Tag Archives: living overseas

Back away from the Doorbell, Buddy!

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In my last post I talked about letting go of my fear of having our house broken into.  Today I’m going to be a bit more practical.  Yes, we trust the Lord.  Yes, we know that if someone wants in your house badly enough they will figure out a way to get in.  Yes, we have a daily peace, knowing that the Lord is with us.  However, that does not mean we no longer take precautions.  There’s no sense inviting the Fox into the hen house, so to speak.

Photo credit: bitzcelt / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: bitzcelt / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I actually feel safer inside my house here in San Jose, Costa Rica than I did when we were home on our last furlough and living in the suburbs of the Twin Cities.  My sense of space has changed.  Here in Costa Rica, our house has a big, tall wall around the whole property.  If someone wants to ring our doorbell, they stand on the street and ding the speaker phone.  I can choose to answer the phone or not.  They would never know if I was avoiding them like a Jehovah’s Witness or if I was simply not home.  In order to let someone into our house, I must walk down the driveway and manually open the door for them to enter into our yard first.

Compare that to how close a stranger actually comes to me when he rings my doorbell in Minnesota.  I remember the jolt of fear that I felt at seeing a perfect stranger standing right at my front door, looking shamelessly into my living room through the window at the side of the front door.  I wanted to click an imaginary speaker phone and order the guy back out onto the street.  “Hey! Hey! Hey!  You are WAY TOO CLOSE to my house!” I wanted to yell, “Back off Buddy!”

I had changed.

In addition to the doorbell out on the street and a wall around the yard, when we were negotiating our contract with the land lord, we agreed to install a security system with door alarms if he would beef up the security of the wall.  He gladly agreed.  A few weeks later we had a lovely electric fence on top of the front of the wall and barbed razor wire around the sides and the back of the wall.  Not very pretty, I admit, but MAN DO I FEEL SAFE NOW!  Everyone, and I mean everyone, has barbed wire around their walls.  Now we blend in.  And I like that.

So that explains how I actually feel SAFER living in Costa Rica than I did living in Garrison Keillor’s imagination (I’m referring to Lake Wobegon, in case you have no idea or have never heard Prairie Home Companion Radio Broadcast.  It’s hilarious, by the way.)  Here I know that no one can get close to my house just by ringing my doorbell.

Indoor-Outdoor Living

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There is a show that I like to record and watch when I have sole domination of the remote control.  I indulge my travel itch by watching HGTV’s House Hunters’ International.  If you haven’t seen it, the half hour show follows around folks who are looking for homes overseas.  I like seeing the inside of houses in other countries.  I like seeing what is important and unimportant to other cultures.  I like seeing what catches a foreigner’s attention.  And sometimes I just like to laugh at the naive people who are looking for their “dream” home.

home-sweet-home-8_l

For example, there are a few episodes that are filmed here in Costa Rica.  The realtors lie… frequently.  They will show a young couple a half million dollar property in a very exclusive part of town and describe it as “traditional Costa Rican” in it’s style.  Are they serious??  And the foreigners are so gullible.  In one episode that is filmed in the surfer town of Jaco, the American buyers ask the realtor, “Why are there bars on all the windows?”  Everyone who lives here knows that Jaco is a dangerous, druggie town inhabited by transients and moral-less bohemians living the surfer life-style.  It’s a rough town full of bars and night clubs.  So when the woman on the screen says, “The bars are there to keep the wild animals out,” we howl in laughter at her double meaning which is completely lost on the wide-eyed buyers.

Sometimes I wish I could give those inexperienced folks some advice.  I would tell them to keep these things in mind:

~  You think  you want to be in the center of town and not own a car, but have you thought about lugging your groceries home without a vehicle?  Have you carried a gallon of milk for over a mile?  I don’t care how ecological that lifestyle is, it’s rough on Americans to be without a car.

~  Window bars are there for a reason.

~  Construction will take about 5x as long as you think it will, and it will cost you double what it costs a local family.  So think twice before you decide to remodel something.

~  Bathtubs are over rated.  Get over them.  You will probably only miss having a tub about 3 times per year.  It’s not worth crossing a good property off the list just because it lacks a tub.  You can bathe the children in Action Packer boxes while they are little.

~  You don’t need granite counter tops or stainless steel appliances to be happy.

~  Walls, windows and doors that are open to a pool or patio area are nice in the day time, but you have no idea what kind of critters will fly into your house once the sun goes down.  You might think it’s beautiful, you might think you’ve always wanted indoor-outdoor living, but unless you are prepared to feel like you’re camping in your own house, walk away from that one.

~  A washer and drier should be high on the priority list, but you can do without a dishwasher.

~  Finally, you will not find space like you had in your home back in Texas.  There’s a reason why they say everything is bigger in Texas.  You do not really need that guest bedroom.  Your family won’t come to visit as frequently as the rent check will be due on your oversized house in a far away land.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/305212697/”>Stuck in Customs</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com/Art/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

Third Culture Kids- Living overseas with children

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Loving this life! My three monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica.

A Third Culture Kid is someone who is not a native to the country that he or she is growing up in- think missionary families, military families or foreign business families.  In our case, our TCKs are not entirely American, nor are they Costa Rican.  They have spent more years living outside of America than inside.  For my kids, “home” is Costa Rica.  Because of this awkward way of growing up, TCKs make a third culture among themselves.  They best relate to other kids that have grown up living abroad.  They seem to “get” each other, regardless of the country they grew up in.

This blog will give you a little taste of what it’s like to be a Third Culture Kid.  This is the opening of the book by Heidi Sand-Hart called “Home Keeps Moving”.

