Imposter Syndrome and the Cross-cultural Worker [–at A Life Overseas]

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When I was a young elementary-school student, one of the highlights of my year was going to the store with a teacher-mandated list in hand to buy classroom supplies. Not only was there the possibilities inherent in blank tablets of paper, there was the just-oozing-with-creativity box of brand new Crayola Crayons. Not off-brand crayons, mind you, not last year’s crayons (with black nowhere to be found). No, I’m talking about the real deal, with sharp edges and their paper sleeves still crisply intact.

Every child is a budding Rembrandt when in possession of a new box of crayons (even if it’s not the coveted box of 120 with the built-in sharpener).

Those days are long gone for me. Now it’s more about digging into an old ice-cream bucket of crayons, many of them broken or missing their names. But, in spite of that, coloring is something I can still do.

For example, there was the time when we returned from the field and we were handed crayons and asked to draw a picture of what reentry looked like to us. My drawing was of me leading a group of other stick figures (my family) on an unfinished bridge over choppy water. One fellow returnee’s picture was of him pushing with much effort against an immovable stone wall. It was a great activity, as our pictures led to meaningful discussions about the transitions we were in.

Drawing can be good therapy, and cross-cultural workers aren’t the only ones who know that to be true.

In Inside Higher Ed, Irina Popescu writes about a drawing exercise that she gives to her college students on the first day of class. She asks them to draw a picture of their “imposter monster,” the ugly creature that tells them they don’t belong in college, that “lies in judgment,” reminding them that they’re not enough. When she first tried this, she was surprised at how seriously the students took the exercise, creating “careful representations of very real, frightening monsters.”

“Some monsters had three eyes,” she writes. “Others were family members whom students made into red-eyed ghosts. Others were ugly self-portraits of the students themselves.”

Imposter syndrome is alive and well in academe. It is alive and well among cross-cultural workers, too.

The rest of this post is at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “crayons,” by Matt Wengerd, used under a Creative Commons license]

Coming or Going during Turbulent Times [—at A Life Overseas]

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In October of 2001, my wife and I boarded a flight and moved our family from the US to our new home in Asia. Nearly ten years later, in June of 2011, we moved back to our old home in Joplin, Missouri. Those dates may not jump out at you, but the first was one month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The second was one month after an F5 tornado destroyed about a quarter of Joplin, killing 161.

When you relocate to a different culture, your world is turned upside down. How much more so when the earth itself seems to be tilted off its axis.

Some of you are making a cross-cultural transition right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, a global recession, and far-reaching upheavals confronting racism. So much emotional multitasking. So many unknowns. You’re not only tackling culture stress or reverse culture stress, but you’re trying to get used to a new normal when the old normal is challenging enough already.

There’s another term for new normal. It’s abnormal (at least for a while).

Speaking of culture, you have your own “cancel culture”: cancelled flights. cancelled church services, cancelled good-bye gatherings, cancelled welcome parties, cancelled support, cancelled camps, cancelled vacations, cancelled retreats, cancelled trainings, cancelled conferences, cancelled debriefings, cancelled classes, cancelled job opportunities, cancelled leases, cancelled assumptions, cancelled plans.

And when you get to make your trip, your first experience after you land is to self-quarantine for two weeks.

To read the rest, go to A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Storm Front 4,” by mrpbps, used under a Creative Commons license]

Share Your Little Vista [—at A Life Overseas]

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Most countries have their majestic views. They’re the sights that populate Google image results and Pinterest collections. I’m thinking Eiffel Towers and Mount Fujis.

In the capital of Taiwan, we could ride the gondola up to the heights of Maokong and gaze at Taipei 101 piercing the skyline  of the city, surrounded by a ring of mountains. Or we could stand at the entrance of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park, with its paved square and manicured lawns leading to the majestic bright-white, blue roofed Memorial Hall.

If you visit Taipei, I’d suggest you try to see both of these grand vistas. But living there for a while, I had some little vistas that impacted me more. For instance, there was the view from my favorite seat in a Starbucks deep in the subway system. Through the glass wall in front of me, I could look down a long corridor, lined with shops. The architecture was nondescript, but what impacted me was the constant crowds of people kaleidoscoping by. I spent a lot of time at that vantage point mulling over big decisions.

And there was an ancient tree on a college campus downtown that caught my attention. It was mostly sideways limbs, gnarled and stretching out in all directions. The limbs were so heavy and low that they had to be held up by short concrete pillars so they wouldn’t touch the ground. I admired that tree. It was old and weary but enduring. It was especially picturesque during a rain shower.

What about you, in your host country? Do you have a little vista that brings you joy or peace or hope or inspiration?

Go to A Life Overseas to finish reading this post, and to add your own little vista.

[photo: “Flowerpot of the Roadside by mrhayata, used under a Creative Commons license]

Oh, the Questions We Hear from Those We Love [—at A Life Overseas]

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I saw a headline a couple weeks ago that pressed down on my chest like a heavy stone. It read, “‘Don’t You Love Us?’ Millennials Say Their Parents Are Making Them Feel Guilty for Turning Down Invitations to Come Over for Passover and Easter.” While the lead-in question is directed at young adults, asked by parents who don’t understand why they won’t be sharing a holiday meal together during the pandemic, it could just as easily be asked of health-care workers or grocery-store employees by loved ones wondering why they are putting themselves at risk by going to work every day.

