*update: this post has stirred up controversy and passion that I confess I was naively not prepared for. I understand that many feel judged and I can see why and I apologize. This is not a list of commandments and it is a list of things I have done/still do. It is not a call for feelings of guilt or failure. It is not a perfect list based on research or facts. Mostly, it was meant to be a fun way to look at the choices we make as expats, with tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, which doesn’t translate well via the written word. I’m not going to change the post to soften the reactions people bring to it, I’m simply saying that I hear you, I’m sorry to have caused offense, and I’m human, both as an expat and as a blogger.
*Here is a helpful resource for expatriates, by Clara Wiggins
Hey all you expats…here are some things we need to stop doing. You’ll last longer overseas, enrich your time, leave a more positive impression, and you will never be the same. (Confession: I’ve done/do all of them myself, so an added bonus, #21 Remember no one is stagnant.)
- Stop complaining. It’s too hot, too cold, too expensive, too religious, too confusing. Keep it up and that’s all you will see. Concentrate on the good things, repeat those, talk about those. You’ll discover even more.
- Stop putting off language learning. No one is too busy to learn at least a few words in the local language. But if you are planning an extended stay, don’t be a burden on coworkers or shopkeepers. Make their day by putting in the time, effort, and laughter to honor their language.
- Stop judging other expatriates. You don’t know their motivations or thought processes. You don’t know the life circumstances and lessons that have brought them to make certain choices in lifestyle or clothing or food or behavior. Learn from their experience, take their advice with a grain of salt, and then forge your own way.
- Stop leaving the country for vacation. Take a vacation in-country. Experience local resorts or camping, find off the beaten path places to stay. Ask locals for suggestions and you will find unique locations and relationships.
- Stop hanging out with other expatriates. Knock on your neighbor’s door and ask for help, soon you might be drinking tea and learning to cook a local specialty. Learn the name of the neighborhood shopkeeper. Ask a local for help finding hardware supplies or fixing the plumbing. Celebrate local holidays with gusto.
- Stop shipping everything from abroad. Can’t find the brand of laundry detergent you used in the United States? People do wash clothes in your new country. Ask their opinion on brands. You might find something you like even better.
- Stop your addiction to social media. You won’t stumble into the best gelato café on the planet if you’re on Facebook. You won’t start to appreciate local television shows or music if you’re glued to Twitter. Turn it off and get outside.
- Stop trying to fix everything. Yes, the stairs might be crooked and construction workers could have need of new skills. Yes, the lack of lines at grocery stores isn’t what you are used to. Yes, the buses don’t drive between the lines, neither does anyone else come to think of it. This is how it is. Enjoy speeding into the wrong-way lane or elbowing someone out of the way.
- Stop expecting your spouse/children/coworkers to have the same experience as you. Expect a range of emotions. Expect some things to make you laugh and your child cry. Expect to learn language and cultural appropriateness at different paces. Listen to each other and check in often to see how everyone is doing.
- Stop taking yourself so seriously. You won’t make it if you can’t laugh about the language faux pas or the time you got ripped off in the market or about when you wore your local dress inside out by accident and everyone thought you were announcing that your husband was looking for a second wife.
- Stop thinking you know the place after a year or two or ten. There is always something more to learn, look for it and appreciate it. Share the knowledge you’ve gained with newcomers but let them discover on their and come to their own conclusions.
- Stop pretending you still live in your home country. Try new food and new fashions. Try a new way of walking – maybe a contemplative sway instead of a purposeful march. Use local hand gestures and don’t insist ‘your’ way is the best way.
- Stop ignoring beggars. That doesn’t mean to start giving to them, decide your own convictions on that, after seeking local counsel. But look at them and talk to them. Ask their names and listen to their stories.
- Stop ignoring local press and events. Subscribe to the newspaper, watch local news reports. Find out what is happening. Go to the music festivals. Ask about parades or about who died when you see a funeral procession. Learn the customs.
- Stop shopping at expat stores. Prices will be jacked up and you won’t meet the farmer who grows organic tomatoes. You won’t find the hidden garden, the only place in town to find spinach.
- Stop saying what you won’t/can’t/shouldn’t/don’t do. Be curious and adventurous and courageous. You’ll make mistakes. Shake it off. Don’t refuse the neighborhood playground because a slide looks tippy. Kids have been sliding down it for decades, why not yours?
- Stop being afraid. At that park? Your kid might step on a nail. You’ve got your vaccinations, right? Pull it out and play on, or go to the doctor. Get to know people. Learn how to get around the city in a bus. The more familiar things feel, the less scary they will seem.
- Stop thinking you can solve the country’s problems. As an outsider you can see them clearly (or think you can) and as you gain credibility, you might be able to offer suggestions. But don’t go around telling everyone what to do and how to do it or telling other expats about how badly things are run.
