What I wish I knew :: 6 things from six months abroad


We've crossed the threshold, officially. We've lived overseas for a whole half year! It's barely anything, and yet it feels like everything. I can feel the 180-some days we've been gone from home, and those days have held a lot of things in them.

Sometimes when I'm riding on the tram, I get to thinking about how this once so foreign, now familiar way of life has changed my heart. I sometimes wish I could have had the forethought of the upcoming changes then that I do now.

But to actually verbalize what it means to embrace a new way of doing things, a new language, a new city, well...it's hard. It's hard to express and explain change to those that haven't swam in the current of a new culture. It's hard to explain that all these days added up slowly change the direction that we think and the way we react. This whole experience of cross-cultural living is like wading in a river. Given enough time we end up in a whole different place.

But, as you all know, hard doesn't mean impossible. Here's a few key lessons my heart is learning. While I don't think I'll ever really know how much is happening in our hearts during this season, I can see some big lessons I'm being given.  Here are 6 of them:

1. Comfortable looks extravagant when it's no longer available (and it isn't a dirty word.)

It's weird how deeply we long for things of home at certain times and seasons. Being pregnant has only exasperated those feelings for me. Mostly because I had an awesome experience stateside with my clinic that included chipotle across the street. Praise Jesus, Amen.

There's an ease and a convenience that American living provides and while some scorn it, there's something to be said for it.

I was warned of how hard leaving comfortable is. It made sense in theory (people told me how much I would miss x, y and z.) and yet  I don't think I understood how extravagant the lives my friends back stateside now look. Starbucks in target? Stores that hold everything you could need? Drive-thrus? Even the house sizes seem radical. They're magical now. The biggest thing though for me is the comfort that comes with friendships that have weathered through life seasons. They seem all the more precious now. If homesickness could be capsulated, I think it would be the missing of people that just get you. Getting to be a constant in other peoples life is, I've come to understand, one of the biggest gifts to be given. It's one of my greatest aches.

I also have stopped seeing comfortable as the dirty word that I used to. When I was stateside, 'comfortable living' is challenged regularly, especially in Christian culture. I'm well aware that there is a way to become too comfortable and hold on to that too tightly when we're called to something different, but I think choosing a life just to be uncomfortable, well, is kind of chasing after wind.

So, I'm learning that comfortable isn't the end all (as I previously might have thought.) Sure consumerism and a self-focused life often equate to comfortability, but so do other really good things.  Making others feel comfortable is of value. Finding the comfortable in the uncomfortable is too. It isn't good to live a life day in and day out with the headache from the uncomfortable. It makes a soul weary. I guess all this to say, I'm grateful for all the good gifts we get to enjoy in this short life, especially when that enjoyment comes in the company of friends.. I'm grateful for the comfortable here and look forward to enjoying some of those sweet comforts that are held in the friendships we have back home.

2. When travelers say that a place is about the people in it, they know what they're talking about.

I'm learning that who you journey through life with really does make the trip. We've been blessed with some pretty solid people to go through this season with. Even the new people I meet at the park or the random English speakers on the tram have made the time here all the more special. I think one of my most frequent thoughts while here has been: "Had we not moved here, I'd never get to know you."
It seems so simple, but my heart aches at just the thought of it.

If this whole trip was only for the people I've gotten to laugh alongside with (and perfect my British accent) it's been worth the trip. Plus, Eowyn calls me 'mum' sometimes...so pretty sure that's the coolest thing ever.

Really though, growing in community here has made this place beautiful.

3. Kind people are as universal as their counterparts.

With my parents most recent trip, we were having a good talk, as we often do, about making choices and how that affects others. My dad made the comment that "there'll always be unkind people and kind people." So much of my life I've tailored to the unkind. I've made sure to work above reproach, just in case we're in the company of the unkind. While I didn't label them as such, I now realize that there are people that will always lean towards critical, and others that will lean towards grace.

My job is to lean towards grace, and to show Eowyn that while there are unkind, there are mountains of kind people. And those are the people we tailor to. Too little joy is gained from tailoring to unkind. Especially when kind are in plenty. I want to teach Eowyn to find friends who will hear the whole story. Who will give grace until they've had the conversation, and to naturally lean towards assuming the very best.

 I've had strangers sigh heavily at us being in the way, and I've had strangers offer to help and entertain Eowyn (in Finnish. :) ) Everywhere we've gone, I've learned I have a decision to make. I can either let the kindness of others be the thing we remember and to allow my heart to rest even midst silent stares or unkind comments or I can battle the heart-race that comes from feeling like I've failed some standard I'm not yet aware of. There's enough kindness to be the light I remember. If there isn't, we can be the kindness that others remember.

4. Grace through journeying together is the difference between enjoying or hating an experience.

Marriage is hard. Going overseas and having everything that came easily become a chore is harder. Traveling with someone who is just as lost as you are can easily become volatile ground to become frustrated, impatient, and bitter. The simple things fall a part when a brain is overworked from everything else and you only have one person to turn to. Things get left undone.  Like dishes, like apologies,  like remembering to do what we said we would.