You might be a Third Culture Kid if…

*You can’t answer the question, “Where are you from?”

*You speak two languages but can’t spell in either.

*You flew before you could walk.

*You have a passport, but no driver’s license.

*Your life story uses the phrase, “Then we went to…” five times.

*National Geographic makes you homesick.  (I love this one.  I would also add that walking through EPCOT’s International Village felt oddly normal.)

*You don’t know where home is.  (Indicated by the long pause you get when you ask them “where are you from?”)

*You’d rather never say hello that have to say goodbye.

*You read the international section of the newspaper before the comics.  (what’s a newspaper?)

*You have friends in or from 29 different countries.

*You wince when people mispronounce foreign words.

*You never take anything for granted.  (Except the fact that you live where others vacation.  We are less than impressed when people on Wheel of Fortune win a trip to Mexico or Costa Rica.)

*You speak with authority on the subject of airline travel.  (and know how to handle your passport and fill out immigration paperwork.)

*You know how to pack.  (and wait until the last minute to do it.)

*You feel odd being in the ethnic majority.

*You feel you need to move after you’ve lived in the same place for a month.

*Your pocket money makes you a millionaire in one country and a pauper in the next.

*You’ve had more vaccinations in your lifetime than your neighbor’s dog back home.  (Amen!)

*You consider any travel under 8 hours to be a “short trip”.  (So true!)

*You’re an expert on jet-lag remedies.

*You have frequent flyer miles on 5 different airlines, but not enough on any of them to get a free flight.

*You can easily guess a strange’s nationality by their accent.

I can truly agree with every single one of those.  Our missionary life is wonderful and different- full of blessings and difficulties.  Last week I stood on a beach with my children and examined a nest of sea turtle eggs that we found.  Then we took 10 steps into the ocean to catch sand dollars.  We live an amazing life and it’s nothing like America (not that we don’t like America, we love it too!).  I don’t begrudge one hardship when I think of all the benefits that come with this lifestyle.

Do you know a TCK or are you an exPat family?  Please add to the list by making comments below.  It’s fun to share our experiences of living and thriving overseas.

Pace Yourself! Life in the slow lane.

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If you’ve ever travelled overseas you probably have noticed that in many places the pace of life is a lot slower than in the USA, sometimes infuriatingly so.  When we first moved overseas it took us a few months to adjust to this slower pace.  We found that by adjusting our expectations we could slip into life in the slow lane.  Our “To Do” list went from 5-10 things per day to 3-4 things per week in the slow lane.  On a good day in the slow lane, if I can check off even one item from the ToDo list, I feel productive and successful.  We had to adjust our expectations or be frustrated and discouraged.  We chose to adjust.

There are several reasons that life is slower overseas.  First of all, for our first year overseas we didn’t have a car.  This meant planning extra time for walking places.  It also meant thinking twice before I bought a second gallon of milk at the grocery store, “Would I rather lug two gallons of milk home now or come back to the store for more milk in 3 days?”  Because we had to carry our groceries home without a car, we made many smaller trips to the store throughout the week.  Decreased mobility slowed us down.

Another reason for a slower pace of life is that we have to shop in many different stores to get what we need. One-stop-shopping is an American thing.  Currently, I shop at 5 different stores each week just to meet our family’s grocery needs.  I call it “hunting and gathering” because no single store has all that we need, all the time.  Sometimes I find a product one week and the next week the store shelf is empty.  (I don’t think inventory is taught in business schools here.)  Some days I feel like all I do is drive from store to store searching for one thing.

A wide range of prices also slows me down.  Sometimes I can find better prices by shopping at another store.  For example, there is a store where I buy our shampoo.  It is a crazy catch-all, you-never-know-what-you-will-find kind of store.  But they usually carry one American brand of shampoo for just a couple of dollars.  It saves me about $8-$10 in shampoo if I buy it there.  So in my mind, it’s worth a trip to the shampoo store every couple of weeks.  The hunting and gathering method of shopping means that it takes me all week to find all the items on our grocery list.  By the time I find everything, it’s a new week and I get to do it all over again!  Grocery shopping can be a full time job overseas!

Paying bills can also eat up an enormous chunk of your day in Life’s slow lane.  In both Mexico and Costa Rica no one sends bills or money through the mail.  In Mexico we would go to the phone company to pay the phone bill, and the electric company to pay the electric bill, and so on. Here in Costa Rica, we can pay our bills at the grocery store, the pharmacy, or the bank.  But in both countries, bill paying means going somewhere and standing in line.  I remember in Mexico standing in line all morning to pay a bill, then just when we got close to the front, the window closed and the teller went to lunch!  We had to come back the next day and do it all over again.  I have learned such great patience from standing in line.  I can now stand in line for hours without complaining!  It’s a wonderful skill to acquire.

We have adjusted pretty well to life in the slow lane, so every time we return to America I marvel at how we used to move so fast for so long!  When we first returned after 3 years away, we had to pace ourselves or the American Way would burn us out.  We found that in America we could complete an entire week’s worth of chores in a single morning!  “Yahoo!”  But rather than enjoying our extra time, we felt like we should take on more tasks to fill the rest of the day.  Within a few weeks we were feeling stressed and burned out.  We made a deliberate attempt to slow it down again.  Life in the slow lane was looking really nice to us, at that point.

Slowing down sometimes feels like an impossible dream.  I hear it from other people all the time when we go home, “I wish we could slow down and simplify our lives!”  You can!  Just sell your car.  That will require you to say NO to a lot of extra commitments and will reduce your radius of mobility to whatever is between your house and the grocery store.  And when you are considerably relaxed in your new slow pace of life, you can send me a thank you card… I’ll pick it up at the post office next time I go.