- Stop boasting. Don’t boast to newbies about how long you have been here or about all the terrible things you’ve been through or about how perfectly you have adapted. Don’t boast to the people back home about how wonderfully you are handling this difficult new place. Stay humble and keep learning. Share your stories but not as the center of attention.
- Stop forgetting to call your mom. Communicate with the people you have left behind. It will make it that much easier for them to understand you when you return, filled with fun stories and fascinating experiences, and missing the place you bonded with.
I’ve done all these things (shipped that container this year) and still do a lot of them (sorry mom) and (I’ll be at Casino, the main expat grocery store this afternoon) but aren’t we all on a ‘journey’ anyway? Most of us are chameleon expats but I, for one, would like to keep trying to change and grow and improve.
Which would be hardest for you to stop?
I might add, “Stop viewing everything in your host country through your own moralistic lens.” As in, “Oh, my goodness, those boys are all carrying wooden knives! In school! We would never allow, much less promote such a thing as a school activity! We have a zero-tolerance policy regarding weapons… blah…blah…blah!”
Couldn’t help it! 😉
Haha! I That is actually a pretty good one. :O)
Just yesterday I was shopping at the fabric souk here in Doha. The shop assistant walked around the store with scissors blades open and pointed out. He wasn’t running, and no one was hurt, but I definitely judged his actions, thinking, “He clearly didn’t go to kindergarten in America.”
Funny that you were so aware of your reaction! My kids actually have a ‘bring a knife to school day’ because they all love to carry them in their bags. But there are never any problems.
Your kids have a “bring a knife to school day”?? Love it!
Do your kiddos go to RVA? Cause we are at RVA now after living in Uganda and love bring a knife to school day. FYI in Maine, USA my husband used to bring his hunting rifle to school and they even had special lockers for them. The boys would just pick them up after school and off to hunt 🙂
Not that RVA would be the only school to do that but it was the first time I had heard of it here in Africa “Big Knife Thursday” we are talkin’ pangas people.
BTDT! But my husband and I felt we had turned a corner last night (after 7 years here) when a friend said she would send us a care package. Oh the list use to be too long to even send to her. Now, we were stumped. What do we need? My husband said ‘I’ll take a walk around the house to see what comes to mind’. We did sent her a list. But at least it is harder to do! 😉
Yes, that is so true and funny that you have the same experiences. Although I still had no trouble filling that container, especially with heavy items like work-out equipment and peanut butter!
No we just learned we have a container headed our way. Easy to fill that with all the stuff that is too heavy for luggage!
Excellent post – love it. I may ask permission to reblog! Although for my audience it probably needs to be rewritten as a “Twenty Things TCK’s Need to Stop Doing in Their Passport Countries….” yikes. This one held up a mirror but not the way perhaps you had planned.
Marilyn you’d be welcome to reblog, at least a portion and link on over. If you do, please let me know when so I can also re-share it. I like your TCK twist!
this is spot on and a great reminder for me, personally, as I’m in the middle of packing up and getting ready to move back.
really great! they’re all right-on.
i grew up an MK, and when i think of the expats who seemed the most in-tune or effective or accepted, i KNOW they were the ones who followed these principles and made the effort to IMMERSE themselves.
definitely hard, #2 and #11 could be the hardest/most time-consuming for me, but worth it.
when it comes down to it, Jesus was the best example – He followed all these points (except He actually did know the place and could solve all the world’s problems – #11 and 18…)!
thanks for the post!
Glad to hear it fits your experiences as well, as an MK. Yes – Jesus! The perfect expat.
Lots of wisdom here.
This stood out to me, “Try a new way of walking – maybe a contemplative sway instead of a purposeful march.”
Probably because I never did change my pace of walking. Some of the little kids on the Micronesian island where I lived could do a silly imitation of my long strides. At least their performances helped with the part about not taking myself too seriously.
I laugh at how Americans (including myself) tend to walk. I move with purpose and quickness even if I have no rush or purpose. But Djiboutians do have this lovely sway. I’ve practiced it and sometimes people tell me that from behind, depending on my clothes, they easily mistake me for a Somali. Except then they say that my butt is too small!
Djiboutian, Somali and expat somewhere in this wife universe quite far away from hometown Djibouti.
Lmao Rachel, the look of you as Somali from behind and the butt joke cracked me up :). Great list. i will encourage expats to interact with locals more to drive out the fear and create comfortable atmosphere. With all the crazy things going on around the globe, locals are not pretty much familiar with armored vehicles and men armed with rifts roaming around and don’t have the trustworthy on the presence of Americans particularly . This is why we sometimes have locally- run rumor that american came to takeover the country. To drive out this misconception, creating a communication channel between the Americans and locals is more than necessary and i believe this could be done through interaction.
