How to Thrive in a Foreign Land

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Growth.
Change.
New experiences.
New flavors.
A new way of life.

How does any of this happen? How do we go from things being COMPLETELY foreign and uncomfortable and strange and scary – to normal(ish) and a rhythm we can keep up with and start to feel apart of?

It happens one day at a time.
One taste at at time.
One experience at a time.

We are just coming to the end of our second week here in Merida, Mexico and it’s CRAZY how things that once seemed completely overwhelming and complex (like a traffic roundabout near our rental) now seem completely normal and we are driving through and navigating it like a local.

Grocery shopping at the market was disorienting and panic inducing – not only was I trying to convert Mexican pesos to US dollars, I was also trying to convert Kilos to Pounds. Now, I go to the store already knowing what I’m going to get – where it’s located and whether or not 18 pesos for 1 kilo of bananas is a good deal or not (it’s not).

Everything is unfamiliar until it isn’t.
Everything is hard until it’s easy.

It’s true for living in another country.
It’s true for changing health and fitness habits.
It’s true for running a business.

I find a few things helpful in making these transitions – no matter what your “new life situation” is or looks like, you can apply these tips to help make things just a little bit easier!

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#1) Realize it’s going to be a bumpy road at first, and don’t get down on yourself when it is.

The first time I went to the MASSIVE market in el centro (downtown), I went alone. I knew that it was going to be a MAD HOUSE and there was going to be bartering, and lots of people and noises and vendors all vying for my attention. I knew I had a limited budget and could only buy as much as I could cary. I knew it was going to be a shock the first time I went, so I embraced it, and decided NOT to add four crazy kids in the mix.

I probably didn’t get the BEST deals that first time, and I probably missed several of the “right” vendors, but I did it. I got that first experience done and I didn’t expect to be market navigator extraordinaire on day one. Adjusting to something new always takes time, be ok with that, and you’ll find it much more enjoyable.

#2) Have someone to laugh with when you sometimes feel like crying

I mean, honestly, our transition here hasn’t been THAT bad – I don’t know that I’ve ever felt like crying, but we’ve had those moments, when we feel like we are Alice who has fallen down the rabbit hole. Nothing is familiar, we aren’t sure 100% what’s going on and if we are doing the “right thing”. But through it all, having my husband with me here, to laugh together through the awkward, has been EVERYTHING.

We aren’t letting each other run away from the hard, but we are there for each other – in every situation or disorienting adventure we can look at each other, shrug and laugh. Community is KEY to making it through a life change – having someone you can be candid with to share the burden of these new experiences makes it 100% better.

#3) Ask help from an expert

One of the best things about Merida is how friendly everyone is. We ask the locals about EVERYTHING – no shame. We ask them the best neighborhoods for kid’s playgrounds, or vegetarian restaurants. We ask them where to shop and how to get around. We ask them what these strange vegetables in the grocery store are and they are more than happy to share what they know.

Sometimes in a new environment we don’t want to stick out or show how ignorant we are, but there is freedom and SO much to be gained when we just open up and say: “Hey! I’m new here, do you have any advice?” Most people are not only glad to help, but have such VALUABLE information that can make the difference between a wonderful experience and a less than wonderful one.

#4) If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again!

I am LITERALLY the most impatient person on the planet! I want to make ONE maybe two mistakes and then…come on, it’s time to be an expert already guys, this is ridiculous.

In things like grocery shopping and making healthy meals for our family, I feel like I’m STILL struggling even after two weeks – I mean, two whole weeks guys…how am I not a Mexican culinary expert by now?

But one thing I do know, every time I get a little bit better. I learn a little bit more. I discover something new, I make a NEW mistake.

For example, the stove we have is a gas stove, and I’m used to electric – also I don’t have all my regular pots and pans or ingredients, so I tried to make fried rice – a staple that I am quite comfortable making at home. I totally over cooked the rice into a sticky, mushy porridge, under seasoned the vegetables and over cooked the scrambled eggs. Needless to say, we ate it, but didn’t enjoy it much.

The next day I tried to make “bacon” for breakfast, but ended up buying what I thought was bacon, only it wasn’t really, and I’m not 100% sure I cooked it enough, some parts were scorched and other parts were flabby. You guys….I’m not the BEST cook, but I’m ok, and I definitely know how to make BACON! Not in Mexico apparently.

So I try and I try and I try again. I don’t give up (because we would starve) and I don’t decide that living in Mexico just isn’t for us because I can’t cook bacon here! Turning what is new and foreign and uncomfortable into a new skill and comfort zone takes a little bit of grit – the ability to try and try and try again.

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We’re only half way through our time here and I really am encouraged by how much better we are at navigating things, making friends, improving in our Spanish and adjusting to a new, slower rhythm of life. What used to be WILDLY out of our comfort zone is not slowly becoming the new normal.

It’s a beautiful thing, it means we are stretching and growing.

You don’t have to go to Mexico to do this though – where do YOU want to grow? Where do you feel like a foreigner? Is it in the area of eating healthy? Working out? Starting a business? Making new friends? Growing in your spiritual walk?

Everything is hard before it is easy.

Push in – be ok with being uncomfortable – get a community around you – ask experts for help and dig in and keep trying, even if at first you don’t succeed.

Comments

  1. I am praying for you this morning. What an adventure God has you on and how much you are growing in Him. I love you dear Vanessa!!

  2. Hello, i follow your page for inspiration and today this post has brought me peace. My husband just left to Mexico this past weekend to set the foundation for our family to move there in a couple years. Do you have any recommendations as to where to start, or where to live? Any tips will be really great. I will continue to follow your posts as well.

    Thank You,

    Usi

    • How cool!! I am super excited for you and glad this post was encouraging! We are in Merida – we choose this city because of the safety, history, beauty and location (it is easy to get to from Miami).

      We also considered San Miguel de Allende and one more city that I can’t remember right now 🙂

      Feel free to shoot me an email if you have more specific questions! I’d be happy to share whatever we’ve learned along the way.

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