It’s hard to believe that we only have a year left on this island. Equally hard to believe is that a year ago, we were at Disney land! Looking back to our trip to Disney puts time in perspective for me. Sometimes if feels like our time on Sint Maarten is an eternal summer that can never end, but our time here is not so very long after all. I don’t know if that makes me happy or sad. I do look forward to a new season and actually being able to have a job, but I don’t want to leave the friends and the life I’ve made here. Time just keeps ticking on.
The reason we went to California was because of Ben’s interview for American University of the Caribbean. We drove six hours to LA (and then another three through LA for the last twenty miles to the interview location) from Phoenix for the interview and a getaway weekend. At first, we weren’t sure if Disney tickets were a wise financial decision, since our med school location was still up in the air at that point. But my parents decided that we needed to go– especially since Ben had never been to a Disney park. So they gave us tickets!
Of course, we had an awesome time at Disney Land. It had been a decade since I’d been, so we discovered it together. I had the layout of Minnie Mouse’s house memorized, but I didn’t even remember that Frontierland exists! The fireworks were rained out, but we were able to see something better– the Abe Lincoln show. Seriously, that’s the best part of Disneyland. After Rapunzel, of course.
Ben nailed his interview. A few weeks later, we knew where we were going to go for med school: some faraway island called Sint Maarten where people stood on the beach and let airplanes fly a few hundred feet above their heads.
We started planning. We had no idea what life would look like. No idea what our home would be, who our community would be, what we’d do in our free time. Everything was behind the next door, and we couldn’t wait to step through it.
We’re kind of in the same boat now. In a year, we’ll leave again. We don’t know what life will look like or where we’ll be headed.
A year ago, we were at Disney. A year from now, we’ll be getting ready to move again. Life changes fast. I don’t want to miss the moment I’m in now. Sometimes, I just wish away time so I can get to the next new and exciting thing. But I know I need to hold on to each precious season and moment. There are so many years of change and adventure ahead, but I’ll never get this day back! So I’ll make the most of it.
“Ground beef. Like, beef– cow meat– but it’s all ground up in little bits.” I did my best unofficial international sign language to accompany my explanation.
“Ah! Bœuf haché?” The grocery store employee led me to the freezer and pointed at the package of meat, eyebrows raised. “This?” He asked. It didn’t look exactly like the ground beef at Walmart, but it appeared to be ground beef nonetheless. I smiled and thanked him, placing the package in my cart.
There are only a handful of affordable grocery stores on the island of Sint Maarten, and my options are to pay $170 a trip to shop in English or $102.75 to shop in French. I choose the language barrier and saving seventy bucks.
I spend a lot of time staring at labels, trying to make out what this can or that box holds. I’ve become pretty good at guessing, and I’ve even picked up some French in the process (although don’t ask me to try to pronounce it). Whenever I learn to speak French, I’ll have a head start. I will know the word for every single food item ever invented.
Some of the labels are easy. I babysat for a bilingual family, and their kids called milk lait at all times. The cow on the front also helps.
Others aren’t so easy. I always thought fromage was just the word for “cheese,” but apparently it’s the word for every single dairy product on the planet.
This is not cheese. It’s yogurt. When I bought it, I needed yogurt, but it looked like it could be cottage cheese or whipped cream. I decided that the risk was worth it. Ben hoped it would be whipped cream, so he was disappointed.
This does not say fromage, but it IS cheese. Thank goodness this bag is see-through, or I would have been even more confused than I already was.
The hardest products to find are the ones I don’t know the French word for, can’t see through the packaging, and don’t even recognize the packaging. It took me a few trips and some asking around to find baking soda. I was looking for the small orange box, but apparently Arm and Hammer doesn’t do French.
I suspect the packaging issue is why I still can’t find baking powder. My friend Aqiyla went shopping with me yesterday, and she couldn’t find it either, although she speaks French. You don’t realize how powerful branding is until you’re dropped in the middle of unrecognizable foreign brands.
