LIFE: Year One Visit to the USA 2017

Part of our vision, when we decided to become expats, was to visit the States once a year while we could. We felt like it was necessary for our sanity, to receive some refreshing cultural break, and most importantly the relationships with our families, especially the nieces and nephews.

I even wrote the EXPAT GOING HOME SERIES as a result of our stateside experiences in hopes that others could use it for their return visits as well. As I write about our experiences, I truly desire that it helps others to be intentional in their expat living. It’s not easy, but with some work, you can make it easier!

After our return to Turkey, the fall season took over and our work and language schedules pushed everything else to the side. While I know this is selfishly just a post for us to remember out travels to the states, I am glad to write about our visit finally! Hopefully, you will enjoy it too!

There were two parts of our visit; Louisiana (my home state) and Iowa (Jason’s home state and our ‘home base’). Since we had spent a month in Asia, we decided flying one way into Louisiana would be best. And thanks to our United Airlines miles, we also flew one way out of Iowa back to Turkey. After arriving in New Orleans, we picked up our pre-booked rental car with National (major points to them for not having a one way drop off!), and we were on our way.

LOUISIANA:

Almost two years had passed since I last visited Louisiana, it was nice to go back to my first ‘home.’ The place where I was born, raised and graduated college. There are parts of me that feel I have betrayed the town and people I grew up with because I live so far away now. But most of my close friends have moved on or back to their hometowns, but there are still a few folks that will always be there.

Louisiana wasn’t just a family visit, one of Jason’s clients is based out of South Louisiana. After working together for a year, we decided it was high time for us to meet them face to face and build a little bit of a personal relationship with them! The team there took us out the best Chinese restaurant in town and then to a nearby gator farm. A favorite moment of the visit was when Jason held a 50 pound alligator for the first time. I was super proud!

Here are just a few highlights:
– Spent some great time with my brother and sister-n-law. I even celebrated my brother’s birthday with breakfast just before we left for Iowa!
– Ate some famous Cafe du Monde beignets in New Orleans with one of my favorite ‘Katies’ and even made it by to see her mom and sister on our drive up to North Louisiana
– Had some of my favorite Johnny’s ‘Sweep the Kitchen’ Pizza with one of my other favorite ‘Katies’ and her hubby and their little girl
– Had OrangeLeaf frozen yogurt with my college roomie
– Sat by my old music teacher and friend at my old church

(Apparently, in Louisiana, I revert back to my old ways and never wear shoes…)

14 HOUR DRIVE UP TO IOWA:

Jason and I are no strangers to the long 14-hour drive between my hometown and ours in Iowa. And it was fitting that we drive this route again. Flying is ridiculously expensive, and one-way tickets are the same as roundtrips.

A couple of highlights:

– Stopped in Fayetteville, Arkansas to see some other college friends and their three kiddos! Before having kids, they traveled to Turkey the first time I lived there (Y’all will always be our perfect half-way stop between Iowa and Louisiana!)
– Met up with the Ranks (definitely, check out his history in 5 minutes podcast!) and another one of my bridesmaid, Jodi in Kansas City – both have lived in Turkey before!

IOWA:

Iowa is the states Jason and I fell in love. It’s where he proposed to me, told me he loved me, kissed me for the first time, and where we decided to get married so our spiritual support could be there to witness what they had so graciously mentored.

While I still do NOT like the winters, I love the summer. The beauty is different than the tall trees and winding roads of the south, but I have grown to love the vast fields of corn and blue skies that can be seen for miles.

Here are just a few highlights:
– Went to the zoo with some cute nieces and nephews on the Funk side!
– Spent some time explore a city in Iowa I had never been too with our friends Hitesh and Mannali’s family and my sister’s family
– Beat Jason’s mom and her husband in a grueling game of corn hole
– Went bowling and to the Farmer’s market in Cedar Rapids with Jason’s sister’s family and took some impromptu family pictures and 1-year pics of youngest niece
– Celebrated our niece’s first birthday with family
-Enjoy a Christmas dinner with Jason’s dad and his wife
– Finish a cross stitch for said one-year-old niece, Ayla (but not until after her birthday party)
– Lunched, dinner, surprise visited and coffeed with lots of people (thanks for the invites everyone! You know who you are! It is so much easier when you reach out to us!)
– Worshipped with our old church with a new name, Keystone Church of Ankeny
– Read three books! Go, read the Rising Red series RIGHT NOW.
-Spent many more morning with the nieces and nephews.
-Spent a few days resting and Jason for sure did a lot a working!

