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Saturday, February 13, 2016

How Living Overseas Changed Me

Three years ago, I spent three years working as an English teacher in China.  Now I'm looking back with the question, "How did living overseas change me?"

My question was inspired by reading a very interesting post by another American living in China: How Living Overseas Drained the Extrovert out of Me.  She describes how the "rain-swollen river" of relationships flowing through her life eventually eroded her extroverted tendencies.

Since I, too, was a raging extrovert before I moved to China, I was very intrigued by that article.

...Just kidding.  I was, and still am, a non-raging introvert.  So how did living overseas change me?

I wasn't dramatically changed, but I know I'm a different woman than I would have been if I'd lived in Iowa my whole life.  In a word, I've been enriched.

My relationships were enriched.  I met a whole new crowd of interesting and inspiring ex-pats.  I taught hundreds of college students.  I had new colleagues, new leaders, new neighbors.  I had my "go-to" vendors -- my fruit lady and my chicken lady and my water man.

In particular, it was my students that made my time in China so very rich.  They were loving, eager, and enthusiastic!  The Lord gave me a true affection for them, and they blessed me immensely in return.

"Free Talks" were extra English practice sessions that often filled my apartment.

I got to visit this good friend in her hometown.

One of my favorite classes -- all girls!

I don't remember the gift, but I loved getting notes like these!

My mind was also enriched.  Living abroad was a fantastic education for me.  I learned basic skills in a new culture and a new language.  I learned things like how to say "foreigner," how to navigate the train system, and how World War II continues to affect the world today.

Living in an Eastern culture taught me about concepts like shame & honor, "face," and relational webs.  I've learned to keep the Eastern perspective in mind as I read news from the Middle East, try to understand Bible stories, and make friends with internationals on American soil.

Learning about the corn harvest

Learning about Chinese.... or trying to.

Finally, my view of God was enriched.  I've written elsewhere about how living in China gave me a front-row seat to one of the most amazing Christian movements in history.  There's no logical reason that the Chinese church should have survived and grown through the terrible persecution of the mid-twentieth century, and yet there are now millions of believers in China.

I can think of several moments when I sat with Chinese believers and got goosebumps.  My favorite one was when a young Chinese woman shared her vision that God wanted to use China to reach the Middle East, and that she was actively training to go as a foreign worker to share good news in a dangerous country there.  My second favorite moment was when I sat at a kitchen table with two Chinese believers and an American friend, and we had an amazing hour of worship and fellowship with our Bibles open.  Experiences like that have given me a great appreciation for God's work in his global church, as well as a lingering dis-taste for the materialism and showmanship of many American churches.

My time overseas also gave me greater confidence in God's provision in my own life, as he provided finances, safety, vision, opportunities, and joy during my three years abroad.

The line for a Beijing church popular with college students.

The registered church in Qufu, where I first lived.
An impromptu lunch with church ladies we barely knew - One of my favorite Qufu memories!

In conclusion:
Sweet memories did indeed go with me when I left China.  But I'm not 100% that a clean environment was left behind!

This post is part of a (very) short series on "How Living Overseas" changed me. AKA, a two-part series, unless any of the rest of you want to chime in! :) 

See the first installment from Lisa Shunk, on the impact of living in Haiti during her teen years.  How about you?  Have you lived overseas?  How did it change you?  

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