One thing that is not hard for me to locate, however, is Nutella! I think I have a Nutella radar built into my brain. I’m OK with becoming more European, if it involves chocolate for breakfast. Yes, please!
I have encouraging moments, too. I’m getting to the point where I can read a lot of French words, even if I couldn’t use a single one in conversation. I can understand most French signage around town, and I can tell the difference between all-purpose flour and pastry flour. I can even scan package ingredients for allergens and be fairly confident that I won’t send anyone into anaphylactic shock.
I never thought I’d say this, but there are days that I really miss Walmart. But at the same time, I’m glad I have the chance to make shopping a bilingual adventure. After all, I never quite know what I’m going to come home with…
I believe that every bad quality can become something positive. Stubborn people know how to stand their ground. Argumentative people make great lawyers. Messy kids grow up to be creative adults.
I always thought I was discontent. My parents gave me the opportunity to travel the United States (the plan is to visit every state before we die; I still have ten to go). Every time we went somewhere, I’d leave begging my dad from the back seat, “Can’t we just move here? Why can’t we live here? Wouldn’t it be cool to live by Such and Such National Park? Wouldn’t it be cool to get RAIN sometimes? The baseball team here is so much better than the Diamondbacks! Can we move here? Why not?” There was nothing wrong with living in Phoenix. I had a great house and a great community. I just wanted something… different. I thought I was ridiculously discontent, and I probably was. It was something I had to pray about and work through. But maybe the root of my interest in moving somewhere else wasn’t really a contentment problem. Maybe the root of it all was my wanderlust, and I just didn’t know how to productively channel it yet.
I still feel that wanderlust. I still feel restless and look forward to going somewhere new. According to my college psychology textbooks, I’m going to outgrow it in about five years. Despite what the experts say, I doubt that it will ever leave me. I’ve tasted the expat life, and I don’t know if I can ever go back and put down roots. Even here, on the tropical island of Saint Martin, I feel a restlessness. I want to peek behind the curtain and find out what comes next. I want to sell stuff, pack, and move again. I want to discover someplace new.
Some of my most breathtaking moments are sunsets after surfing. I like to paddle out away from the waves, sit on my board, and watch the golden highlights play over the azure surface of the water. I love to watch the blue sky turn slowly cotton-candy pink, reflecting in pastel colors on the waves. Yesterday, as I watched the sun set behind the hills of the island, I couldn’t help but realize how lucky I am to be able to experience such a moment. I felt like God was painting a watercolor masterpiece just for me. How many times will I surf at sunset over our two years here? Fifty, maybe? A hundred? I wonder what it will be like to say goodbye to these tropical evenings.
Do you want to know the truth? I’m OK with knowing that this won’t last for the rest of my life. I’m OK knowing that I’ll have to sell my board in a few months. I don’t mind that I probably will never live on an island again. I’m OK with a limited number of ocean sunsets. I can’t imagine a more wonderful place to live than Saint Martin, and I love being here. But there’s so much more out there to discover. I want to spend as many days as possible watching the sun set over the waves while I live here, but I also want to watch it set over the buildings of Prague someday. I want to stargaze from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I want to reach the top of Kilimanjaro. I want to ride a train in Toronto with my friends and a whole passel of Little League boys. I want to go to a K-Pop concert, a Sydney opera, and a Broadway show. I want to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef.
In a year and a half, Ben’s medical school basic science classes will end and we’ll move again, this time for his clinical rotations. According to those who have gone before, we have virtually zero control over where we go, and we won’t know where we’re going until it’s almost time to leave. We could be moving states every month or so for two years. You know what? I think I’m OK with that. I might even be looking forward to it. There’s so much to experience in this great big world of ours, and I’m ready to take it on.