Special thanks to Tim and Darlene for the housing and the Funks for the car and for the Bradleys home to mail everything too! We did ask to take the nieces and nephews back with us but were told “no” by their parents… gesh.

RETURNING ‘HOME’ TO TURKEY:

After a long overdue silence and a very long 20-hour journey back, yes, we did make it back to Turkey with all our bags and very weary! Jason and I have very happily settled back into our lovely little apartment in Izmir, Turkey.

It can be hard to say we are ‘home’ here. At times I have a tinge of guilt for calling another country and culture home while we have left our other loved ones at our first ‘homes.’ At times I wonder if our families feel as if we have betrayed them as well…

But that is life right? Moving to another state on the other side of America would have the same effect.

I mention these issues as well in our first year abroad part 1 and part 2 and the 10 things I learned about living abroad.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

If you are a friend that lives near a place we visited, we are so sad that we didn’t get to see everyone we wanted and are sorry if we missed you! Of course, you are always welcome to the beautiful city of Izmir, and we would be happy to host you!

Also, even though we travel quite a bit, we still would love to see more of the states. We both talked about how we would like to spend a week exploring a new part of USA when we return home.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip back to the states to visit our family and friends. And thankfully, while we will miss them, Jason and I were happy to return to Izmir, Turkey!

Here is to year 2!

 

GOING HOME SERIES: 7 self-care tips and why it is important for expats returning home

With all your de-stressing, prepping for your travels, and organizing your responses and expectations for your expat return ‘home’, you should feel completely ready to go home now! Just one last article left and may be the most important one. Which brings me to my last post of the GOING HOME SERIES, 7 ways to schedule in self-care and why it is essential for an expat returning home.

Just like self-care is vital for everyday life, it is also important, if not MORE important for your travels home. Scheduling even one of the items below with give you a little breather from visits and help you care for YOU!

Here are 7 tips for self-care during your expat visit home:

 

    1. Read about reverse culture shock.

      Read about how to deal with your transition and reverse culture shock. Consider reading other blog posts of people who have gone through it as well and learn about how they coped. Find a healthy outlet for your emotions. Let yourself feel, recognize the feeling, and then, perhaps laugh a bit at yourself. Consider keeping a list of gratitudes during your visit or writing in a journal to help process your thoughts and feelings.

 

    1. Make time for a couple of real ‘vacation’ days with just your family or take a personal retreat.

      I talk about this here as well, but I will also shout out to this as a great way to care for yourself. Jason usually works while we travel, but we try to make sure we are clear on our actual ‘no work’ vacation days. We also try to travel and explore someplace new in the states we have never been. When you take these days, make sure to work in good ‘debriefing questions.’ I will write more about those in a future, but for now, here are 10 questions your friends may ask you when you return home for a visit.

 

    1. Do something you CAN’T do in your expat country.

      This could be going to a water park or camping. In our case, we eat lots of good pork products (ribs and lots of bacon), fresh blueberries on the cheap, and drive a car everywhere (we don’t own a car in Turkey!).

 

    1. Pamper yourself a little.

      The first time I lived in Turkey, I was so afraid to get my hair cut by the hairdresser. In fact, I only went to the salon ONCE in the whole two years I lived there. Maybe that was vain of me, but I was so scared I would come out with crazy hair. This time around I have found a hairdresser that I love and trust, but that is nothing as good as a hairdresser you trust and love back home. Or better yet, get a pedicure/manicure with a friend. Guys, get that massage you have been wanting!

 

    1. Eat some good food.

      Put your diet on hold and eat all the food! There is nothing like getting the food you love and have missed from the true source. For me, it can be a favorite local restaurant or our family recipes.

 

    1. Don’t forget to exercise.


      This may seem like a silly one, and you may debate me and say… “I’m on vacation!” With all the eating and visits you will be making, trust me, just a good 30 minute walk a day will help give your body some movement and keep your systems semi-regular! (You can thank me later.)

 

  1. Consider processing your past year with a counselor.

    YES! While you may not want to admit it, this is an excellent form of self-care. The great thing here is that they are there to listen, not to judge, and to give you the space you may need to express these deep-seated feelings that friends and family may not be equipped to handle.

Here is your FREE worksheet to make sure you cover your expat visit home well!

 

Questions for you:

  • Are you an expat living in a foreign country? If so, where?
  • What self-care tip did you like the most?
  • What self-care tips do you have? What would you add to this list?