I applaud all the great work you are doing Rachel. Keep it up.
Your local neighbor khalid 🙂
Rachel, This is really great-and it is not only good for expats-but is a good reminder for those us living in the states.
You say ‘Stop judging other expats’ but I think this article is judging expats yourself. It just seems to be a long list of things we have to ‘Stop’ doing but, most of us don’t do these things anyway. Don’t judge what we do without even knowing us. I certainly don’t know anyone who brings all these kinds of things eg washing powder from overseas!!
I’m sorry the list comes off as judgey to you, that isn’t my intention. Because I have done many of them myself, I feel like it is for me as much as anyone else and mean it in a light-hearted way. But I do know people who do ALL of these things. I think a lot of it depends on why a person moves overseas in the first place and what attitude they are coming in with. Appreciate your comment.
It begins ‘Hey all you expats…. here are 20 things we need to stop doing’ and then a list of 20 points all starting with the word Stop in bold …… and you think that’s not judging other people!!! If you really believe that someone you know shouldn’t bring in washing powder for example just speak to them about it. Or, better still, just let them bring in their favourite washing powder. It’s fine that people do things differently.
Point taken, Jane. I write these things tongue-in-cheek, meant to be humorous, but do agree that it is fine for people to do things in their own way and I can see your point, that there are ways the list is judgmental. Thanks for engaging with me on it.
I am not even remotely an mk or anything related. My former youth paster posted this on his facebook and I LOVED the article. If all you got out of it was a list of commandments then its obvious you missed the entire point which was to have a positive attitude about everyday life and be gracious and thankful for new experiences.
I think this is a great list and can be used in every day life here in America. But its people who write these negative comments that have lost the fun and innocence in life. They have come to tear someone down online that they dont even know under the guise that they are actually the ones being torn down. And it is exactly those people who are the reason neither I nor my children will ever return to church. The in fighting between the people who have a great and valid point and those who only see themselves. The world doesnt revolve around you. This article clearly wasnt written to offend anyone much less you. Perhaps taking a good look in the mirror and asking yourself why you were offended in the first place by a woman you dont even know prompted your internet wrath.
Dear Kristen, I was reading Rachel’s blog this morning and for some reason your post (from 6 years ago nonetheless!) jumped out at me. I feel so sorry for the lack of love you experienced from the Body of Christ. I wish that wasn’t your experience.
It’s often a mystery to me too why Jesus chose imperfect people to represent Himself and His love for us. His own body was broken for us, but many of us are still learning to receive His love and still learning (or trying to learn) to fully love the way He has loved us. I hope His love warms your heart again today and that in some way He gives you, or has given you, the opportunity to let you experience His love in a vivid way through His Body, the church.
I love how CS Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “Usually it is those who know Him that bring Him to others. That is why the church, the whole body of Christians showing Him to one another, is so important. You might say that when two Christians are following Christ together there is not twice as much Christianity as when they are apart, but sixteen times as much.”
Sending warmest wishes your way today.
Hey Jane, now you know me! My son has eczema, no washing powder in this country is without harsh chemicals and perfumes. So yes, I get washing machine detergent from home. I think a lot of how we react to stuff is what our mindframe is in when we read it; i.e. you saw it as preachy, I saw it as mindful. And human, heck Rachel states right off the bat she’s done all this stuff.
Lynne, this is a fun comment. I like your word ‘mindful.’ And I like how you are mindful about your washing detergent! Part of what goes into the way expats live is learning what will work, what will keep us functioning, or our skin from having painful reactions. So, when possible, buy local. When not, bring it along. But all along, be ‘mindful’ about those choices and comfortable with making them. It is so easy to judge but also to feel guilty. I could feel guilty about the big jugs of Jif in my cupboard or I could be thankful for them. (Yup, brought them from home)
I feel sad that you feel judged by this Jane 🙁 … I am just reading these blogs now, and thoroughly enjoying them. I have spent my whole life as an expat, and most likely always will, and all these things ring VERY true. But I LOVE how gracious Rachel is being about it. It is hard to be brave enough to say these things and I think that they are said beautifully, especially as most of us have done at least some of them, and chuckle as we read them 🙂 …. and the idea behind this post, and suggestions made are clearly with the intent to enhance people’s experiences rather than hinder them. Everyone has their own experiences and valid reasons (eg bringing in soap powder because of children or ourselves with allergies), not all of them are helpful for everyone (eg for those overwhelmed with a new country it is advisable not to watch local TV for at least a year as you can get information overload), but they are general principles that I think are helpful to every one of us. I hope you can enjoy them 🙂
Great point about the TV shows Jen. Local tv here lasts for 30 minutes (switches between three languages for 90 minutes and then shuts off) so no risk of overload but I can see how that would be true other places. Good example of how to individualize experiences.