Moving overseas is a momentous operation. But it does not need to be a miserable one! There are many things that you can do to make your big move easier and happier. Before I made my first big overseas move, I worked for a company that operated internationally. As part of my job, I briefed and trained interns who were heading overseas for a few months or years. I learned a lot in the process and soaked up insight from my husband, who has made five major international moves in his life. And when I finally had my chance to go, I learned for myself what it’s like to transition cultures and countries.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Everyone has different experiences, and I’d love to hear your stories and insights in the comments, too.
Expectations. This is the single most important thing to consider when you’re moving overseas, especially if you’ve never visited that place before. The truth is, your expectations define your experiences. They are the biggest culprit in relationship breakdown and disappointment in general. Before you go, write down your expectations so that you know what they are. Read them over and remind yourself that you have a 99% chance of every one of those things being different than you think! For example, I was totally convinced that I would get fresh mangoes off the tree every day in Sint Maarten. Not so– everything is imported. Try to prepare yourself for this sort of thing. Have as few expectations as possible. Be open to new and surprising things, and make it fun.
The big fights. One side effect of leaving is that you will find yourself experiencing tension with the ones you love most. Don’t worry; you’re not losing your mind. This is normal– and knowing that makes big blow-ups avoidable. The inclination to fight is your subconscious’ way to make leaving people easier. Obviously, it has the opposite effect. Remember that the people you are leaving are experiencing loss, too, as they say goodbye. Have grace for others, and ask them to have grace for you.
Saying goodbye. Saying goodbye is hard, but closure is important. Let people know you’re going. Meet with friends and make plans to keep in contact.
What you need to pack. What you need to bring? Probably nothing more than yourself and your passport. Of course, your clothes and books are nice to bring, too. As you prepare to go, redefine “need” and “want” in your mind so you can judge what will be helpful to you and what will be cumbersome. Be sure to bring a few things that will remind you of home– maybe some photographs. Don’t spend a ridiculous amount of money toting the entire contents of your home across the ocean when you can replace it for cheaper when you get there.
Your first day. The last thing you should do when you land is go to your new home and surround yourself with American (or Canadian, or whatever) things and people. Even if you’ve been on a plane for fourteen hours, try to spend your first couple hours on the ground immersing yourself in the culture. Go shopping. Take a walk downtown. Ride the bus. And remember that the faster you force yourself to adapt to a new time zone, the faster the jet-lag will wear off.
Staying sane. Culture stress is a real thing. Some people feel it quickly, others don’t. Generally, most people experience the “honeymoon stage” for about three months and then go downhill from there. Rock bottom is at two years, and then things start to look up. However, charts and graphs can’t define your experience. This journey is what you make it, and somehow you’ll have to survive the bad days and the homesickness. Go exploring, try out restaurants, shop where the locals shop. Journal regularly, and start a blog so your friends back home can follow your adventures. Skype friends and family regularly. Write lists of what you love about this place. Write lists of what you hate and turn them into positives.
Take care of yourself. Unfortunately, people take advantage of foreigners. We see this in our home countries, and it’s just as true anywhere else. Being taken advantage of can range from being quoted the “white price” on buses to date rape and muggings. Learn what the safe and dangerous places are, get to know local prices, and don’t take unnecessary risks.
Feel what you feel. Not what you think you’re supposed to feel, not what your boyfriend thinks you should feel, not what a “strong” person would feel. Adjustment is hard. And that’s OK.
Have Fun! With all of these points on how to survive an international move, it might sound like I think moving overseas is a drag. But transitioning to a new place can be a lot of fun! Enjoy yourself. Take a thousand and two photos. Try things you’ve never done before.
Community. Without community, you will have a tough time feeling at home. Build community with other expats in your area. Make friends with locals, too. Both are essential for being truly integrated in your new home. Find a church, find a club, invite people over.
Get involved. Becoming part of the community and culture around you will bring you joy and save you from many days of loneliness and wishes of a return ticket home. Some of my friends and I volunteer a few days a week to tutor kids with a local program. This really was the best thing we’ve done on this island– we were all feeling a little lost and isolated until we started focusing on something other than our own lonely selves. A sense of purpose brightens life anywhere you are.
