I’ve been trying to summarize everything I’d want to share with someone already in the field or preparing to move to and work in another country and, my word, there’s just no way!
But there are 2 phrases I keep coming back to: take time and give grace. These were two major lessons for me in Malawi and something I’m still learning.
Take time to do some research. Get a feel for the place you’ll be calling home.
Take time to explore your new city… before you jump into “work.” Learn about the transportation systems, marketplaces, landmarks, etc. Get a pulse of the heartbeat of the city. What does it sound like, smell like, feel like?
Take time to notice the people around you: people on the streets, the people who live next to you, shop owners, bus drivers. Pay attention to the way people greet each other, interact, and navigate life.
Take time to get to know people: all of them. Ask your neighbor’s names. Take time to look into their eyes… unless that’s totally culturally inappropriate where you’ll be – then, don’t do that! Relationships are of upmost importance. It’s the thing that lasts. Showing people you’re interested in them tells them you think they’re valuable.
Take time to be curious! Ask questions (with kindness, wisdom, and sensitivity) about the country you’re living in: the history, the culture, the demographics, anything you notice. Ask about the interests, the lives, the families of the people around you, on your team and in your community.
Take time to learn the language. It will probably be hard. You may feel defeated sometimes. You will say things incorrectly. Once, I was trying to ask my students if they understood what I was saying, but instead I asked them if they were drunk, because the words were so similar. I was SO embarrassed, but they corrected me/showed me grace, we laughed, and moved on. I was a little less confident for a while, but we survived. You may feel it’s not worth it. If English is commonly spoken where you are, it may be hard to get motivated, but learn it. Spend time with it. Practice it. Merely investing and showing interest in the heart language of the area speaks volumes. Take the time.
Take time to travel. Take in the beauty and rarities of this new country.
Take time to rest. I promise, this one’s worth it. Rest doesn’t have to mean sleeping or lounging, but do something that rejuvenates your soul!! Hike, exercise, binge watch your favorite show, read, pray, whatever. But do it.
Resist rushing, stressing, and planning and take time for the significant moments.
And give grace – to your neighbors, to public transport drives, local officials, cultural differences, and to yourself. There will be hard days. But give grace to others and to yourself.