#s 11, 13, 17 – any and all of the above can describe me, depending on the moment – but those three would be the most difficult.
I find so many things that I still don’t understand/can’t react to in an appropriate manner the way I can in Minnesota. Almost every day I feel surprised or confused by something. Of course after 10 years I know this place better than a newbie, but am always reminded that I’m an alien and a stranger, you know? #11
Thank you so much! I really appreciate this post especially since we are literally “packing our peanut butter” getting ready to return to a place we all love. #1, #8, #11 are especially convicting to me!
All the best as you pack it up. Re: #11, see what I wrote above to Richelle about knowing a place. There’s a great quote from “From Paris to the Moon” that talks about how being an expat strips you of your intrinsic ability to understand things immediately and respond. I feel that so often and try to take cues from the people around, but I know I miss a lot of what is going on since I’m still learning this place.
A blog post for expats judging, negatively, the way they live in which you take yourself very seriously and tell expats to stop communicating with each other,use less social media, be less judgemental, be less negative and stop taking themselves so seriously. This is honestly one of the most hypocritical things I have ever read. You seriously need to take your own advice and just live and let live.
I did say that I do and have done all these things, the message is to myself as much as to anyone reading. Many of them, social media or taking yourself seriously or being judgmental, for example, are tongue-in-cheek. Am definitely trying to take my own advice and will keep working on it, thanks for the challenge.
Thanks, this resonates with me. I love getting to know the different layers of culture, and have learned enough of a local language to converse in it if not go deeply! It is a good reminder!
I want to hear the story behind #10 😉
That’s pretty much exactly what happened to me in Somaliland. A friend asked what was going on between my husband and I, I was totally confused. Finally she told me my dress was inside out (a local dress I was still learning how to wear) and what that implied!
I have a question for you and anyone who wants to jump in to answer – #3 “stop judging expats”.
My question is, if you are a missionary and you see one of those missionaries that give missionaries a bad name [ie., they lie (you’ve caught them numerous times), deceive, are lazy, and are basically living abroad doing nothing on other believers $$, you know, scamming God and his people] – what do you do? It’s hard not to judge that! I never would have believed it to be true until I saw it with my own eyes. Can you guys share and tell me what you think? I’ve really struggled with this one. Thanks ~Chris
Yeow – that’s an interesting question, for religious workers and people of faith of any motivation living abroad. I guess my response, and I’d love to hear others chime in, is that Jesus says not to judge, take the plank out of our own eyes, etc. Something I still very much need to work at, as evidenced even in this string of comments on this post.
But, that being said, if it is appropriate, this might be a situation in which you could approach/rebuke the person, or to bring them to a leader if possible and to deal with the issues that way. I don’t think that is the same as judging, to call someone to account.
Rachel, thanks for responding. Yes, good point about the difference between judging and rebuking. I strongly feel this person needs to be confronted and held accountable, but my husband says let God deal with him. We did confront him once, I think he then realized we are no dummies. We are not on the same “team” nor do we work together, but I find it difficult to know this and see him continue to deceive others. I think God uses others to deal with us, too, (esp. if we are Christians AND call ourselves missionaries) and I feel like I am allowing this to continue – participating, even – by NOT saying anything, again out of respect for my husband’s decision. Sigh. He can tell his supporters whatever he wants and they can only believe him since no one ever comes to check! They never update their blog (how convenient), have no public newsletter, he is very astute and a master manipulator. Grrr! So infuriating.
As for other expats, I don’t really care how they chose to live their lives and certainly would never dare to judge their free choice, I respect it, but for Christian missionaries I think it’s totally different.
Do you have a natural connection with this man’s leadership or organization or boss? Then you could approach it that way, the NT talks about doing that too. Are his actions affecting you? that might be a sufficient reason to be more aggressive in seeking accountability. Can I contact you on email? I checked your blog for an email but didn’t see one listed.
SO TRUE! thank you for sharing!
Thanks so much for writing this! I hope you don’t mind, but I’m sharing it in several social media places too…too good NOT to!
We have a conference on Missionary Care coming up, do you mind if we share it there too? Of course we will site your authorship and blog as the source…
Please email me if there’s any issues…
Oh yes, that would be fantastic Marina! Thank you for asking, I do appreciate that, but of course I’m more than happy to spread it around.
I think it is important for us to learn these things because our sour attitude towards the culture can affect other people. If we who have been here for some years can be a good example to newbies, it would be a great help in them adapting. This is a good reminder to me right now since we have some people coming soon to work with us. For me that would be #8, #11 #18, #19.