Understand the culture. The best gift you can give to yourself is the ability to understand the place you are living in. Learn the basics– how to properly greet people, what is decent apparel, and how to get around. New cultures can be frustrating at first, but remember that just because things are different it doesn’t mean that they are wrong. In the end, you’ll have fun as you achieve little cultural victories and begin to be able to understand and use the new language or dialect around you.
If you asked me what day of the last year I would like to live over, it would be April 21, 2015. Why? Why would I want to live over a random Tuesday? Why not a big, life-changing, memorable day? Because the memories are enough. I’d want to remember those days the way I experienced them the first time around.
The things I don’t remember well are the everyday things. I’d like to go back a few months and live over a regular day in a past season of my life. On Tuesday, April 21, 2015, I woke up to the sound of Ben’s alarm at 5:30 am. I dragged myself out of bed and made breakfast– probably eggs– while Ben made coffee. We did morning devotions and ate together, and a bit before seven he drove me to work. I opened up the preschool, played with my sweet babies, and then worked as a teacher’s aide in their class. Then I went home and cleaned the house, ate lunch, read my Bible. Maybe I called my mom. Maybe I saw my sister while walking home from work through her college campus. Maybe I walked the long way home and enjoyed the sounds of the city. At 2:30, I went back to work and watched elementary school kids. I probably brought my ukulele and let them play it, I probably played tag with them. I talked casually with the friends I worked with. After work, I walked home and made dinner for Ben. He came home, and after dinner we got ready for Bible study. I made tea, everyone came, and Ben led study group. We read the Bible, prayed, talked, and laughed together. Then everyone said goodnight and went home. I made Ben’s lunch for the next day and we went to sleep.
Not a very exciting day, but a good day. A normal day.
If I could live a day over, I’d want to live again in a day in the life of the former version of me. I’d remember what my life was like. I’d see the changes that have happened over the months, and I’d be grateful for how I’ve grown. I’d be thankful for the time I had with those friends, those kids, that home, that place.
Today, I am thankful to the Lord that I lived today and that I get to live tomorrow. I’d love to live a day in my life over again, but we’re only given one chance to live each day. Let’s be thankful for today and make the most of it.
People are a liability. You can replace homes, you can replace cars, you can replace clothes and electronics and stuff, but you can’t replace people. People are a liability because having relationships hurts. If you have relationships, you will have pain. Maybe they will hurt you, maybe you will hurt them, maybe you will hurt just because they hurt. Maybe it will hurt because you have to say goodbye.
Saying goodbye hurts.
I said a lot of goodbyes this year. After graduation in May, the class exodus to old homes and new jobs commenced. I started to miss people I didn’t even know I liked that much. Then, the month before we moved, we helped close friends move to Arkansas, Nevada, and Northern Arizona. We said goodbye to friends and family going to dozens of location around the country and around the globe.
And then we left.
The weeks before we left were a blur. We said goodbyes, gave hugs, and shared tears until my heart felt numb. We said goodbye at the airport to my family, and I bawled in the terminal once we were finally through security and waiting for the plane.
The thing about people is that you can’t replace them. You can make new friends, but they hold a new place in your heart. They don’t fill the place of the old friends. I wish I could take all my old friends and all my new friends and all my family and move them to this little island. One thing that stinks about moving around is that no matter where you go, you always miss somebody. The first few weeks we were here, I felt like we were on vacation, so it wasn’t too hard to be away from people I know. When school started up and I started to spend more time alone, I started to feel the absence of familiarity. I feel bad, but I have to admit that I kind of resented my neighbors for not being my old neighbors. I missed having neighbors knock on our door randomly throughout the week to say hi or share a DVD or ask for prayer. I really started to miss people. I missed my family. I missed our Bible study group. I missed our church. I missed everyone from work. I missed friends from school. I missed everybody. I still do. Sometimes, part of me wants to just go back to Arizona. But I also know that things aren’t the same there now. New people live in our apartment complex, new people work at my old job, new people go to my old college, and so many people who used to be there are gone.
