- Language. Everyone tells you that it’s easier to learn a language once you get to the country in which it’s spoken. True. BUT. It’s not if you know absolutely nothing. The easy part is when you arrive, all the pieces you’ve studied start coming together and begin making sense! IF that is, you’ve studied. I moved to Japan knowing barely any Japanese. I looked at one of the alphabets a couple years back and only knew “hello”, “thank you” and “excuse me”. That’s it! When we arrived in Japan it was all a jumbled mess and nothing was making any sense. My husband, Matt, on the other hand was learning a ton! He had studied Japanese in school. It all came back to him and he was able to link things together. SO while yes, it is helpful to learn the language in the native country- I still would encourage you to do some serious study beforehand.
- Learn to cook from scratch. This may depend on the country you’re moving to. But most countries have flour, water, and salt in some form. If you can whip up a homemade tortilla, or some fresh bread, roll out some homemade noodles- you have just saved yourself a huge headache trying to translate everything at the grocery store on an empty stomach. Different countries have different flours, so it won’t always be exactly like “home”, but let me tell you, knowing how to make homemade tortillas is a coveted skill in Japan where they are imported and super expensive, if you can find them at all.
- Learn from the pioneers! This goes along with number two, think 1800’s, everyone in America going west. They had only what they could fit in their wagon and they did just fine. Just little things like knowing how to sew (because your mom won’t be there to fix it for you), knowing how to cook basic things a variety of ways- we didn’t have an oven our first 7 months here, so I made plenty of skillet meals. Knowing basic vehicle maintenance and repair, or bike repair depending on your lifestyle and country. All of these things are great skills to have in general, but also when moving to a foreign country where everything is just a bit more difficult.
- This one is a little obvious, but definitely make time to learn the culture. I’ve met missionaries who haven’t and it can unintentionally hinder the gospel if you’re unknowingly insulting them at the same time as trying to share Jesus’ love. God can work through and with anything, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt to learn a couple of cultural do’s and don’t’s.
- Pray! This was huge for me. I prayed so hard for community and friendship and a body of believers to help us through this transition, and God answered above and beyond what I expected! He has truly placed us exactly where we are meant to be and I am so grateful He gave us that confirmation.
- Find a transportable hobby. So before you hit the mission field, it’s kind of expected, at least it was for me- that I’d be so busy with the kids, or ministry, or language learning, or time with God. And this is true, all these things keep me quite occupied. But sometimes at the end of a long day, you just need to rest. But being in a new place maybe you can’t go grab some ice cream with a friend like you normally would, or do what you would normally do to fill the time. So hobbies are really helpful for this suddenly not busy but yet really busy transition time. Especially if you’re in a different time zone then all your family and friends and can’t just pick up the phone and call them.
Knitting has been really helpful for me, to pass the time productively, and it’s really relaxing. I’m going to try embroidery next! I know luggage space is often tight, but I’m glad I made room for my super lightweight knitting needles and yarn- to pass the time and keep me from being idle (aka when homesickness strikes the worst!)
- Read “The Lifegiving Home” by Sally and Sarah Clarkson. Seriously. I’m reading it now on my kindle and it is WONDERFUL for this transition. Wonderful. The daughter, Sarah, describes leaving the lifegiving home she grew up in with SUCH relatable detail. It’s encouraging, comforting, and inspiring. It motivates me to turn this foreign structure we occupy into a home where laughter, love, and memories are made. All things which are needed during such a time.
*I also read “Love Comes Softly” by Janette Oke while getting over jet lag and being awake at odd hours. That book actually helped a lot too. The main character moved west, but was also overcoming a loss- her grief was a lot like the loss of a home country (aka homesickness!) and it was really actually quite helpful to see how she overcame it.
[Bonus] 8: If you have kids- find some good read-alouds. Like I said there will most likely be more downtime on the field than expected, at least at first. Take the time to seek God and pray as a family. Get in the habit of doing that from the get go in your “new life” so to speak. But something that has unintentionally helped my son- is books! He’s always loved books, but since we moved here we have read through The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I think it really helped him to adapt. He was able to hear how the characters in the book adjusted and moved west and made new friends, just like he was. We also read The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. My son was able to imagine facing every day as a new adventure like that shipwrecked family did. He’s only four, but I think these books helped him to go from “Why did my parents have to take me here?” to “What an adventure God has us on together as a family!”.
I truly hope this list is helpful! I read a ton of expat and missionary blogs before we moved looking for any information on cross cultural overseas moves with little ones. It can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be… it can be an adventure, the one God has planned for you. -K