Thanks for writing this. I didn’t take it the wrong way at all!
Thanks Mamatja, appreciate that! And what a good perspective – how the attitudes of the oldies affect the newbies.
As an MK reading this I found myself reflecting on my actions and attitudes as I live here in the States. That list in many ways applies to me here as well. Thank-you.
[…] And for more challenges to typical ex-pat life, I followed a link from Facebook and wound up on a missionary’s blog in Djibouti. One of her posts really challenged how I live abroad: https://rachelpiehjones.com/2013/02/20-things-expats-need-to-stop-doing/ […]
LOVED your transparency…I have lived in Mexico for 14 years and have done all those things too;)Still a “work” in progress:)Blessings
Rachel, so happy to have discovered your blog. I am an America living in my husband’s homeland, Tanzania. We have five children–the oldest three are native Tanzanians (my husband’s children from a previous marriage), the youngest two are Tanzanian-American toddler twins. It’s been quite an experience figuring out how to blend the life of an expat with the life of a native.
What an interesting and beautiful perspective to have – and probably complicated too! Native and expat. I remember well those toddler-twin years too. Exhausting and fun. Now mine are 12 already. Being twins adds, I think, something unique to the TCK experience.
Thank you for this. I agree 100% with all twenty of your points. And, of course, I have done each and every one of them – more than once – during my 20 years overseas.
I think the point of your post is “be mindful”. And think about why we choose to do things: to buy, to judge, to feel afraid. Why do we go on home leave and buy $1000 worth of stuff at Target and Rite Aid and Old Navy and bring it back? Because really we need it? I can honestly say, that most of that stuff…I never needed. I did it to fill me up, to feel a connection to home, to fill time while visiting the US with something other than sitting with my family…etc etc.
In short, there are a whole host of reasons why we buy, why we complain, why we judge, why we are afraid to venture out or into communities other than our own, why we do each and every one of those 20 Things.
And – over the years – I’ve realized that most of those choices are really about me. Not about the country I’m living in (and I’ve lived all over North, East and Southern Africa). Not about what the country is lacking, or the people, or anything else external to myself. Not about true risk, real hardship, honest fear. Rather, it all comes down to me – whether I feel secure, happy, fulfilled, dull. And that my sense of whether I “like” a country or not is a projection of what is inside, not an honest assessment of what is out there.
For me, that is what your post is really getting at. And its something each and everyone of us living overseas really needs to be reminded of on a pretty regular basis.
I wish I only bought things from the States in order to fill up time or feel fulfilled! Though we live in a developed country, quality boots and shoes and clothes are very expensive. I am so grateful for internet shopping and yearly trips to the States so that we don’t go broke buying decent clothes for the weather, especially as our kids outgrow everything! In fact, our national friends now use us as their couriers!
That IS something we bring from the US – clothes and shoes. I’ve tried to buy local but the things are either too expensive or so poor quality that it saves a lot of $ to bring them. One of those things I still do…
I can see how someone might feel judged by your suggestions. I can almost imagine being in a foreign nation-especially a Muslim nation-and feeling so desperate for familiarity and friendship-and so inept at blending and trusting. I like what you wrote, though and get a feel for how you want to help someone to integrate.
Most of all-I hope your readers realize you are human.
Thanks Mariellen, appreciate your honesty. I smiled at your last sentence. Yup. Too human sometimes.
I’ve just started reading your blog – and I love it! I grew up as an MK, have lived 23 of the last 24 years in the US, and I’m going back “home” to my heart country of Peru as a Missionary, Lord willing, next year. I was shocked by some of the responses to your blog – about this being judgmental and hypocritical. It makes me think that those who made those comments haven’t really experienced life in another country for very long. . . 🙂 But that’s just my opinion, not my judgment of them. 🙂
Wow, I’m not sure which one I have had to deal with the most, and I had to learn to stop judging and comparing the way things are done so differently here in the US, my passport country, especially when I was in college. However, now that I have lived here so long, I also notice the negative differences in my heart country. . . 🙂
So, I truly try to focus and concentrate on the good of each place and not look at all the bad of either one – which is sometimes hard to do. But I am blessed to have 2 countries that I belong to and friends and family in both of those countries. No place is perfect, but there is lots of great stuff about each place when we open our eyes and accept the good. 🙂
Thanks for sharing with us your heart and your little encouraging “stops!” that you tell yourself. Some of the “stops!” I can take to heart and do myself, and others just make me smile and wonder at the circumstances you went through to cause you to “stop!” yourself. 🙂
I truly appreciate it! Have a blessed day! And keep on writing and sharing!!! 🙂
(from Lima, Peru and Tulsa, OK, USA)
Thanks for the encouragement! Isn’t it amazing how easily opinions can be taken for judgments? I am still learning how to look at what I write from the viewpoint of a reader. Its hard to get out of my own head enough to be objective. So for that, I appreciate their criticisms, helps me think better. But of course I really love when the words connect and hit home, glad they did for you!