I try to live by the adage, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I compile pictures from past seasons of life and smile when I look at them. And then I look around and thank God for the wonderful things I have in this season. In a year and a half, when we leave, I’m going to feel the same pains of goodbye about this place. And thus goes life– goodbyes and good memories.
Ben is used to goodbyes, and they don’t faze him as much as they faze me. That’s part of being a Third Culture Kid. You get used to saying goodbye. Ben has made five international moves and probably said goodbye to more people than I’ve ever met. All I can say is thank goodness for modern technology. I used to hate Facebook until I married into a family with members in five different countries. Now, I’m glad to have a way to see pictures of my nieces and nephews and find out what’s going on in my family members’ lives. It kills me that I’m not there to watch the kids grow up. But I’m glad I can still be a little bit involved from where I am. Als0, I’m convinced that video chat is the best invention of the century. In the last week, we were able to Skype into both my parents’ birthday celebrations, and it was almost as good as being there (despite the awkward delay when trying to sing “Happy Birthday”). I can’t imagine how it must have been for people when mail went overseas by boat only. It makes my day when I get an email or a Facebook message from a friend back home.
I’m learning how to stay in touch. Historically, neither Ben nor myself have been too awesome at this. Ben literally has no time to do it himself these days, but I’m trying to get better at it. I even wrote nineteen post cards a couple weeks ago. They probably won’t get anywhere for a couple of months, but hey. I’m also getting better at initiating and answering emails. I’ve only Skyped a few people, but I have a lot more I want to talk to. Also, my phone works here (joy of joys!) so I can even get phone calls! Our friend Bizi moved from the Southwest to the East Coast two years ago. He still posts Facebook pictures of friends from our college days to let us know he’s thinking about us. I love that. If any of you, dear readers, have ideas on how to keep connected with people, please let me know in the comments!
Burned into my memory is the last goodbye we said to friends. We had a game night at Bernie and Jessica’s apartment a couple days before we left. As we were leaving, our friend Marcus stood outside the apartment and waved to us with a sad smile. We were just about to turn around and walk away, when Bernie popped out of the door with a giant smile and way too much energy for 11:00 pm–
“Bye, guys! See you in Heaven!”
Marcus slapped him. “Shut up!”
We had to laugh. It was funny, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that Bernie’s really on to something. I really hope we see him again before we die, but no matter what, we know that between Believers in Christ, there is no “Goodbye forever.” It’s always just “goodbye for now.”
It makes me think of a Michael W. Smith song that has become close to my heart.
Because friends are friends forever,
If the Lord’s the lord of them,
And a friend will not say never,
Cause the welcome will not end.
Though it’s hard to let you go,
Still the Father says we know
That a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.
A lifetime’s not too long to be friends. Stay in touch with us, guys. We miss you and love you.
Those of us in the expat/foreign student category can name a lot of reasons why we chose to live overseas. I’m sure the most common answer is “I wanted to experience a different culture.” We talk about the people we interact with, the things we see, the food we eat. But reasons why one benefits from life overseas goes so far beyond just the obvious, beyond the great Instagram moments and the postcards home. Here is a list of some of the reasons why I think living overseas is great.
Less choice in the grocery store
The water goes out now and then
Frustrating cultural nuances
Fewer people you can relate to
That whole confusing English-metric conversion problem
It’s not as safe
Pause. You’re wondering, why are these positive things? Aren’t these some of the reasons why most people never move internationally? Probably. But I would argue that they are also some of the best things that you will experience while living overseas.
