For many years, our family lived overseas. When work takes people out of their home countries into other cultures, we can embrace the experience or insulate ourselves from the experience. I loved living overseas. The people who invited us into their lives were some of the kindest, most generous people we’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Our family tried to live very intentionally, learning all we could about the ebb and flow of life of each new culture and what mattered to the people there.
Our friendships grew deep, even when we didn’t share the same religion or the same traditions, we lived life alongside each other. We learned from them and they learned from us. Now, working back in the U.S., I find that we’re on the flip-side of that experience. We have many, many internationals living in our city, and some are our friends. They are here for school or for work or for refuge from war or other disasters. Just as local people overseas reached out to us with help and hospitality, we want to reach out to these internationals who are now our neighbors here.
Rachel Pieh Jones, in her blog Djibouti Jones, lists out 20 things expats should stop doing if they are going to really thrive in their host countries (where they’re currently working or studying). I was intrigued by this list and saw how some of Rachel Jones’ observations would be helpful when applied here, by us in our home countries. Out of her list of 20 “stop’s” – things to stop doing in order to make a foreign place more your home – I adapted 10 (with her permission) to help us be less “foreign” to internationals/immigrants – those who are among us gradually making this country their home (even for a season). As we are willing to stretch out our lives to truly welcome internationals in, we can help make it possible for them to feel at home here (for a season…or a lifetime).
10 Things We Should Stop Doing if We Desire to Build Relationships with Internationals
- Stop complaining. We complain a lot, and often about first world problems. We also too often complain about peoples of other nationalities (both those in our home country and in their own). If we truly desire to demonstrate the love of Christ to them, we look for what is good (about our own country, and theirs). Focus on what is good about both their country and our own. Look for the common denominators that build bridges.
- Stop putting off language learning. You may not have any ambition about learning another language, and for sure, most internationals living here for school or work are doing what they can to master English. Still it is a delight for any of us to hear even a few words in our own language. Rachel Jones talks about the great impact you can have by learning even a few words: “Make their day by putting in the time, effort, and laughter to honor their language.”
- Stop hanging out with only other Americans. Internationals, and especially immigrants, will find each other, and tend to also gather just among themselves. However, if you reach out to a neighbor or colleague or fellow student, you will, more often than not, be well-received. Strike up a conversation and gently ask questions about them and their country and their culture. You may be opening the door to a friendship beneficial to you both. Visit your new international neighbor (bearing in mind possible cultural constraints, but don’t let those keep you from extending hospitality). Are there immigrant vendors/proprietors in your neighborhood? Call them by name. “Celebrate holidays with gusto”, Jones says, (both yours and theirs).
- Stop your addiction to social media. There’s a lot to be said about what we gain from social media. Eventually, however, to really engage with international/immigrant neighbors or coworkers, you have to get up, go out, and meet them where they are. Just this week I celebrated the discovery of an authentic Japanese noodle restaurant with a young Japanese friend. She just graduated from her university here and, with no family in the US, we celebrated together as family.
- Stop taking yourself so seriously. To pursue cross-cultural relationships, you will make mistakes and sometimes misunderstand social cues from an international friend. You will make mistakes, sure, but your friend knows your heart. People who don’t make mistakes in international relationships simply don’t have them..at least at any deep, constant level.
- Stop ignoring beggars. This may seem a strange point in this list. Rachel Jones’ family has made their second home in a very impoverished African country. If you live in a US city, you have probably encountered beggars. They are most probably Americans, not internationals. Still beggars are found in most cultures. How to respond to beggars is a challenge for us all. It may be a case-by-case decision, but seek the Lord about a Biblical response to beggars. Beggars remind us all of how Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” Your immigrant/international friends will take note of how you respond to beggars. In her blog, Jones said, “That doesn’t mean to start giving to them; decide your own convictions on that. But look at them and talk to them. Ask their names and listen to their stories.”
- Stop ignoring the international press and international events[observed locally]. To often we focus on the news reports that only affect us. As you develop friendships with internationals, seek out news items that affect them or their families back home. Participate in their cultural events or festivals when possible.
- Stop shopping only at the more high-end stores. Of course, there are internationals who are very wealthy and shop in those stores, too. This is just to keep in mind for the others in your lives. Find where your immigrant friends shop and how they manage to feed and clothe their families. You may learn how to better, or more creatively, do the same for your own family.
- Stop being afraid. Examine your heart about what makes you afraid of being in the lives of internationals. Is it the language difference? Their culture? Are you afraid you might offend? Or you afraid a friendship might be too time-consuming? Or will it become awkward if they need jobs or a visa? Or is it an issue of love – you are not even sure how you feel about them being here? With God’s help, deal with the fear and allow Him to work in your heart to build bridges, rather than walls.
- Stop thinking you can solve the(ir) country’s problems. I heard a very strange news report this week that enemy nations were accusing each other of killing their own people and blaming the other side. We live in strange times, and it’s difficult to know really who to believe about politics or the world’s problems. We all have opinions about how nations can improve the situation for their peoples, but very few of us are in a position to make that happen. Praying and loving, in Jesus’ name, are our best tools to help our friends as they look back “home” and long for things to be better there.
A Bonus: Rachel Pieh Jones ended her list of 20 Stops with:
20. Stop forgetting to call your mom. Good advice for us all.
I hope you found this helpful. Jones’ blog for expats reminded me of how we’re all pilgrims on this journey. Whatever we can do to help and understand each other will make community for people who very much need community…and in demonstrating the love of Jesus to these immigrants/internationals, they gain much more than just our friendship.