Thanks for this! Concerning shipping stuff from home, the list is definitely getting smaller! Many things we are able to find here in Ukraine, just a few things we can’t get.
Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your point of view, especially your acknowledgement that not only have you done some of the list, but still do!
I especially appreciate the advice to not judge one another. It is really hard to follow, but I see more and more how different each of us are. Not just our personalities, but our sub-culture, years in country and experiences all vary greatly. Grace to all.
[…] friend shared this blog post on FB the other day, and as I read it, I found myself agreeing with a lot of the content, but […]
[…] 20 things Expats Need to Stop Doing […]
I was curious if you ever considered changing the layout of your site?
Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so
people could connect with it better. Youve got an
awful lot of text for only having 1 or two pictures.
Maybe you could space it out better?
Definitely have been guilty of a few of these myself (and occasionally lapse with one or two). I saw the humor and your desire to get people to relax and accept the people, culture, way of living wherever they are. What you wrote (and why) and how people perceive it – it’s all part of the cross-cultural experience. 🙂
I am not an expat in Africa, but one in Asia. I have lived in Hong Kong for 18 years (came for a 1 week holiday and never left). I love your list! I don’t find it to be judgemental at all. I find it honest. Yes, every single one of us has likely done/said one of the things on the list. Some weeks more than others. There is nothing wrong with wanting the comforts of home once in a while, I don’t go for the laundry soap… but in 18+ years, I have bought toothpaste here once! I love my Close-up and it isn’t available here, so when ever I go home, I bring back 10-20 tubes of it! Just a small quirk of mine!
Thanks for the list! It is one that I try to live by, but occasionally I do fall off the wagon!
I greatly appreciate the sentiment behind your words – that we as expats miss out on so much when we create a bubble for ourselves. So many of the ordinary things we do every week (if not every day) keep us in this bubble, “protected” from true local connections. We all do them, and they aren’t bad, but altogether they can add up to a life which misses out on many of the wonderful things our host homes have to offer.
I’ve definitely done most (if not all) of these things, but when I think of the opposite – when I consider the times I did NOT do them – I discover some of my all-time favourite moments abroad.
I love your perspective – so true. These aren’t bad but, and what a great way to say it, they “all add up to a life which misses out on many of the wonderful things our host homes have to offer.”
I think the main thing to pack on any expatriate posting is curiosity, and the main thing to ditch is the judgmental side of our nature which we all have.
I remember taking a group of summer interns (teachers) on a tour of our children’s local elementary school in Indonesia when all of the kids just happened to be out in the school yard with bows, shooting arrows directly up into the air above their heads! It did look pretty horrifying, but I hardly noticed until I heard the gasps of the American school teachers!
[…] Stop complaining. It’s too hot, too cold, too expensive, too religious, too confusing. Keep it up and that’s all you will see…. want more? CLICK HERE […]
Just found your blog through the wonders of Twitter… love it! Laughing my way through the list (totally got the tongue-in-cheek sarcasm) and have done/heard every one. Spot on.
Would like to add that expats shouldn’t shove their religion down locals’throats, as far a language I suppose it depends on where you are and your age. And some thing are just morally wrong. If I lived in China Ivory for sale, yes I’d be judgemental, it is morally wrong. I participate in my host country, I know the language and I join in marches. the most important thing is to be a part of the community. Language is secondary.
Great list! We’ve all been guilty of a few. I’ll bear them in mind the next time I get all judgy, especially against my fellow ex-pats. The bubble is terrible, and venturing outside it can be difficult but almost always worth the pain. Here in Rome anyway. I can’t imagine how people would be offended by your list 🙂 Laughter is the key!
I stopped reading and have to comment with “stop hanging with other expats.” I hate that attitude!! I am a third culture kid who grew up in Israel see tons of expats come into the country. If someone has this attitude you can smell them coming a mile away. Just because you look like a foreigner they want nothing to do with you, doesn’t matter if you were born in the country or not. You don’t have to stop hanging with people from your own culture or being kind to them. If you do, it just shows how self centered you are. Be kind to everyone, especially the household of faith. I quote a christian worker, ” I am not here for you, I am here for them”, So he abandons the conversation and moves on. If we are to minister together, we are here for each other, let us not forget that! Some people put people in boxes before you can even hear their story.