Power outages are arguably the most annoying part of my daily life. We have weeks where the power stays on for days at a time and other weeks where I spend three hours every afternoon with no power– thus no internet, no AC, no cooking. The whole island is on the same power grid, so if something goes out, the whole island suffers. This is with the exception of the medical school, which has its own reliable generator. Our apartment, however, is at the mercy of the power grid. While it bugs me, this has made my life better in a few ways. First, it teaches me to be more flexible. If I have plans that require power, they have to change. That’s all there is to it. My attitude doesn’t change the fact that we have to eat cereal for dinner. But I can choose to have an enjoyable bowl of cereal by iPhone light or to have a miserable cereal dinner by iPhone light. I’m learning to go with the flow. Secondly, lack of technology forces me to look around and remember all the other thing I can do! Reading, games, art… sometimes it’s good to take away the digital options! Also, the power outages bring us together. We all open our doors to let cooler air in, drop in to a neighbor’s apartment to see if we blew a fuse or if the power is out everywhere, and stop to have conversations.
2. Fewer options in the grocery store.
Personally, I like this because it make shopping quicker. With fewer brands and options, I can pick choose what I need and move on. It also makes my cooking more basic and my cupboards less crowded. I know what my staples are, I know what they ought to cost, and I know what I can make from them. Easy.
3. The water goes out now and then
Honestly, I really don’t like this. It’s gross to have dirty dishes pile up in the sink. It has, however, taught me to prepare and have a few jugs of water in case of emergency. Also, it makes me grateful for having running water at all. It makes me respect people who don’t have running water and work hard to make life work without it.
4. Language barrier
I interact daily with people who speak English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and/or Mandarin. Most people here speak enough English that I can communicate with them. My biggest struggle, honestly, is the heavily-accented Caribbean English that many people use. It’s terrible, but I struggle to understand foreign accents. It’s embarrassing. I have so many uncomfortable moments in buses and at stores! I’m grateful for this, though. It teaches me to go out of my comfort zone and learn to communicate. It forces me to assimilate my ears to local speech. Someday, when I move to a country without much English, I’ll be forced to learn to communicate on a whole new level. The result of this will be learning a new language. And that, of course, is a wonderful thing!
5. Transportation issues
We have decided to live here without a car. I am so grateful for my friends who have cars and take me to the store and everywhere else I go! Besides those who let me grab a ride, my only other option is a bus. We live in Cupecoy, an area with mostly resorts and dining and few locals. Therefore, the taxis come often but the buses are unpredictable. If I want to go somewhere by myself, my options are to wait as long as it takes for a bus to come or walk a mile through a golf course along the road to Maho, where buses come more often. I usually choose the golf course. Once on the bus, getting somewhere is not too bad. I did have a bus driver make me get out in the middle of traffic and then holler at me for not standing in the middle of the road to close the door. Other than that, it’s been alright. Certainly less convenient than having my own car. But in many ways, it’s better. First of all, I get to spend time with my friends when we carpool. I love that. Secondly, when I bus it, I get to be a part of normal life on the island. I meet people I’d otherwise never meet. I get to talk to the bus driver and hear his or her story. I get to learn island etiquette better. Want to be a local and not a long-term tourist? Take the bus.
6. Frustrating cultural nuances
I took a few intercultural courses in undergrad. I remember that we once played a game representing a foreigner in a new culture. We were told some of the rules, but not all of them. We had to figure out the rest based on the behavior and reactions of the players who knew all the rules. That really is what it’s like when you live in a foreign culture. People tell you the obvious differences, but not the more subtle ones. You can let this drive you nuts or you can treat it like a puzzle to be solved. In the process, you’ll get some weird looks, maybe even some dirty looks, but you’ll also build relationships. Come in as a learner, with smiles and shrugs and apologies, and people will often be willing to laugh with you and help you learn. Expand your comfort zone! Step out into new boundaries, and enjoy making those mistakes and earning those little cultural victories. In Sint Maarten, locals greet each other formally with “good morning” or “good afternoon” as soon as they enter a new place. It has (finally) become a habit for me, and I’ve had great conversations with the local employees at AUC and people around town because I’m more capable of communicating respect the way they do.
Just because you seem to have absolutely nothing in common with another person doesn’t mean you can’t learn to relate to them. Widening your definition of what it means to connect with another person allows more people into your life. Diversity is a good thing! Expand your horizons. One thing I love about living here is that most of my acquaintances are from vastly different backgrounds than my own. I can learn so much.