I've learned to ask myself how I'm feeling. If I'm feeling exhausted, or tired, or worn out, or like this whole thing is one big failure, chances are he might be feeling that way too. Remembering this gives the grace to my heart to fight for each other rather than with each other. And much more gets done this way (with a bonus perk of a  heart that's then willing to enjoy her spouse once the dust settles rather than work through all the damage I've created.)

I think because we honeymoon so well together, and vacation so well together, I assumed that this would be easy. While I'd say we live abroad really well together, we've definitely done the dance of figuring out how to work alongside one another. All this to say, given our chance at The Amazing Race, I now think we might actually have a legitimate chance. :)

5. Adventure is most sexy before the trip. In the midst of it, it can trend toward exhausting.

The number one comment we got before our move was some various form of :"Oh! what an adventure!" And I couldn't have agreed more.

I think when I thought of 'the great adventure this is going to be!' I compared it to all the amazing vacations I've experienced. But those didn't hold trips to government offices, figuring out tax forms, learning to pay bills, losing important things and figuring out where the heck the garbage is (to check for important lost things.) It didn't include the tears that come after bringing some weird cream sauce thing home for the umpteenth time because you thought it was yogurt.

It doesn't take long for those cool European buildings with antiquated elevators to go from romantic to tedious.  It's an active choice to see beauty when so much of the beauty comes with hard work.

I've learned that when people tell me that they're on some sort of 'wild adventure,' to ask them how their heart is doing. Because, it's hard and that's the first thing that gets lost in all the newness. It's hard to move to a whole new place where no one knows you. It's hard to try to reconnect to people back home when in a matter of weeks, new experiences have messed up all you once thought. And while the place we move to does have several awesome sites and experiences (that are super fun to show our visitors), it also has a lot of struggle.

I'm learning to not speak  so quickly on the things I don't know. I found that before this journey, I was quick to give my opinion in hopes to make the conversation more meaningful.  I've now thought often how much I desperately  want to cuddle a person when they speak slowly and with wisdom. I've seen friends of mine actively choose to not speak on what they haven't experienced. And now I know the difference of "I read a blog post that says this helpful thing..." and "That sounds so overwhelming, how are you doing, Can I help?" Too often I say the first rather than the latter. But, lessons are being learned.

All that to say, adventure with a family can be exhausting. Wise community makes adventure worth it again. (And grace to cover all of it is beyond essential.)

6. What I think an experience is meant for, may not be what it's really for.

If you were to ask me what this season was for, based on my best guesses, I would see it as an experience to travel, to raise Eowyn in a different place, to pay off debt, etc. While those things are true and still a part of our experience, the days and weeks look a lot different.

I think this experience is more about shaping our family, and even more so shaping our hearts. I think God's teaching me about loneliness and community and how both of them aren't to be rushed into or out of.

I think we're learning about what we need in our marriage, and what makes us tick. Being faced with a new culture allows us to take another look at the things we always just assumed were true for us. We're realizing that there's a lot of choices we were planning on making that just don't make sense anymore. In all of it, I'm realizing that faith has a lot more importance when it ends up being one of the only things we have to hold on to.

I'm also seeing struggle as a more and more beautiful thing. I always hate writing that, but it's true. As I meet others, I often find that the souls I love most are the ones whom have weathered a few storms. The tact, and quietness that so often comes to their souls from struggle is just so beautiful and refreshing, that I can't help but hope that our struggle results in that kind of beauty. Until hard life hits, we so often talk without depth. So, in a lot of ways I'm encouraged by the outcome of struggle. Even if I still resist it anytime I sense its impending arrival (next up: newborn)


All in all, this season has been a season of struggle. But, it's been worth it. I questioned that a lot in the beginning weeks of moving here. I don't question that so much anymore.

I often joke that the quicker lessons are learned the easier life gets (which is laced with inaccuracy but...lets pretend) if so,  then the next few years are going to be easy-peasy right?

We seem to have a knack for making things difficult right when we start keeping our heads above water. Newborn baby in 13 weeks = party, eh!? Just like with everything else, I have no doubt we'll declare it all to have been worth it. We just might be having to wade back over to the shallow end of the water for a while.

Any readers live abroad or have experience doing so? What are some of the big things you took away from your experience? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. I have never lived abroad before, but I think anybody that can pack their life up and swim in the currant of a new culture ( I loved how you put this!) is pretty brave if you ask me! Five years from now you will most likely have a whole new take on this season of your life & find a different meaning to it. I enjoyed reading the post :)

    Lauren / And Together We

    1. Thanks for commenting Lauren! I agree, I think our perspective on this season will be totally different than what I'd say of it now. Loved finding your blog through your comment. :)