiliate links

What is Moral Injury and How Does it Affect You?

Quick link: Moral Injury

Last Friday I wrote about moral injury for A Life Overseas. I recently learned the term and it was so fitting for much of what I’ve felt and experienced. The essay gets pretty vulnerable about my own weakness.

I first learned the term “moral injury” in a Plough magazine article by Michael Yallend, Hope in the Void. He quoted authors Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini who say moral injury, “comes from having transgressed one’s basic moral identity and violated core moral beliefs…Moral injury destroys meaning and forsakes noble causes. It sinks warriors into states of silent, solitary suffering, where bonds of intimacy and care seem impossible.”

Foreign Policy magazine describes moral injury as “damage done to a ‘person’s conscience or moral compass by perpetrating, witnessing, or failing to prevent acts that transgress moral and ethical values or codes of conduct.”

Can you think of ways you have experienced this in your life abroad?

Read more here:  Moral Injury

Don’t Send Your Marie Kondo’ed Clutter to Africa

An American public health nurse hired by a university in northern Iraq works to develop the nursing program for Kurdish students. She tried to raise $15,000 to build student capacity, continue education for faculty, and fund the purchase of equipment. Tried and struggled and is failing, because let’s be frank, who cares about the health of the Kurds? Does caring for their health and their education spark joy for most Americans? Apparently not.

**

Marie Kondo tells Americans in her book and now her popular Netflix show to toss out everything that does not bring them joy. Touch the object. Feel no joy? Out it goes. And so, mountains of excessive items that fail the joy test pour out of American homes. What does tend to give Americans joy is to donate their used items.

**

The public university in Northern Iraq where the American nurse works receives an anonymous shipment of 18,000 books, many of them nursing books. Every nursing book was published in the 1980s, except the one published in 1965. Thousands of outdated, potentially harmful nursing books bring no one joy and they bring no one health.

**

I imagine the American who decluttered their home of all these books leaves the post office full of joy at having done a good deed. They are so joyful, they may head straight to the store to buy more junk.

**

I work at a school and launched a girls running club in the Horn of Africa and we have also received donations of items that brought no one joy in the United States. Sports bras with two different sized cups. Underwear with one leg hole massively stretched out. Shoes with no laces. Shoes with holes through the bottom. Used coloring books. Popped balloons. Burned down candles. Children’s books with pages torn out.

While it might spark joy for the person donating the used underwear or popped balloons, it does not spark joy for me to receive them. Or to spend time going through boxes of worthless donations. Or to spend even more time carting the junk to the already over-flowing city garbage dump.

**

The American nurse now has to spend the week figuring out how to explain why Americans sent piles of worthless books, and decide what to do with them. She has less time for her students or her classes. She, her students, and other faculty feel insulted and ashamed. And she still struggles to raise the money needed to run the program at top capacity. The cost of shipping the container would have made a significant dent in that need.

**

What if instead of Marie-Kondo-ing all the excess junk, Americans didn’t buy it to begin with? What if a movement to declutter morphed into a movement to never clutter? All that excess money saved could be spent to save lives in northern Iraq. Not lives saved by military conquest or complicated and short-term political solutions. Not lives saved, in theory, by donations of used clothing. But lives saved by fellow Kurds who have learned the skills to be effective health care providers and who can now serve for an entire lifetime among their people?

**

Why do people end up with hundreds of shoes they have never worn, never even taken out of the box? Those shoes alone (and I’m referencing one of the episodes) could more than pay for this nursing need in Iraq. Why do people have so many holiday decorations they can’t even celebrate the holiday? What hole in the heart are we trying to fill and when will we learn that stuff will not fill it?

**

I’m not saying never donate or don’t send things. I pass on my shoes and shirts and pots and pans that I don’t use anymore. We donate, we ship. We have way too much stuff. I’m not immune to this and am speaking to myself as much as to anyone else.

I’m just suggesting we behave thoughtfully, respectfully, and wisely.

**

Two things to end with and you might call me crabby or mean and that’s fine. I get that my opinions from this side of the ocean are not popular with people on the other side.

Don’t let your spark of joy be an excuse to cause someone else a groan of frustration.

Consider never cluttering to begin with and think of generous ways to use what could have been spent on that clutter. That could spark a lot of joy.

 

*includes affiliate links