8. That whole confusing English-metric conversion problem
Thanks, America, for having a complicated measurement system that is entirely different from the rest of the world! I’m still not sure this is actually a benefit. And I do love my dual-system measuring cup. However, I think I will be forced into learning how to operate in either system– and maybe even be able to do rough conversions in my head.
9. It’s not as safe
During my rather limited international travel experiences, people in the U.S. have often fretted to me, “But it’s not safe!” “Africa is not safe!” “What if you get malaria?” “Why would you move out of the country? Isn’t that unsafe?” Even, “Be careful of those Islams over there.” I know they mean well but… really? This American obsession with safety is why schools have to have a specific number of inches between the wood chips and the seat of a swing or risk being written up by a safety inspector. To be honest, I’m not too worried about foreign diseases, all my Muslim friends and acquaintances are pretty cool people, and sometimes “safe” is boring. Why else do people jump out of airplanes for fun? I think the biggest thing here is redefining “safe.” In the U.S., we work so hard to stay safe and secure– we probably tend to go overboard, actually. Even so, the U.S. isn’t really safe. I grew up in the city with the highest national percentage of kidnappings per capita. We have all heard the tragic news about recent school shootings across the country. And some freak on the I-10 spent the better part of September lodging bullets in other peoples’ cars. Now, I live in a the region of the world with second-highest AIDS rate. There is a bar down the street where someone got stabbed last year. Muggings sometimes happen on the golf course at night. Also, all weapons are illegal on the Dutch side of the island, so I can’t even carry mace or a pocket knife to defend myself. That makes me feel uncomfortable. Is it safe? No, but neither is Phoenix.
I realize that many places in the world are extremely dangerous. There are places with rampant disease, war, religious radicals on extremist jihad, and many other dangers. There are places you would not bring your children to live. There are places it is not wise for many of us to go. I think that there are times, however, that we just have to place our lives in God’s hands and follow Him wherever He asks us to go. For some of us, part of the process of trusting Him is putting ourselves in a place that frightens us. What would the world look like had the Pilgrims, David Livingstone, Florence Nightingale, or St. Patrick been afraid to go where it was unsafe? Where would we be without the men and women in the armed forces who are willing to leave their homes to keep our nation secure? Stepping out a place of security helps us to redefine our priorities in life and to destroy unnecessary fear.
Whether you’re in Sint Maarten battling with a bad attitude about the electricity, in North Africa risking it all to help others, or in the United States stepping out of your comfort zone to engage your neighbor from a different culture, we all have something to learn from our circumstances. Whether you’re living at home or abroad, don’t take the little things for granted. Everything that comes our way can shape who we are.
It’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny when I was in the middle of it. Our first full day in Sint Maarten did not include the beach, fresh seafood, or any of the things you probably thought I’d do as soon as possible. Instead, we spent pretty much the whole day on biggest shopping fail I’ve ever experienced.
One of the blessings of living in or complex is a little Chinese general store just a quick stroll down the hill. It has most of the things we needed to buy, including cups, canned food, and even plates (they say “love apple” on them, whatever that means, but hey, they’re plates). It also has a lot of things we don’t need, but were very entertained by– plastic cups with anime bears, and a set of tiny drawers with the same badly-translated Chinese poem on every drawer.
We bought some of the things we needed, but we had heard that a discount store in Philipsburg, the capitol city, was having a killer closing sale. We didn’t know how to get there, so we asked our complex’s maintenance man where the bus station is. He offered to give us a ride to Maho, where buses leave more frequently. We gladly accepted his kind offer, and he actually drove us all the way to Philipsburg, so our bus ride to the end was short. Our first stop was Cost U Less, where things might cost you less on the island but definitely cost more than in the States. Let’s just say we won’t be buying cereal here. We bought a few things and moved on to the store with the sale, Save A Lot, and found decent prices for many of the things on our shopping list– sheets, comforters, couch cover, curtains, knives and block, pillows, doormat, etc. The selection wasn’t so great, but at least we got things we needed and liked.
