Tag Archives: guest post

Life Abroad in the Military

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Let’s take a quick trip across the world to learn an interesting perspective about life abroad in the military. I asked my cousin, Michael Spoelstra, who is a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and based in Okinawa, Japan, to provide us with insights about living as an expat deployed in Japan. He provides a thoughtful and honest perspective about the challenges of living abroad. Thank you, MP (my nickname for him!), for writing for inspirNational!

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Photo Credit: Michael Spoelstra


 

It is difficult to put together the sentiments one feels. I think there are stages people experience in being removed from what they’ve been so accustomed to, so I’ll try to address the three stages which I’ve experienced – the Vacation, the Rut, and Reality.  Keep in mind this disclaimer; my experience is not the same of the typical traveler.  I had no choice where I ended up, due to military orders, nor any say in the duration of my tour.  I’m also writing this on a birthday, alone, on a grey, gloomy day – so some context may shed light on the tone of this post.

Stage one, in relocating to Okinawa, Japan is the Vacation phase.  I am approximately 7,307 miles, 14 hours in time zone, and thousands of years steeped in culture away from home.  Fighting through jet lag one is overwhelmed by the alien feeling of it all.  The sun feels different.  Flora and fauna are different.  The stars in the night sky seem rearranged.  And for once in my life – I am the one who is different.

Excitement courses through your veins – you want to try all the food, you want to see all the cultural sites, you want to engage these strange new people.  The deeper, more complex human needs are shelved while you figure out how to get places, what your routine is, how to stay out of trouble, who to go to for help…etc etc etc.  This phase lasts approximately 3-4 weeks, or as some say, long enough to break a habit.  Stage one is a “yes” stage, a stage overflowing with optimism, opportunity, and adventure.

A routine is developed, novelty erodes and a foreign national enters into the Rut phase, developing a deeper understanding of where they fit in this new culture, and what’s expected of them.  This second stage is highlighted (or low lighted) by the fact that a routine is developed.  Loved ones from home message less – the novelty has worn off that you are away and messaging is inconvenient and sporadic.  The time difference is most debilitating.  Everything familiar that you followed back home is on an opposite schedule.  The distance you feel isn’t just physical, it is a cultural and emotional distance – you hear about an epic football game with a close ending – the world could end for those poor fans on the losing end – yet it is inconsequential here.  You wonder whether those same people that stopped messaging you think of you often – if everything will be different when you come back.  Coping with this comes in the form of planning travel, understanding new people and melding with new social groups.  These friends aren’t just friends.  They replace your family, friends, and are the tie you have to what you have always known.  The uniqueness and cultural differences among the locals you once found humor in suddenly becomes obnoxious.  This stage persists for different amounts of time among different individuals, and sometimes the lines between the Rut and stage 3, Reality.

Reality is, I think, the most mature stage there is in being so far from home, a long term resident in a different part of the world.  A self-subsistent state occurs when you are alone or so long.  You become emotionally hardened, locked-up, and accept the world as you’ve observed it.  The differences between myself and the Japanese are nothing to be annoyed with.  Annoyance is a form of refusal or inability to understand why people do what they do.  The reality in being away from home here is the same it would be if you moved 80 miles down I-94.  Change is inevitable in life, and the attitude you bring to the table shows what substance will come from the heat of your crucible, whatever that may be.

I miss home.  There are great opportunities here that I cannot miss despite that. The experience of living in Japan has been humbling, it has been challenging, and it has been acculturating.  It tests your mettle, your mental fortitude, and the relationships you have had.  While this isn’t a ringing endorsement for relocating across the world, it isn’t a damnation either.  I am thankful to understand myself more.  I am thankful for the mental toughness I’ve developed.  I am thankful for my parents.  Mostly, I am thankful to have become the person I am through these experiences.  You can never know your country’s greatness until you have truly experienced another country.  On the flip side, you can never know your home’s faults until you have made another home.


Michael’s last point is what really “hit home” for me. I think it is so important for all of us to experience travelling (and ideally living) abroad to appreciate our home country and become open to other ways of living throughout the world.

 

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Do What You Love, Love What You Do

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I’m so excited to share the story of Sigourney Seybert, one of my classmates and friends from the University of Michigan. She currently works as a Field Staffer at New Life Church Ann Arbor and as an International Missionary at Great Commission Latin America. She is one of the most inspiring people that I know, who follows her heart and faith to guide her in her career. She is making a huge difference in the world, particularly in El Salvador and the Ann Arbor community. She is positively influencing others to pursue their faith throughout the journey of life. Learn insights from her below!

