the sweet spot
Living abroad, one has to make adjustments. Sometimes it’s a question of adjusting one’s diet. As S learned during her backpacking days, it can be challenging to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle in much of the world. Other times, it is one’s expectations that require adaptation. For example, in Moldova it is rude to come to someone’s house empty-handed, so no matter how much we insist that people need only to bring themselves, we have come to expect that our guests will ignore our instructions. And sometimes it becomes necessary to change one’s routine or behavior. In Kenya, for example, we never drove anywhere if we did not know exactly how to get there, and at times we took roundabout routes as a safety precaution.
After many years abroad, we have come to embrace the expatriate lifestyle, though Foreign Service deployment comes both with perks and drawbacks not experienced by most of the other expats we have met. The biggest difference is in the psychological adjustments that are part and parcel of moving to a new “home” every couple of years. Anyone who has spent an extended, but strictly limited, period of time in another country — whether it be study abroad, missionary vocation, or work assignment — can attest to the emotional roller coaster that is integrating into a new culture only to abruptly leave it just as one grows comfortable.
At the outset is a mixture of dread and excitement. There is a new country to explore and new culture to learn, both of which we enjoy tremendously. On the other hand, visiting a new destination and living there are not the same thing. There’s a new web of customs and, frequently, an unknown language to navigate just to accomplish the simplest of life’s everyday tasks, like shopping for groceries or getting one’s car inspected.
For S especially each new transition is a stressful experience. D at least has a job waiting for him when we arrive at a new post, which allows him to maintain a level of normalcy and continuity. Without friends or an occupation, arriving in a new country can feel especially isolating. And yet, we adapt. We learn to stretch our comfort zones, embrace new experiences, make new friends. By the time we have to start thinking about the next transition, the place that once felt so foreign feels very much like home.
In between the stress of adaptation and the stress of onward transition, there is a sweet spot. Psychologically, we’ve been in this sweet spot for the last three or four months. S found an interesting consulting project, started teaching yoga, and gives private math lessons. We have made some solid friendships we hope will last well after we leave Moldova. In short, we have found a niche in Chisinau and feel settled, which in our lifestyle is a good indicator that change awaits around the corner.
D recently finalized his transfer timing and submitted his proposed transfer itinerary for approval. We still have 7 months left in Chisinau, so we don’t have to start thinking about moving just yet. Still, having a definite end date on the horizon makes a difference psychologically and puts a new perspective on our remaining months in Moldova.