LOVE IT! Going on 10 months as an expat and I’d like to replace the “stops” in this list with “Don’t expect to remain or find comfort if…” Comfort is HUGELY interwoven into nearly every one of these and God has shaken me up and taken away my Linus-like security blanket “too” many times this year. I totally see it in my working community of expats and in myself. Convicting yet honest and entirely humorous. Way to go, Rachel!
Love this post, by the way. So, so true. I think my parents served as models for me on how to live in another country, and I took that philosophy with me from France to Ethiopia — eat local, shop local, read/watch local (OK, we actually read a lot of American stuff, but local too!). And my experience there was far richer as a result. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)
[…] I met Dr. Susannah when she wrote a blog post rebuking me for my ‘Mom Voice’ in my post 20 Things Expats Need To Stop Doing. Honestly, it was a tough read. Aren’t all critiques? And I hadn’t had very many yet in […]
Excellent thoughts as an expat myself things to remember!
I lived in Egypt for a while (and still go there for extended stays)….I remembered when we went into big grocery stores in ALexanria saying ooooh look they have peanut butter lets get a jar…I learned if I wanted something from my country I better try to make it like loaf bread to go with the peanut butter and toasting on top of the flames of the stove…My kids and I just adjusted and took in as much of the culture as we could, if someone did not understand us we would get it ourselves. shop keepers would teach us words and we would repeat them, even had emergency surgery which the dr was more scared to do on me (being an American) then I was to have him do it. I can say we never did any of these except the language (only because Arabic is very hard to learn though we tried hard to get it). we just jumped head first into the culture even living in areas where there was not any other Americans. but it is a nice article because I see a lot of these things with friends I have now that live in other countries or visit for extended time in other countries.
I’ve just reposted it on Facebook because I think Christians living in the USA who are supposedly “just passing through” might benefit from this mindset as well! Great work! I agree, 100% And none of us can say we were perfect in all of these, but we live and learn!
I’ve been enjoying your blog very much. I moved to Djibouti on July 3rd for my work, and I’m going to live here for the next 2 years.
This post especially was very encouraging to me.
After a month of living here, I was kind of in a stage where the initial excitement was fading away. I was getting a bit anxicious about the fact that I’m not a traveler but a resident here and if I could keep up for the next 2 years.
This post reminded me of why I chose to come here and gave me a lot of motivation.
Thanks a lot Rachel!!
Loved the article. One of the steps was…….lighten up. Some folks missed that one.
I have read so many lists like this for short term missionaries and have felt so defensive and judged .. Particularly from the a couple of folks who say send the money instead of coming and we will use it better .. I didn’t want to tear anybody down but I have seen long term missionaries who negatively affect the economy or step between short termers and local people enforcing their own ideas on what is wanted or best. I guess I just want to say that I agree that we all need to make sure that the actions that we take are what God desires and make sure that we respect people wherever they live. Unfortunately, a couple of egotistical missionaries can overshadow the sacrifice and hard work of the many . If you are bitter or discouraged about your placement in the mission field or feel put upon when Gods people from your home country want to walk alongside you, think before you speak. Ask yourself if the words you use will build the Kingdom or destroy it. Do not make me feel like you are in a club I am not welcome to join.
Rhonda, I think this list was not meant to apply to short-term missionaries. In my own experience, short-term missions is usually goal-oriented for some specific task or project while being an expat is more about living and working in the culture.
I’m sorry that you’ve met long-term missionaries who come across as arrogant and possessive of their adopted culture and the local people. I hope that you can find more open and centered missionaries who welcome your work and presence in their overseas location.
And thanks for posting your perspective and advice, and the exhortation to live Eph. 4:29!
Good list. Nothing controversial or shocking about it. Living in a totally new environment is often difficult (for some more than others) but if you don’t accept that its a new environment you will never adapt to it or be comfortable in it. Adaptation doesn’t mean losing your own identity, nor wholesale acceptance of things you don’t want to accept. No need to apologize for this list, I’m shocked that people are shocked by it.
Although I am not an expat…I have in my life been in regular contact with many who are. I would be interested to hear a list such as this one for those who have returned to their native countries. I am regularly frustrated by the pious and judgmental attitudes that I hear. There is no country without flaws, no culture without negatives. Yes, yes, yes, Americans are known for their materialism, loud voices and waste, but every culture/country has a weakness that walks next to its strengths. Why would you ever think it is ok to sit around criticizing the very country and peoples you are with?
Ok…so that was a major rabbit trail. Sorry!
Blair, I agree! Since returning to the States I have to WORK to stop criticizing America. It’s still my home, I still love it but just like someone who’s been on vacation with a really really fun (and different) family, I can’t help but think why can’t America be more like that?
So it goes. I think I’m in the category of people who need to use this list to apply to our home countries as well.
