Back in the Sandbox: On Change and Expat Life

A short time ago, I wrote about some of the major adjustments of our recent move to become first-time expats in a big sandbox and shared that the hardest time for me after any move consistently occurs four and six months after each move.  (I’m in that zone now.)

Three weeks ago we were blessed with a two-week vacation to see the people we love, and to do some traveling.  Now everyone is asking if it is even harder to go back to the sandbox.

Yes – I’m tired.  I think that’s from the traveling and the heat and humidity we returned to.

No – I did not miss my “cloak of invisibility – I did not dig it out once the entire time we were gone.

IMG_0229Yes – I still miss blue skies and puffy clouds.  (I took this photo of puffy clouds on the plane.)

No – I didn’t think I missed driving that much, until I saw my car.  When I saw it I literally had to go sit in it, and open the sunroof and imagine I was cruising down the road on day filled with bright sunshine and cool breezes. (Unfortunately, driving it will have to wait until the next visit with the hopes that there will be more time re-tag it and get it out of storage.)

However, many of my friends said that after a summer away from this place, returning was harder than usual.  (…And not being able to load their children in a car and take off go wherever and whenever they want to, is one of the reasons for their struggle.)

Yesterday as I sat at the grocery store waiting an hour for my bus, not being able to drive hit home at a higher level:

  • First a young expat mother, fully cloaked in the required black robe, came through the door pushing a heavy stroller that was filled with an older child that had outgrown it and carrying a baby.  All three had sweat soaked hair and perspiration running down their faces, the mom was obviously stressed and fighting tears.  The older child was sick and the mother couldn’t find what she needed for him and she was trying to find the solution on foot, in the heat, in a strange land before her bus would arrive.
  • Moments after we took the baby from her, handed her damp towels to wipe the sweat off, and they had something cool to drink another woman walked up.  This woman is a new expat and thought she recognized others from her compound.  She explained that she had taken the compound bus to a nearby bookstore, but the driver had not come back for her at the appointed time, which was nearly an hour ago.  In the meantime, that store had lost all power causing her to leave and walk to the location we were in.  She did not have the phone number for the driver or for anyone in the compound.  When she discovered us, she was on the phone asking her husband to leave work to come and get her.

So yes – My time at the Anne Frank House last week hit home at a very high level, perhaps as one of my expat friends suggested, because many of the restrictions the Jews faced during WWII resemble the restrictions for women in this country.

In the midst of it all, I’m reminded that the secrets to making it as an expat are the secrets to adapting to any change:

  • Focus on the blessings, or the challenges will eat you alive.
  • Be willing to be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it.  By doing so, you receive the full gift of the experience and gain wisdom, renewed strength, and life-long friendships.
  • Turn each challenge into an adventure and use it to be better prepared the next time and to support others.

Some of the blessings I’m counting:

  • My husband does not work offshore.  So he is with me every night.  (That is not the case for other women here.)
  • That we are all in this together:  If another expat has an extremely tough day, others rally on their behalf!  (When you move from state to state you don’t usually have a community of people like this to help you navigate the challenges or the emotions that come with change.)
  • In two and a half months we get to take another trip, this time to a place on my husband’s bucket list.  (Ahhh, the power of a vision!)

So back in the sandbox I am doing significantly better than I usually am 4 – 6 months after a new move.

Your Turn!  iStock_000009905754XSmallPlease share:  

What advice would you give to others to stay focused, positive and purposeful in the midst of change?   

President, Giana Consulting

Chery Gegelman is an adventurer that loves to learn. ...Deep conversations, books, travel, and daily living are all food for growth.

As a speaker, facilitator and workshop leader she creates energizing environments that reflect God's grace, tear down walls, help people to consider new perspectives, and inspire change.

Chery is the Founder of Giana Consulting and Conversation Safari's, listed as a Great Leadership Speaker by Inc., writes a recognized leadership blog and has co-authored two leadership books.

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4 thoughts on “Back in the Sandbox: On Change and Expat Life

  1. Chery, the challenges you are facing are tough ones, both physically and emotionally. The word that comes to mind for me as I read your story is resilience. I wrote an article about the 3 women kept captive in Cleveland, and one of the reasons I suggested they would survive is that they had created their own tribe, something very important in developing resilience. And it sounds as though the women in your compound are drawing strength from one another. Communities and tribes with thriving, interconnected neighborhoods find that the way they share resources helps them withstand unexpected change. Seth Godin describes tribe-building as an investment because connection thrives on generosity, not need.

    “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken”~Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV).

    • LaRae – Thank you so much for your comment! I absolutely loved that post! It is so hard for us to imagine living through somethng like those women in Cleveland, and so important to be reminded that it can be done and how to do it!

  2. You are an awesome expat already! Hang in there, it may get weirder, but you will not be bothered at all. Bonus points for helping another expat 🙂