I like making lists. I like asking questions. I like making lists of questions. And that’s what I’ve done here on the topic of expectations for working cross-culturally.
We all set out on the journey abroad with high expectations. Of course we do. Without those expectations we wouldn’t begin. But based on the realities we encounter, or on the competing requirements of others, are our expectations too high? It’s not that we should lower them all, or jettison them altogether. Instead we should aim to recognize and understand them, have conversations about them, and modify them when necessary. There’s much to suss out along the way.
When contemplating the questions below, understand that the purpose is to identify what you expect—as in what you think, believe, or assume will happen, not what you hope, want, wish, would like, need, demand, pray for, desire, fear, or know (though they may overlap with your expectations). So if you read a question and want to respond with “I can’t know that,” then remember that that’s not what’s being asked for.
Inspired by the research and writing of Sue Eenigenburg, Robynn Bliss, and Andrea Sears (which I discussed last month), I can think of a number of ways for utilizing this list. The most obvious is for new candidates readying for cross-cultural work, to ask themselves these questions to consider aspects of their move that they’ve never considered before. Comparing answers with teammates, family members, agencies, and church representatives would be helpful as well—and could help head off later disappointments, misunderstandings, and conflicts before they occur.
Future workers could also share their expectations with veterans in the field, or with those who have returned from overseas. This could allow them to hear from those with experience in dealing with too high—or too low—expectations.
I could see using these in a team-building (or team-understanding) exercise, or as discussion starters for future cross-cultural workers to get to know each other. Each person could choose a few questions, or draw some from a hat, and use them as conversation starters.
For those already on the field, there is always a future ahead with many unknowns, even after many of these questions are already behind them, and thinking about the expectations they still hold could be insightful.
They could also look at these questions to think back on their past assumptions, comparing them to what actually has come to pass—or comparing them to how their expectations have changed.
They can ask themselves how disappointments have affected their well-being and their relationships with others and with God. And they can consider the effects of having not expected enough. Those could then produce lessons they could share with new workers coming after them.
And the cycle continues.
So here’s my list. Use it however you see fit. I don’t expect every question to apply to you, but I do expect that some will . . . and I hope and pray they’ll be helpful.
What are my expectations?
To see all 160+ questions, go to A Life Overseas.
[photo: “Mr. W. MacDougall chief Air Observer & Miss J. Grahame spotting,” from State Library of Victoria, used under a Creative Commons license]