 

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P.S. – This is the first post of a 6 part series called EXPAT GOING HOME SERIES. Stay tuned for the following articles:

Going Home Series: 10 thoughtful questions to ask your returning expats

Going Home Series: 8 ways you can bless your returning expats

Going Home Series: 6 ways to make your expat visit ‘home’ more enjoyable (Part 1)

Going Home Series: 6 practical ways to destress your next expat visit ‘home’ (Part 2)

Going Home Series: 5 expectations to explore before expats return home

Going Home Series: 7 self-care tips and why it is important for expats returning home

 

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir Pies

HOLIDAYS: How do expats celebrate Thanksgiving abroad? Glad you asked!

Thanksgiving celebrations in another country are NOT for the FAINT OF HEART. After celebrating 5 Thanksgiving in a foreign country, I have learned to be resourceful!

Last Thanksgiving we totally escaped up to Istanbul and celebrated with American friends. Don’t worry, I was not excluded from my share of the cooking, or eating, for that matter. In fact, I may have done MORE cooking because we were staying with the host of the Thanksgiving dinner.

This year, however, we decided to brave the holiday ourselves. Not alone though. We invited 30 of our friends and neighbors into our little apartment to celebrate the day with us!  Instead of the traditional Thursday celebrations, we waited until Friday night hoping it would be easier for guests to come.

This is what our actual Thanksgiving day dinner looked like… eating out and watching a movie at the nearby mall.

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

And unlike almost all events in my life, I actually started early with the planning, menus, recipes, and activities for kids. I was very impressed with myself, and if you know me well, you would be too.

Turkey and all the stuffings: 

While the list looks ambitious, (and it was) we did NOT cook all that was on this list. ‘A’ was to assign out, the boxes were some I were to do… but of course, nothing happened like that. Almost everyone did bring something, but the Americans were the only ones I assigned a traditional Thanksgiving item too.

Jason was responsible for the turkey and gravy. I made a veggie tray and cheese tray for appetizers. My main course dishes were sweet potato casserole, corn casserole, and roasted veggies (which just collected juice from the turkey while it cooked).

We spent our weekly ‘Turkish’ cooking class prepping for the Thanksgiving party instead. I could not have made it through that week without my helpers that day! They cut up veggies, boiled sweet potatoes, made pie filling, and a list of other things I can’t remember right now. I had great ambitions to make green bean casserole, but unless you have those handy french onions or just a lot of time to fry your own… it just didn’t make the cut!

Our hardest prep work went into making the pie crusts. Yes, we made them from SCRATCH because Y’ALL, we can not get ready made pie crust here. It is just NOT A THING and it has yet to reach here. If you have ever made homemade pie crust, every stinking recipe calls for shortening, and well, yet again, it is not here in Turkey. Yet, somehow our brave American friends ordered a massive box of it from the local METRO (think SAM’S Club or COSCO) and they shared some with us!

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Going to the store looks a little different here… I usually only buy what I can carry. If I know I am going to the weekly market or will buy a lot, then I bring my handy Pazar arabası or market car (no, I did not forget the ‘t’. The actual translation is ‘car.’)

Later that evening, I had a sweet friend take me to METRO to pick up our special ordered turkey. The people of METRO are my heros! I had given up on a whole turkey after asking several big stores, but METRO came through with a special order for us last minute. In Turkey, the stores do not start getting them in until the end of December to be used for New Year celebrations.

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Our kilos of shortening: I stored the stuff on the left for later, and the right we used for the pie crust.

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

P.S. – It also makes great turkey pot pie crust with leftover turkey!

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Pre-cooked! I never got an after picture! While we make our own pureed pumpkin, an Australian friend of ours picked up 2 canned of Libby’s canned pumpkin on a recent trip to Ireland for her American friends living in Turkey! Crazy, huh?

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Jason did an AMAZING job with the turkey! I was so impressed. Everyone raved about the gravy he made from the turkey broth.

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Having a 68 cm wide fridge means we had to be very creative with our storage!

 

Decor

Because of all the prep work, the day of our Thanksgiving party was actually calm and somewhat relaxed. I mixed up a few casseroles and my neighbors cooked them for me since our oven had the turkey cooking.  Jason and I worked together to rearrange our furniture and prepare a kid area in one of the back rooms.

I love decorating for the seasons, and thanks to the internet and a printer, I already had prints hung up for the season.  And thanks to $10 and a Dollar Tree in America, I decided to get plates, napkins, tablecloths, and a few other fallish items. The Dollar Store is one of the things I miss most here!