My friend Brittany and I met while in undergrad at the University of Michigan in a social outreach class.  As you can imagine there are a lot of people in these types of classes that are passionate about community development, social work, and generally making the world a better place.  However, Brittany and I clicked and found ourselves soon dreaming and scheming about our futures and talking about the issues and people groups we were passionate about.
Fast forward to now and I have the privilege of writing a guest post on this blog!  It seems like not long ago I was a little freshman heading to Ann Arbor ready to make a splash, but little did I know I would be moving to El Salvador in 5 short years.  Going into college I knew that I wanted to do something to help others.  Like many hopeful freshman I thought I would go to med school and save peoples’ lives, but after almost failing general chemistry I threw those dreams out the window.  I sought out a church community my first few weeks on campus and settled into a church on campus that was full of young people.  In the spring of 2010 when the opportunity to go on a mission trip to El Salvador presented itself I knew I had to go.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
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We touched down in “the land of smiles,” as it is known, to find ourselves in the midst of a national emergency.  All our plans of teaching English, building houses, and feeding kids went out the window and our entire week was spent doing disaster relief.  We delivered clean water, food, and condolences to people who had lost their homes.  We heard countless heart breaking stories of families separated in the night as the water rose, houses washing away, and emergency evacuations.
Now I, Sigourney, grew up in a nice New England Parsons home set on ten acres in the country of mid Michigan.  Up to that point in my life I could think of few times I had felt uncomfortable.  This trip rocked my world.  I started asking a lot of deep questions like: Why do these people have to suffer while I live so comfortably?  Why do they have so little while I have so much?  Can I do anything at all to help?
These questions rang in my ears as I returned to school for my second year.  I cried, I became apathetic, I prayed.  I didn’t know what I could possibly do with my life to make a difference.  So like any logical person would do, I went back.
The second trip was less dramatic, but provided much clarity.  I realized that I could make a difference if only for a few people and I became satisfied with that.  I realized that what I had fallen in love with the year prior was the people.  They don’t have much, but they know what is important.  Relationships.
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So as I returned to Ann Arbor for my final few semesters it was settled:  I would study Spanish, so I could build relationships there, and Social Work so that I had a skill set to empower communities.  From 2012-2014 I would return to El Salvador four times.  Each time my Spanish a little better, my relationships a little deeper, and my heart more fully alive.  In the fall of 2012 I had made the choice to go on staff at the church knowing that half of the year I would move to El Salvador.  I would have the opportunity to love the 40 kids the church there feeds every day, to teach them about God, to help them with homework, but mostly just to love them and their families.  I also now have the opportunity to plan trips for University of Michigan students, just like I once was, that could change the trajectory of their lives.It has been a long road.  It has been a tough road full of pain and heart break, but also full of inexpressible joy.  In five short weeks I will board that plane and I will once again enter the land of smiles, not as a stranger in a foreign land, but as a homecoming.
So at this point you may be asking “How do you live in two places?  How does that even make sense?  Why would you leave your friends and family and comfort?”  These are all valid questions and the answer is simple: I desire to use this life I’ve been given to it’s fullest potential.  For me that means living in two places.  I believe that we are here to love and serve those around us and that to those whom much has been given much is expected.  I have been blessed with abundant resources and I feel that it is my responsibility to be a good steward of these resources.  Now you may be asking “How can I do that?  I can’t just move out of the country!”  This is exactly what I don’t want you to hear.  What I do want you to hear is that you have to power to make a differenceFigure out what you are passionate about and find a way to make your life about it.  My job didn’t even exist until I wanted it.  Do I make a lot of money?  No.  Do I care?  No.  My heart is so full and I wake up every day so excited and grateful for the job that I have that it doesn’t matter.  Maybe for you it does matter.  Well then go get a high paying job and then use your money to bless others in your free time.
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However, I would like to caution you from just giving money away.  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I think you would be missing out on a huge opportunity to learn something.  I have learned more about myself, the world, and what love truly looks like by getting in the trenches with those who are different from me.  I have wept with my friends there, I have laughed, heck I stood up in a wedding in El Salvador last week!  Don’t just give to make yourself feel better.  Give deeply not only of your resources, but of your heart.  Engage with people that need to be seen, and feel empowered to impact others for good.

I will get off of my soap box now, but as you can probably tell I am super passionate about this.  I’d love to talk with anyone more about any of the things I talked about.  Please feel free to contact me via email at sigseybert@gmail.com!  Also, I have a blog of my own if you’d like to read more details or see more pictures about my journey and the work I’m doing now. Thanks for reading!

-Sigourney Seybert

Thank you, Sigourney, for sharing your amazing story and inspiring others to do what they love, and love what they do!