It has been eight months since I left my expat existence. It’s strange to be in flux again, (for a large chunk of time), starting over, but this time in my home country. This adjustment is just as challenging as moving to a developing nation…minus the language barrier and traffic.
When someone asks me “How was it over there?” I never quite know what to say. Too many thoughts and emotions jam together and I can’t seem to fully explain how it was…much like my dilemma with describing how it feels to be back home.
Saying my time abroad was “challenging” is a complete understatement. A range of emotions gets conjured up as I think back to iconic moments and interesting lessons learned.
I remember walking out of the airport in Jakarta for the first time and being smacked in the face with thick humidity while about 50 taxi drivers berated me for business. That set the tone for most of my experience. It’s always hot and humid, and I was never left alone.
I remember my first Christmas out of the country. It was the first time I wasn’t able to decorate or send out cards. That is my favorite time of year, so it almost felt as if Christmas didn’t come, which was sad.
I remember my first VISA trip to Singapore and feeling so thankful that I was able to travel with a coworker. After not really gathering my bearings in one country, I have to navigate another?? Having a travel buddy really helped to make sure we met our agent and got our documents processed in the ridiculously short window of time we were given. Panic and stress are always terrible, but especially on an early morning international mission.
I remember being a little nervous on my first day of teaching. After that, it was a breeze, but not knowing what to expect from each age group that first day was a little scary.
I remember when my shyest five-year-old student finally started speaking in English. Elation, relief…a little of both is probably what I was feeling at that moment. It was proof that my little guys were comfortable with me and that they really were absorbing the material.
I remember when the Indonesian government kept changing VISA requirements and out of 17 western teachers, I was only one of two that were legally allowed to work. Lots of other teachers got a paid, extended vacation, but I still had a full schedule…that was frustrating.
I remember getting to travel around the country, and nearby countries, which was amazing. Yes it was still hot and locals were WAY too excited by my light skin, hair and eyes, but I’ve gotten to see a bunch of awe-inspiring places.
I remember saying goodbye to my favorite class that first year. It was so emotional. I cried for most of the class period as the students showered me with cake and gifts. I was incredibly sad, but also grateful and humbled at the same time.
I remember on numerous occasions being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for an hour and only moving 20 feet. That was aggravating, but it will teach you patience.
I remember getting marriage proposals and serenades from my high school boys. I had a handful of hilarious guys who always made me laugh.
I remember having to communicate with the Super of my building mostly through sign language because he spoke no English, and I never knew the Indonesian words for the things I needed to tell him. I will never forget how he mimed “explosion” when I asked him what happened to the internet after a big storm passed through. LOL
I remember people stealthily (not so stealthily) taking my photo when I was out at a mall or restaurant, as if I was a unicorn; a strange creature outside its natural habitat, and therefore proof of its existence needed to be captured! Sigh….
I remember my excitement and curiosity when getting to try all the new and interesting foods available. I still miss the amazing fruit selection.
I remember having to constantly haggle, for everything, which was extremely tiring, when all you want is to pay a fair price and walk away. I especially didn’t like paying a higher price at times, just because I was western. But, I did get good at haggling and looking back, I recognize that a lesson in discrimination was very educational.
Basically, my emotions and my experiences ran the gamut…but I think that’s a good thing. I wanted to be challenged and immersed, and these experiences delivered.
So what was it like over there? It was…a very unique experience. Let’s leave it at that 🙂