Monday, June 2, 2014

Tips For Living In A Foreign Country

Some of you may not know this but when this little ol blog started over three years ago (wha?!!) my husband I were 23 years old and had recently found ourselves living the missionary life in Bolivia. It was (at that point) the scariest thing I had ever done. I wouldn't exactly categorize myself as a risk-taker but moving to a third world country, leaving our jobs, putting the thought and desire of having a family on hold, using up a BIG chunk of our savings... it was a huge risk. Not to mention, I'm scared of bugs and dirt and pretty much everything. I'm a big scaredy cat. But Phillip and I both knew that while we had the gift of youth, we wanted to give of ourselves in a greater capacity than we already were. 

So here we are, 23 years old, away from family, friends and Heinz Ketchup ( you will understand why I'm saying that soon). We had taken a leap not knowing how we would land. I think going into it we had our fears and our expectations but we had no idea how this move would truly effect us.

We probably picked the worst time of year to move to Sucre, Bolivia. It was rainy season and the time of their Carnaval. Without going too in depth on the history and my feelings toward it, carnaval meant that walking down the street was always a risk. From getting stuff like water balloons thrown in our faces to having to step over the millionth passed out drunk person of the day, it was challenging to say the least. The rainy weather was also a challenge. Just imagine months of grey skies and not being about to leave your house during the carnaval festivities and you can kind of get it. I had a few rough weeks. Like the roughest of rough. I missed my family, my normal and yes, Heinz Ketchup. My heart hurt so bad those weeks that I literally felt like it could stop beating from the overwhelming feeling of heartbreak and loneliness. This lasted three weeks but it felt like a lifetime.

I'm writing this because I know a lot of people have a dream of traveling and perhaps living in a foreign country. And if you're doing it right now, perhaps this post can be of benefit to you. I'm also writing this to reflect on that time that changed who I am forever.

1 | Maintain some form of normal. Before we moved to Bolivia, I worked with some of the most amazing people. I really did enjoy seeing them daily and chatting away while working. My morning routine went something like this... wake up later than I should have, rush rush rush getting ready, jump in the car with not a minute to spare and rock out to music / get caught up on celebrity gossip from the radio on my way there. Once I was at work I would go through my emails with a cup of coffee in hand while eating my granola bar. I would also talk about that celebrity gossip with my office pal. It didn't seem like much of a routine until I wasn't doing it any more. 

Although I was no longer driving to "work" in the same sense, or driving at all (we didn't have a car), I needed to find my normal. Or as normal as I could get. So here's what I did. I found a recipe to make my own granola bars. I even blogged about them here. They were AMAZING. I would pack them in a ziplock bag, put my coffee in a cup and on our walk to the bus stops in the morning I would chat with my husband about who wore what in the celebrity world ( bless his heart for listening to me!). Once we were on the bus I would COMPLETELY zone out for the 30 minutes it took us to get to our destination while... eating my granola bar and drinking my coffee. You guys, it. was. heaven. You know when you see someone with their eyes completely glazed over and pretty much nothing can make them blink or look somewhere else? That was me. And this was now my normal.

my granola bars...

2 | Do things you would NEVER do. I mean after all, you are living in a foreign place that is probably completely different from home. So embrace that. Be different too. For us this meant staying out late almost every night of the week, eating food we weren't used to, and going rock climbing with friends... like REAL rock climbing. I'm a scaredy cat remember?? So this was something I would normally not do. 

On our walk back down to the city after a day of climbing. Haha, I was clearly comfortable with my friends to be dressed like THAT.

3 | Find friends who you have things in common with... like ones who speak English (or your own language if that's something else). We found an amazing group of friends who we still communicate with today. So happy we all were on the same path in the same place for that short time.

We'll be seeing two of these faces at the end of the month! I'm soooo excited.

Boy was I TAN. 

Oh you know... just everyone doing my infamous picture head tilt. 

That time I threw a dinner party. It's one of my favorite memories.
4 | Find friends with people who you think you have NOTHING in common with. Because you just might realize that you are more similar than you thought. And they might teach you something that you would never learn otherwise.

This was at a party that the locals threw for us foreigners. It was different but we made it a point to jump right in. Guess what? It was probably one of the best parties I've ever been to. So much laughter and the happiest of tears. I didn't realize how much they appreciated our presence and what we left behind to be in their country until this day. 

5 | Find the beauty. I will be honest here and admit, sometimes it was really hard to see the beauty around us. We were homesick, stomach sick (that water...), and sometimes seeing garbage and dog/human(?) poo everywhere we walked made me want to just scream. I would literally get so mad sometimes at the things I saw. But if I took a moment to stop acting like a big baby and really look, there was so much beauty. And I knew that when the time came to go back to the states, I would have a lot to miss in Sucre, Bolivia.

This picture was taken in the top of the area we worked in often. We walked through a lot of garbage and saw a lot of things that weren't so pretty but when we would get to the top I would take a break to soak in all the beauty. 

this is the view we had when looking down from our usual rock climbing spot.

6 | Take a short trip. This was a tip I got from my sister in law Rachel. She had done something similar by moving to the mountains in the Dominican Republic for a year with friends. I emailed her while having one of my lowest points in the history of low points to ask her if she felt homesick and if so, how did she deal with it... here are a few excerpts from her email:

Take advantage of every moment while you are there. Its hard to be away from family and you get consumed with the emotions but just remember you only have a limited amount of time there. When you come back to the states it may be a long time if ever that you return there depending on your goals and how life goes. There is so much I know you 2 can offer to the congregation and even more surprising, as I found out personally, how much the bro and sis offer you and how much we learn about ourselves when we are taken out of our comfort zone... So try to stay busy, pray to God when you have those feelings and just try to do and see as much as you can while you are there. Don't be afraid to go away every so often to the beach or a vacation of some sort, it rejuvenates you and when you come back to your town and congregation there it feels like coming home to something familiar. If that makes sense. We are proud of you here and talk about you all often. 

So in short, do as much as you can while you can and take a trip. We did this and she was right! When we went back "home" from our short trips, this new place felt more and more like home each time. 

One of our trips were to Potosi. 

on the drive up 

7 | Remember why you started. I see this quote a lot and often relate it to business and motherhood but it really applied to living in a third world country too. There were challenges but the reason why we started , to help others with our time, was something we are so happy we did. There was a moment the day we got on the plane to go back home that I will NEVER forget. We were walking from the doors of the airport to the plane, about a 3 minute walk, when we turned around right before stepping into the plane to see a group of people waving at us from the roof top. They were our friends. The ones we had things in common with and the ones we thought we didn't. They touched our lives in a way that words can't describe, and it was at that moment when I realized, we had touched theirs too.


  1. This is a beautiful post. My husband and I moved back in January after living abroad for a year and a half. I was nodding along with each of your points. It was a very hard experience to be so far away from family and friends (and I missed ketchup, too!). But it was also an amazing experience. We really grew a lot in our marriage during that time, since we only really had each other to lean on. Now that we are back, I miss it a lot and am just so thankful that we had the opportunity to have that experience together.

  2. I'm going to Vietnam for 2 years. This post embrace me alot. Will try all these tips and see how it goes. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Aw I wish I would have seen this comment sooner. I hope it's going well for you! It's not easy leaving everything you know but depending on your reasons for going, it can be the most amazing experience ever. :)


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