Me, Myself, and I: Staying Grounded While Single and Living Abroad
One of the best things about living overseas single is also one of the hardest things.Most of my writing is directed toward married women with kids because I am married with a toddler. But I was single once and I even lived overseas for three years when I was single. Those three years held some of the best days along with some of the hardest.I have never felt so purpose-filled and aimless at the same time. I have never had as many lasting relationships and yet been so alone. Those three years were some of my best professionally and worst personally. But those days living overseas by myself defined me. I saw who I really was—my best and my worst self—and ultimately those years led me into finding strength and wholeness in my individuality. But it was a confusing road to wholeness.A little overview of my single years overseas so that you have some context: on the tail of a tragic accident that I felt responsible for, I got an amazing job overseas. I took the opportunity to escape the past and launch myself into a bright, new future. My job had all the jet-setting allure that a 24-year-old could dream of, but I was alone. Well, not “alone” -- but I was surrounded by people that had totally different values than me. In the wake of my own traumatic past, I had already started to question my own values independent of my overseas surroundings. As you can imagine, a young girl questioning her beliefs, all alone in another country, is not a good combination and I found myself becoming a person that I didn’t recognize. Lots of hard years followed and I ended up back in America in counseling, searching for healing with no glamorous job.Fortunately, that isn’t the end of the story because those years living overseas alone pushed me to the end of myself, and at the end of myself, I found the truth. But I am getting ahead of myself.Back to the original thesis of this blog: the best, most life-defining thing about living overseas can also be the hardest, most soul-rocking experience. And, for better or worse, there are no cultural expectations to ground a single person overseas.When you enter a new culture, you get to escape your passport country’s cultural expectations. This is true for single and married people alike, but when you are married you are most likely already in patterns and have expectations for your partner of how you relate to one another that make it harder to make radical changes. As a single person moving to a new culture, there is an opportunity to step more into your identity and calling without the fear of what people might think. It is an amazing opportunity to try new things and step out boldly (or quietly, if that is what you need). I was a scared, naive girl that wasn’t confident in anything when I first moved overseas. Prior to this, I had pigeonholed myself as a timid perfectionist. Over the next three years, I was asked to step up to the plate professionally and to take on responsibilities that I wasn’t ready for, but I was in the right place at the right time. I was shy at first, but over time I saw the work I was doing as a great opportunity to increase my capacity professionally. I walked away from that time as a confident risk-taker and ready for whatever was next in my career.The other side of the same coin of being able to step into a new identity is that there can also be a lack of grounding while living as a single person overseas. It is hard enough for a family or married couple to find what grounds them in a new country—much less a single person with no one to go home to. On hard days, you don’t have your community or family or safety nets to go back to. You might find yourself alone on Friday nights in bed watching a TV show. Or eating breakfast in silence on Sunday mornings. These silences aren’t all bad, but in my experience, I wasn’t willing to sit in the uncomfortable silences. I grew tired of being alone and started to change some of my values and hang out with a different crowd so that I would have something to do on the weekends. I had no support there reminding me of what was important or why I valued what I valued. I was just a lone ranger out on the frontier.I found the lack of grounding to be very revealing of who I really was. I wasn’t as strong, resolute, or perfect as I thought. This season of life even helped me come to terms with my weakness—even though it was really painful. You might be wondering why anyone would want to come to terms with their weaknesses? For me, understanding my brokenness helped me accept the truth I was talking about earlier. The truth that I was broken, and I couldn’t do this life alone. The truth that I need as much (if not more) grace than anyone else on the planet. Maybe you have been living overseas for a few years or you are in the process of trying to figure out if it is right for you. Ultimately, it comes down to one question: do you feel called to be overseas? If you feel called, I can’t promise that it won’t be a hard road but it will be the right road for you to grow, make mistakes, and become a more whole, grace-filled person.