Or so we thought.
We took a taxi home, because no bus would be able to take us and our bulky bags. We finally made it home, and began to unpack.
Our first problem was that the curtains I chose did not fit on the rod in our bedroom. The second problem was that they looked ridiculous in the living room. We despaired of our curtains and moved on to the bedding. We slept on my wrap-around skirts last night and used clothing-stuffed bags for our pillows, so you can imaging how happy we were to have sheets. One problem: they did not fit. The sheets said that they were for a full bed, but they were about a foot too short! We bought three sets, sadly. This also meant that the blanket we bought did not fit. The door mat didn’t work either– every time the door opens, it sweeps the mat to the side.
At this point I was feeling pretty discouraged. I flopped down on our half-sheeted bed and stared dejectedly at the ceiling. Ben walked in, carrying the box that held our new knife set. “Are you OK?” He asked. I said that I was frustrated because everything we made the trip for we couldn’t use. “It’s going to be OK,” he said, as he opened the box. He slid out the knife block and, lo and behold, no knives. Just an empty block and the cutting board that came with it. We stared at it and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Ben shook his head and burst out laughing. I laughed, too. Sometimes, you just have to have a sense of humor.
We ended up using the bedspread as curtains, the top sheets as fitted sheets, and the doormat as a rug in the kitchen. We went shopping again today and found sheets that actually fit. I don’t really know what to do with an empty knife block or those silly curtains, but sometimes you just have to take things with a shrug and laugh a little. As Ben says, stuff like this comes with being a foreigner. You just have to make mistakes and learn. You just have to let those annoying things that are different from “home” roll off your back. It won’t always be easy to laugh at the things life throws at me, but at least I’m learning.
Today is the day! We were up until the wee hours last night packing our bags, and somehow spent almost the entire day today finishing our moving preparations. It’s hard to explain the emotions of moving away from home for the first time ever. Maybe that’s because it hasn’t really sunk in yet. Right now, I’m sitting at our gate with an hour to go until takeoff. I’ll have fourteen hours to process this huge change once we are in the air.
I’m excited but sad. I’m excited because I’ve been looking forward to an adventure in the great wide world for so long, but sad because of those I’m leaving behind. Someone recently asked me what God has been teaching me through this process. One of the biggest things He’s taught me is to place less value on the things I can buy and more value on the things I can’t. In other words, I’ve learned to appreciate people even more through this move. I’ve always been thankful for the people in my life, but now so more than ever. It’s been one of the most bittersweet lessons I’ve ever learned, because I’m now moving far away from those same people. There have been so many goodbyes this month. The hardest of them happened just ten minutes ago, when I said good-bye to my family at the entrance to airport security.
The past few weeks have been so wonderful. We have been absolutely showered by love from friends and family. We’ve had so many encouraging notes and words given to us, so many gifts, so much generosity. My parents opened their home to us when our lease expired at the end of July. Our church gave us a special send-off prayer and blessing. Even one of the little girls in our Sunday school class brought me homemade jewelry on our last day of teaching. We’ve also had so many fun things to do. I’ve loved our “Arizona Adventures,” exploring points of interest around the state. I’ve loved our babysitting jobs for kids from the school I worked at last year. I haven’t loved the heat, but I did use that to my advantage (My sister and I baked cookies on the dashboard of my car last week).
The next few weeks will be wonderful, too. We have a week and a half before Ben’s classes start, and we have a whole island to explore– Spanish ruins, beaches, surfing, new food. I have lots of plans, but hardly any idea of what to expect! You know how you plan so much for Christmas that you hardly remember that December 26 exists? That’s how I feel right now. I’ve come to the culmination, to the end of my knowledge, and now I don’t know what comes next! I suppose that’s part of the adventure. I’ll find out what comes next when our plane touches down. Until then…