Really great list! Glad you put it boldly, I certainly do some of these time-to-time and need a reminder.
oh yeah you are so right. This is the kind of list that we should look at every week or month or whatever. I remember thinking most of these things in some form or another (and I did ok on some, less so on others) while I lived overseas, and then again after I came back home…
And I read a comment from someone who said quit talking about home! I try to only talk about my overseas experiences when people ask. Really when you think about it who wants to hear about another person’s past unless they’re asking for it? That’s true of anyone, expat or not. It’s a great reminder for living in the present anyhow, so important.
One last thing about this list–I’m reminded of how when I lived overseas I packed chocolate chips and one time brought back those fold-up camp chairs, and now that I live back home in the States I shop the specialty stores to find digestive biscuits and good curry mixes 🙂 No matter where you are, there are always good things that you won’t get anywhere else, and always something to miss that you can’t find there…
Obviously, the “rules” kind of change depending on where you live. We have special needs where it comes to dietary stuff so Amazon was my best friend when we were in China. It’s a balance.
I wish I hadn’t taken myself so seriously or worried like I did for the first few months. Once I stopped trying to keep my kid in the typical American bubble, we had so much more fun in country. Now that we’re back in the States, I keep getting in trouble for taking my stroller up the escalator and letting her sit on the pile of luggage on the luggage cart. Whoops.
Thanks for this great perspective!
And I think your points are useful for anyone engaged with a culture different from the one they grew up with, that is, everyone. 🙂 It’s a fun challenge, now that I’ve returned to my home country, to try to apply some of these in reverse as well.
Jane, I thought this was great – some people are just overly sensitive! Keep on writing!
[…] perusing the above blog, I wandered into another blog, which had a post that I really enjoyed about things expats should stop doing if they want to more fully embrace their present […]
I have lived in a few countries over many years of ministry abroad, and I have to say – you nailed it! I have trouble from time to time with a few of these, but for the most part, I have given myself the same admonitions that you give here, only yours have more grace 🙂 Keep it up; I’m becoming more attached to your blog.
RIGHT ON!!! We work in dozens of countries with hundreds of missionaries. These things we see ALL THE TIME! It’s horrible. Go back home if you consistently do these things. Your ministry will suffer greatly. And if you’re offended by this list, as it seems some are, then you’re the one it’s taking about.
I really enjoyed reading this, and you should not feel the need to apologize for anything. Thanks for sharing it.
Really got a smile out of this. As I was reading, I could have sworn you were talking about where I’m living right now … and that you have been watching my actions for the past 2 years 😀
As far as the people that are offended, just remember “There are always people out there just waiting to be offended.”
I definitely agree with pretty much all of these having lived abroad for a while now and done a fair few of them myself.
However, it is kind of funny that #3 says stop judging other expats, which is essential what this entire article is doing. Oops, eh? :-0
Good article regardless though
Yup, including myself! :O)
Great Post, and so true, having lived in Doha, Abu Dhabi & now Jakarta, I can confirm that expats complain about 200% more than other seagulls (definition being – flies I, sh*ts all over the place and flies out!
So true. . . . I laughed, felt convicted, and am encouraged! Thanks
Spot on! We tend to err on the side of being too cozy with our expat “stuff” and need to be careful. Behavior tends to self perpetuate as it migrates from long term people to the newbies. Breaking free from the patterns of those who are establishment can be dangerous and is rarely appreciated. On the other hand living with the jerky newbie with all the answers is akin to having thorny grasshoppers in your undies.
[…] and writers and tourists and expatriates and development workers, I have two questions/challenges for […]
Just found this blog! Love this post….We sometimes forget these things and need to be reminded! Thanks!!
Always love your blog. Read the coffee one this morning and saw this one I missed on the sidebar. Can I use your blog on “Stop” as a guest blog on mine? It’s actually great wisdom whether a person is an expat or not. We lived for more than 15 years in N. Africa, and are back in the US currently. It is definitely reverse culture shock…but embracing the here with God’s help.
[…] Pieh Jones, in her blog Djibouti Jones, lists out 20 things expats should stop doing if they are going to really thrive in their host […]
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Love this blog!!! Very well said!!!
I love this! I guess, for me, the hardest ones are keeping in touch with my family, and knocking on my neighbors door. I think #1 is the most important item for missions training! Practice NOT COMPLAINING before you come and remember it when you are out here! You and everyone around you will be so much happier!
Yeah if you were only there 3 weeks, I wouldn’t ever mention I got fired from a job after less than a month different reasons and I never list In fact Ask A Manager says stints that short you
I am from spain i be moving to djibouti soon i am very exited and i can adjust very very soon with local any advice to what to bring with me tks
[…] community and hunker down behind high walls. Over time I have noticed some patterns, things that thriving expats tend to do, or not do. Could be here, could be in other […]