To seat 30 people, we had to be a little creative with our seating arrangement. And while it wasn’t ideal, everybody was great sports about it!

 

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Thanks LB for letting me borrow the banner!

Guests

Our guests were amazing. With over 7 different countries and a mix of English and Turkish, I was a little anxious to see how it would turn out. Our friends were warm and open to one another and I was very thankful to see conversation flowing freely between groups of people.

Due to the amount of food (people are so generous), we had 2 rounds of eating just like any good Thanksgiving. After Jason made a short speech and prayed over the food, I explained how it works (buffet style complete with Thanksgiving decor paper plates). Everyone enjoyed the first round of ‘savory’ foods and then we pulled out the sweets!

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Finished turkey. We also had some extra turkey breast cooked for extra meat.

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

 

 

Overall, our first time hosting Thanksgiving was a huge success. Yes, it was work, but we LOVED sharing this experience with our friends. Thanks to all our friends who came and made this a special time we will ALWAYS remember!

For a verbal account of our Thanksgiving party, listen into Episode042!

Episode042: When you host your first adult Thanksgiving

 

Your turn!

How was your Thanksgiving?

How do you celebrate?

If you are an expat, what do you like to make? What is easy or difficult to find in your country?

 

Here are a couple a pics from the day after!

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

I spent some time on my winter cross-stitch with tv and coffee. Yes, that would be leftover pie on the table.

Not pictured: me in my jammies

Expat Thanksgiving Turkey Izmir

Leftover dishes that need to be returned! Poor Woody has a tendency to get left behind.

GOING HOME SERIES: 5 expectations to explore before expats return home

“How was your trip over there?” a sweet but not close friend asked me.

It was the fall of 2009, and I had just finished my two-week visit back to the states. Little did she know that for the 100th time, she asked me the same questions everyone else had. Even harder still, she had used the word ‘trip.’ This was my first visit back to the states after living 13 months abroad. In my mind, while not all of my earthly possession had accompanied me, I had entirely moved to another city and established myself there.

I learned early on not to be offended by the use of that word. In most people’s mind, my expat life and living arrangements were/are temporary. And in their minds, expats will forever belong to their native country and that time living in another country could be considered ‘extended travel.’ It can be hard to grasp that, just like Americans move to other states and it is not a ‘trip,’ so is moving to another country.

That story above is just one example of the vast amounts of interactions you will have with others as you visit your native country. Learning to manage your expectations for your return ‘home’ will be a significant benefit to you, and it doesn’t take that long.

Taking a half hour, evaluate the areas listed below, and consider how they apply to your life, family and friends and home country.

  1. Don’t expect your family will understand you.

    I write this being thankful that we, for the most part, have understanding, loving, and interested parents and family members. But I also know that most have NOT been to Turkey and for them to understand what our lives look like is not fair. You may find yourself frustrated or short tempered if they don’t remember things you have shared. Do you remember everything they have shared from their lives? Have grace and patience and consider starting from ground zero, re-explaining your live and stories you may have already shared. This allows for lots of room for understanding and especially room for them to hopefully tell you, “I remember you telling me about this!”
  2. Much has changed in your life, but maybe not theirs. In return, perhaps you are 3-4, 5, even 10 years into your expat years, but a lot more has changed for your friends back ‘home.’

    You may find yourself overloading the conversation with all your stories, triumphs and woes of moving abroad, but consider asking questions about their lives as well. While their lives look different, it is still as relevant. You may find that your friends back home have moved on and your ‘home’ country has drastically changed with time. For us, we visit my home state for two reasons, my brother and a couple of friends we consider families. But for the most part, our time is now spent in another state 14 hours away by car because our friends and rest of the family live there.Consider your ‘whys’ of visiting that area and make the most of the people who are left there. Otherwise, consider planning to visit those close, #1 friends that have moved away. I find seeing where they live and their lives in their new cities help keep a friendship going and deepens the relationship!
  3. Prepare for cultural and political transitions

    New presidents, rulers, political parties are bound to change out over time…as well as your opinion of them since moving abroad. Or perhaps, your expat country has had some interesting changes that others want to ask you about! Ask yourself how you feel about these new changes and how you will respond questions about it.
  4. Prepare and expect there to be uninterested parties.

    There are some reasons for this. Some people just don’t have interest in travel and other countries. More possible, they may not have the context or background to understand the culture and country. For others, and I hate to write this, returning expats may face jealousy from friends and loved ones. Consider how you will help others understand. How can you love those people even if you never discuss your life abroad? Interestingly enough, there are people I considered close friends who didn’t care at all about my overseas life. Eventually, I had to face the hard truth that maybe those friendship were great for a season, but aren’t great for this new season of life.
  5. Added family members change the atmosphere, maybe a new in-law or added children.

