For those of you who know me personally (or perhaps you’ve read it in a previous post here), you know that my family and I have lived and worked in a third world country in South America for almost six years now. While there have been many challenges and frustrations with living in a foreign culture, I want to focus on the positive tonight. I’m going to share some lessons I’ve learned from living here. There may be a sequel to this post in time as I process and learn more, but for now, here are five lessons for you to ponder over.
1. I’ve learned contentment. Without going into gritty and unpleasant details, let’s just say that some things that I’d been used to having easy access to in the past are hard to find here. And the mail system here is, well, lousy. So that meant that I had to learn to do without. And that lesson was so vital. It opened my eyes to a whole new world. A world where everything isn’t just a click away from being delivered to your doorstep. And the simplicity, the freedom from materialism was so refreshing. I learned to either do without completely (and to be content with that), or to find another way to meet the need, or to stir up my creative side and make a substitute myself. Which leads me to my second point . . .
2. I’ve learned creativity. I have done and made things here that I would never have dreamed of doing back in the US where I had everything available at my fingertips for a relatively cheap price. My creative skills have skyrocketed since living here, and my ability to think outside the box has also improved. As an example, here is a picture of a mother/daughter tea I organized recently.
3. I’ve learned patience. Living in a third world country means paperwork (and sometimes maddening inefficiencies). But it also means an opportunity to learn patience. The people here have way more patience than I do. They just accept the fact that they are going to wait in line for an hour, or that they are not going to get exactly what they want the first (or maybe even the tenth!) time they ask for it. I’ve been so humbled to contrast my own demanding, impatient spirit, used to getting her own way in everything. I’m still not as patient as these people are, but I’ve definitely grown a lot along the way. (I’m not praising inefficient government agencies, just focusing on the positive lessons I’ve learned through the process of working with them.)
4. I’ve learned what it means to put people first over projects. The culture here is very people-oriented. Schedules and projects take a lesser priority over people. While this understanding can bring challenges at times, there is a beautiful aspect to it as well. People are more important than things or to-do lists, especially from a spiritual perspective. I have a chance to live out this perspective every day in my own household, where I try to manage the needs of my four young children and keep our home in order and our schedule on track. By nature and by upbringing, I am a more task-oriented person. I’m a list person, and I love to check things off my to-do list each day. But there are so many more important things for me to do that never get put on that list. Like wiping tears away from a sad toddler, or nursing a baby, or having a conversation about Jesus with an openhearted child. My heart’s cry is that I would continue to learn this important balance between meeting people’s needs and getting things done. But if I have to err on one side or another, I’d rather it be on investing in the lives of people.
5. My eyes have been opened to the needs of the world. Living in the US, I took for granted so many things that I just assumed everyone in the world had. Like a reliable mail service. Or clean, potable water from the tap. Or consistent power. Or climate controlled houses. Or the freedom to wear whatever I want. Or the right to worship God as I please. The list goes on and on. Some of these issues I was aware of before moving here, but many I was not. Honestly, I have still more to learn on this subject. But I have new compassion and greater understanding of the challenges others face in daily living, and I have new gratitude for the blessings and conveniences I do have.
Overall, I’m so thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to learn and grow through this time of living overseas, and I welcome even more lessons as God continues to refine my perspective and show me more of His heart for the world.
Have you visited or lived in a foreign country? What were some of the lessons you learned?