7 things I wish I knew before I moved overseas (or specifically to Africa).
It’s been nearly 10 years since my family and I made the journey across the ocean (and then back again). In 2008, we sold most of our belongings, packed our suitcases and moved our family to Kenya for my husband to attend school. I was a new momma of a 9-month-old boy and I was barely figuring out the whole motherhood thing. Three days before we left the country, we found out we were (unexpectedly) pregnant! So while we didn’t have your average move-across-the-world moving experience, there were a few tips I learned along the way, along with a couple that I wished I would have known earlier.
- Learn some of the language before you move.
English and Swahili are Kenya’s national languages, but I just assumed that most people would speak English and that I’d be able to get along just fine. I didn’t take the time to learn much Swahili before I went, and I regretted that decision almost immediately. Many people preferred to speak Swahili, and it would have been so loving and helpful for me to have been able to speak in Swahili to those I came into contact with.
- Arrive to your destination during the day.
There is something incredibly disorienting about arriving to your new home in the dark. It can put an extra layer of stress on an already tired-from-travelling family as they’re trying to find their way in the dark. If at all possible, try to get to your new place in the daylight.
- Start a blog.
Even if you’re not a writer, your friends and family back home will greatly appreciate you sharing your experiences with them! It’ll also be really healthy for you! Getting to share pictures and stories will help people easily connect with you and vice versa. Keeping a constant connection with your friends and family back home will help you to feel supported as you move through the various stages of cultural integration.
- Know the stages of culture shock.
Speaking of cultural integration, no matter how excited you are to be moving to a new country and culture, you will go through a period of homesickness and wanting to move back. Persevering through this stage is vital, because making the new place your “home” awaits on the other side. Knowing what to expect in this process is half the battle.
At first you will be elated. Everything is new and exciting and HOW COOL IS ALL OF THIS??!! After a while, the honeymoon phase wears off and annoyance sets in (this is called the resistance phase). Why do people do x, y, or z? Don’t they know there’s a better way? Why don’t they have good movies here? After 9ish months (give or take), you’ll begin to enter the transformation phase (hopefully!!) and see the positive aspects of the culture again, and begin to feel more comfortable. Finally, the last stage is integration, where you’re enjoying the fullness of the culture, while also understanding your cultural roots.
- Have a taco night each week.
While we lived in Kenya, some of our American/Canadian neighbors invited us over for Taco Night most Friday nights. A little taste of home was what we needed many weeks as we were learning and integrating into the Kenyan culture. It was nice to have a taste of home and watch an episode of our favorite American TV show together.
- Lean in.
Even if you know your move is short-term, make sure to jump in with both feet. Befriend neighbors. Engage in the culture, enjoy the food, and participate in the community events. Living cross-culturally is a true gift- take advantage of all the amazing opportunities and experiences!
- Give yourself (and others) grace.
Moving overseas takes a lot of time and energy! Even if you are comfortable with the in-the-states moving process, moving overseas really does take it to a whole new level. Give yourself some breathing room and make sure to have fun in the midst of all the craziness. Remember that everyone is processing this big change in different ways, and if you hit a rough patch, it will get better!
-by Tiffany Malloy
Tiffany Malloy is a stay-at-home mom of Asante, Alethea, Ada, and Anaya and lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Since the birth of their first child, her and her husband have been dreaming, theologizing and blogging about all things family. While by day Tiffany is chasing babies and doing craft projects, by night, she is staying up way too late, reading books and eating ice cream. Feel free to stop by one of her virtual spaces (Learning to Love or Play Eat Grow) to say hi! You can also find her on Facebook or Twitter.