I love living overseas. Let’s just get that out of the way now.
I enjoy immersing myself in new cultures. After the initial push through the terror of losing familiar social markers and verbal communication, it’s thrilling to go from sheer survival to suddenly enjoying a life in differentness.
But it makes a life in normalness hard. You’re becoming a weirdo.
“No one claims you anymore,” is how a new friend described it. She’s American, and has lived in Great Britain for 25 years. We met at a conference. She sums up the strange side glances from Americans at her Scottish turns of phrase and the questions from Britishers about her accent in that one sentence.
“No one claims you anymore.” You’re not quite British, not quite American.
I was on my way to the market one day when I realized I’d never be “claimed” by South Asians. Ever. I’d been making great strides with my Hindi, had a growing depth of local friends and could hold my own in arguments (it’s an important skill). I felt like I belonged.
As I walked down the road, people were staring at me. For a split second, I forgot why they’d feel the need. I started to check my clothes for wardrobe malfunctions and glance around to see what weirdo might be behind me.
Then I realized… I was the weirdo.
That awareness physically hurt.
I know similar experiences await me at home. People move on. It’s easy to expect them to leave a gaping hole where you once stood – but they generally don’t.
Before you email me saying I’m wrong and that we are going to do the long ice-cream-board-game-movie-marathons just like we always did – you should know that in a way I’ve moved on too. I’m getting weirder with every month I clock in another culture.
Spending the past week at a conference with people from every continent plus Americans living in Singapore, France and Peru was a surreal experience. For the first time in a while, I felt normal. I felt like these people understood me. Because a lot of them also drank the overseas kool-aid and are weirdos at home.
We held long talks over dinner about how to survive in a world where the culture is constantly changing on you. Hilarious breakfast chats compared British/Kiwi/Aussie/American English and the unfortunate misunderstandings that result when they get mixed together.
My last morning in Thailand, I went out for coffee with one of my new friends. We talked for a long while about this sense of strangeness and disconnectedness. About family and friends who can’t truly “get it” or some who don’t seem to care to try. He talked about the Biblical idea of “strangers and aliens” in this world and how we pretty much have front-row seats on experiencing what that means. This life of transitory cultures, roles and people should increase our longing for heaven.
Is that what I wake up starving for this morning? In my hotel room, sipping my morning chai and feeling a bit lonely for the people I just left. For that fleeting sense of belonging that will be permanent one day.
This life does make me crave Heaven. I imagine finishing the harp playing and then slipping into a giant coffee shop. I introduce my Australian family to my American family and my British family to my South Asian family. We all sit down together to muse over what it was like when we were strangers and aliens in the “old country” before we got to Heaven.
Is that okay with you? If Heaven is like a long, comfortable chat with someone you just met but who instantly feels like that elusive place called home?