So this is another thing that cross-cultural workers face that is similar to what’s been brought on by COVID-19: the questions.

Hands up. When you decided to work overseas, did any of you hear “Don’t you love us?” or something similar, from parents, siblings, children, or close friends? How many of you have heard it more than once, maybe each time you say goodbye?

When we make decisions based on our convictions, when we decide to do something difficult or out of the ordinary because we believe it to be right, our actions often affect others, especially those closest to us. And they have questions, and those questions can land with a thud.

Go to A Life Overseas for the rest of the post. . . .

(Erin McDowell, “Don’t You Love Us?’ Millennials Say Their Parents Are Making Them Feel Guilty for Turning Down Invitations to Come Over for Passover and Easter,” Insider, April 9, 2020)

[photo: “What? by Véronique Debord-Lazaro, used under a Creative Commons license]

How to Do Life during a Pandemic—Cross-Cultural Workers Can Add to the Discussion [—at A Life Overseas]

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Lately, my wife and I have been video chatting with two of our sons, their wives, and our four little grandkids. That’s what you do when your children are serving in a faraway land. That’s what you do, too, when your children, like ours, are close by but COVID-19 protocols tell you to stay home.

When we started out overseas, our parents didn’t have computers and Skype hadn’t even been invented yet, but I know how important video conferencing has become for ocean-separated families wanting to stay in touch. And my recent experiences back in the States have got me thinking about what cross-cultural workers (CCWs) can teach the rest of us about life under the cloud of a pandemic. While people all over the world are scrambling to overcome challenges in a matter of days or weeks, CCWs have been tackling similar problems for years.

Now I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I’d like to consider the things that CCWs often take for granted that those “at home” can gain from. It’s not too common for senders to seek your input. “What is there to learn from people who do abnormal things because they live in abnormal places?” But as we all get used to a new normal, at least for a while, we all have things to learn.

There’s a lot of dialogue going on now about how to cope under “social distancing,” “sheltering in place,” and “quarantines.” I hope those of you working abroad are invited to give your input. You have a lot to share.

Here are some examples I’m thinking of:

You and your loved ones have dealt with extended separation and have navigated holidays and special events at a distance. You are masters at video chatting online, wrestling into submission Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and the list goes on. And you’ve developed your own ways of connecting grandkids to Grandpa and Grandma when face-to-face isn’t an option.

Continue reading this post at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “DSC06088,” by Nickolay Romensky, used under a Creative Commons license]

Plans Unfurled, Change the World: A Poem for Cross-Cultural Workers [—at A Life Overseas]

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I had fun writing a travel poem for my son, so I thought I’d try it again, this time on the topic of working cross culturally. Here are the first eight lines. The rest is at A Life Overseas.

Hear the call
Like St. Paul?
Kneel to pray
Lots to say
Plans unfurled
Change the world
Ready, set
Not quite yet . . .

[photo: “Sandles,” by midnightcomm, used under a Creative Commons license]

Newsletters and the People Who Read Them [—at A Life Overseas]

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of readers. . . .

Now that we’ve reached the end of 2019, it’s time to work on that end-of-the-year newsletter. Or maybe you’re still working on your November newsletter, or your October newsletter, or even a bi-annual summary—since you missed getting out your 2018 installment. (It happens.)

It’s not easy juggling all the demands of cross-cultural work, including the doing and the living and the reporting of it all in meaningful ways to a diverse audience. When you sit down in front of your blank template, whose faces do you see looking back at you? Who reads your newsletters, emails, prayer updates, and blog posts? How do you manage all their sometimes competing expectations?

How many of the following might see what you write?

your friends who adore you and have your photo on their fridge
your teammates
coworkers from other agencies
Mom and Dad
supporters weighing their budgets for next year
the nationals you serve
those in your host country who are glad you’re doing what you’re doing
those in your host country who wish you’d stop doing what you’re doing
your college professors
people who like pictures
people who like numbers
people who like stories

Finish reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Erasmus’ hands,” by Jim Forest, used under a Creative Commons license]

To a Friend Nine Days before We Fly Out Again [—at A Life Overseas]

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Dear friend:

I’m so glad we got to say Hi a while back, but sorry we never made it to your house for dinner. When we landed three months ago it seemed like we’d be here forever, but then the time went by so fast. We’re all busy with so many things, and we had so many places we needed to be.

You asked about us getting together for coffee next week, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it. We’re kind of booked up with so many last-minute things to take care of, and then we’ve set aside a couple days to get away and catch our breaths before we head out. I’m afraid coffee will need to wait until next time.

And you wondered about seeing us off at the airport. That’s so nice of you, but we’re trying to get our goodbyes done before we pull up to the curb and have to fix our minds on tickets and luggage and passports.

Speaking of luggage . . .

Read the whole post at A Life Overseas.

[photo: “coffee lover,” by Camila Tamara Silva Sepúlveda, used under a Creative Commons license]