    Adding to your family will always change the dynamics! Consider when the best time is for you to travel home. Is it best to travel around the holiday, will everyone be able to get together, or are other times less stressful times?

How do you counteract this? Great question! 

Here are a few other tips to help you manage your expectations for reentry:

  1. Have you already notice friends or family that communicate last with you? Make a list of those who may need a little extra background to understand you better.
  2. Tell your life in small doses. Use images and stories to help others understand where you live. I use the phrase ‘show me, don’t tell me’ when trying to explain your culture to family and friends.
  3. For those family or friends who seem to be uninterested, figure out what you do have in common and start from there. Perhaps your words are changing their perspective on the world and will create a curiosity about your life!
  4. If you can, find a mentor couple or another family whose has previously lived abroad who wants you to share everything. Jason and I are fortunate to have a few families that have lived overseas, even in Turkey, before. We have found it much easier to express our joys and frustrations with them because they have once been where we are!

Bonus: Tell people how much you care for them. Yep! Seems a weird one on this list, but how many times do we forget to share how much others mean to us?

Here is your FREE worksheet to make sure you cover your expat visit home well!

Questions for you:

  • Are you an expat living in a foreign country? If so, where?
  • What expectation has been the hardest?
  • What would you add to this list?

 

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RAMBLINGS: Are systems and workflows truly productive?

(Welcome to Day 1 of a 31 day challenge to write 500 words or more.  For more on that click here:  goinswriter.com)


Running together is like, his least favorite thing to do. But talking while running is worse which usually means I promise not to talk to him if we run together.

Yet, my loving husband found himself on a run with his wife NOT listening to his podcast like he prefers but instead, once again was helping me process how to be more productive with my work/life balance.

He was encouraging me while doing the thing he least loves, twice over.

You see, I was yet again discouraged and hard on myself for not staying on task and in return not making very much progress to my to-do list. It’s not the first time we have had this conversation and in fact, I thought I WAS doing well at it. That morning, instead of writing, I found myself finishing my Christmas Card list, Christmas shopping, and spent way to much time on my phone.

How did I get distracted when I had started with such good intentions?

We work backwards…

How did I start on the Christmas Card list? I was looking for Christmas gift and remembered I needed to send the card list to my sister.

How did I think about the Christmas gifts?  Jason has sent me text message thanking me for taking care of the gifs.

Message = Trigger

Ugh. Totally not his fault.

But really what has started this problem was I was ALREADY distracted before starting to write. WHY? My phone. I usually bring my phone out of my room and jump straight onto everything that I missed while I was sleeping 9 hours ahead of the states.

Real Trigger = Opening my phone before I finish my morning routine.

Other Trigger = NOT moving from my reading chair to my work area.

So we had this conversation about creating routines and systems to help me ‘have a plan’ and ‘know exactly what do to’.

 

Here are the questions that continually plague my mind:

How does a distracted and jumbled mind work productively?

How do you move past feelings to do your hard projects?

How do you tackle projects that seem too big to manage?

What is the trigger to keep me from doing the things I need to do? Is it environment? Is it my phone? Do I just say yes to every thought that comes to mind?

How do you move past wanting to take care of tasks that trigger my thoughts… that I want to do but can wait until later?

 

It seems SOOOO SIMPLE.

Just do them…

Just start your big project…

Just forget about feelings and move forward.

Just start…

But sometimes it IS NOT ENOUGH.

and

Sometimes, we are, *um* I am like a 5-year-old and can’t seem to resist the temptations, like NOT looking at my phone… or Instagram… or anything else.

 

So you know what? I am starting to put the Triggers out of hands reach. 

What does that even mean?

 

Here are a few guidelines I will work on to help create triggers and boundaries:

I will leave my phone in my room until I finish my morning routine and 1-hour writing.

I will start my writing at my desk or dining table.

I will start changing environments for different task –

  • Consider using a coffee shop right after Turkish lessons to do my homework so I don’t put it off.
  • Consider another writing location for Monday’s and Friday when I do most of my writing.

I will create a task list the night before to know what my next morning will look like

I will place that task list in front of me so I know what my top 3 are for the day.

I will have a list of random thoughts that come to mind while I am working.

 

Who’s with me???


Questions for you:

Who else has this problem?

Who will keep me accountable?

What tips do you have for me?