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6 Tips for (International) Moves from a Rookie Missionary

6 Tips for (International) Moves from a Rookie Missionary

The end of 2017 saw the start of a new chapter in the life of my family. My wife, 6 month old son, and I packed up our belongings (mainly diapers) and relocated our lives and our ministry to West Africa. Over the last year we have lived and served in the two amazing countries of Senegal and Ghana.

There has been much that we have learned throughout the last year - from new cultures and languages to new foods and jobs.

Simply put, we have been perpetual students.

In the midst of our ongoing “education in relocation”, we have picked up bits of wisdom and insight along our journey. This included realizing what we did well - and not so well - in preparing for our move to West Africa.

And here are a few insights, from a rookie missionary, for others about to make a similar transition.

Here are 6 tips for an international move:

  1. Take a pre-move trip to your new home country. Not only will it help you realize what you are jumping into, visiting your new home before you relocate helps you better understand what you need to pack (or don’t need to pack) for your move. Speaking of which…

  2. Don’t pack 6 deodorant sticks. One of the most unnecessary things that I packed for our move was a Costco 6-pack of deodorant. Why? Because (I reasoned) I sweat a lot and I wanted to make sure I had access to deodorant. In every city we have lived in so far, I have had more than enough access to deodorant. In fact, I prefer the deodorant I find in our local stores to what I brought with me. What’s the deeper lesson here? Take some time researching the stores and supermarkets that are located in your new home town or city. You can do this via the all-powerful Google, finding ex-pat/tourist websites about your host country, or reaching out to friends/colleagues that already live there. This can greatly improve your accuracy in packing “the right things” (i.e. the things you won’t find where you are moving to).

  3. Pack “one piece of home”. This piece of advice was given to us by seasoned missionaries when we were preparing to depart the United States. In the midst of so much transition, it is good for your mind and soul to have at least one thing to comfort you. For my wife it was a few key cooking items to make her favorite Indian dishes. For me? A couple scented candles. Lighting a “Bonfire” scented candle is wonderfully therapeutic for me after a rough day. What’s one thing that helps you de-stress? Figure out a way to bring it with you on your move. Maybe it’s a specific movie, snack, painting kit, or music album.

  4. Prioritize language studies. A life-long missionary put it this way to me: “If a missionary does language school for 3 months, they’ll last 1 year in their new home. If they do 6 months, they’ll make it 2 years. To live long-term in a new culture, you need 1 to 2 years of on-going language school.” The better you can communicate in a new language (which is hard enough speaking cross-culturally using English), the deeper the relationships you will be able to build in your new home. And the deeper the relationships, the longer most people end up living in a place.

  5. Pack multiple converters, not just adapters. We’ve used this one. It helps protect our American (110V) appliances. But we definitely regretted only having one because it has limited how many items we can charge/use and where we can use them at.

  6. Prepare today for what comes tomorrow. Think of the story of Noah in the Bible. He prepared ahead of time for the chaos that was coming. We can do the same thing. We all know that we will face hard times in the future. The best way to prepare for tomorrow is starting today. With your physical health. Mental health. Spiritual health. Start taking care of yourself today. (If you can’t get healthy in your home culture, how do you expect to do it in a new culture?)

These six tips are a few of the main lessons that my family has learned over the last year. Some are a bit more practical than others, but I believe all of them are critical to transitioning well into a new culture.

I’ll get even more practical here for a minute. Here are the items (from the US) that we have gotten the most use out of during our time in West Africa:

  • A quality water filter. Depending on your location, this is essential.

  • ZeroLemon External Battery Pack. This has been a life saver when we’ve lost electricity at our apartment, as well as on our longer journeys. We can charge phones, wifi boxes, Kindles, and even my Macbook with it. It keeps an amazing charge and is very durable.

  • i-Blason phone case (for my iPhone 7+). At a really cheap price point, this phone case has protected my phone wonderfully. From getting caught in rainstorms to enduring my son throwing it against walls, this phone case has done a great job at keeping my phone alive and unscathed.

  • Taco Seasoning (one of my personal favorites when it comes to spices!).

  • Sunscreen (no surprise right???).

But there are also many wonderful things that we want to take back and introduce to our American friends and family! Here a few of the items from our host countries (Senegal and Ghana) that are just plain awesome:

  • Fresh produce (ex. plantains).

  • Groundnut paste from northern Ghana.

  • Fresh honey from southern Senegal.

  • Moringa (read: superfood).

  • Baobab oil - which is amazing for your skin.

  • Beautiful art (like this amazing piece that I got a photo in front of).

Those are my tips & recommendations for stepping into missionary work (or any cross-cultural, international transition) as you relocate to a new country.

What did I miss? Comment below with your own tips!

p.s. - To help keep this blog sustainable, the items that I recommend in this post (all of which I personally own) are Amazon affiliate links. By purchasing one of the items through these links (or a gift card through the ad below) you are investing in this writing project - thanks!

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