June 22, 2010

I.  Do.  Not.  Want.  To.  Be.  A.  Veteran.  Expat.

Zoom in on me kicking and screaming as I’m metaphorically pulled to the one year mark.  “Noooooooo, we just got here!  Am I really saying good-bye to my first batch of friends and sponsoring my first incoming Embassy employee??  How is this possible?!”

I suppose you want to know WHY I am adamantly refusing to cross the one year mark?  It’s quite simple actually, because once we cross the one year mark, it’s all over with.  I’ll have to acknowledge that 1/20th of our Foreign Service experience has already passed even though I feel like we just arrived yesterday.  And the next thing you know I’ll blink and the other 19 years will be behind me too!

Never mind the fact that once we hit one year we have to start bidding on our next post (Note: We bid in September).  And with that comes the start the Expat good-bye dance of “Must get one last visit in to X” and “Must find time to get the perfect pearls” and “Must see J & N before they leave for Timbuktu.”  And what will surely get lost in all that is the quality of the experience, the “Must Enjoy Every Minute of Our Last Year In Manila”.

They say that once you know where you’re going next, it’s just a matter of ticking off the days at your current post.  I hope and pray that I’ll be different from other expats and will be able to stay present in my remaining moments, but I fear that the excitement of the new place that lies ahead of us will sweep me up in its siren song.

And that’s why I’m  rebelling right now, before I cross the line of no return.  Because I have unequivocally fallen in love with Manila and IT’S JUST TOO SOON TO BE LEAVING!!

And don’t give me your platitudes for why it will all be okay.  I know them all:

  • There’s still a whole year left!
  • But you’ve done so much already!
  • You can always come back!
  • There will be other great places!

Because in my heart I know everything’s about to change.  You see, Manila “birthed” me in a sense.

I came here wide-eyed and curious, newly married and unsure of how I would fare in my new global playground.  And in the last 12 months I’ve blossomed.  I became intertwined with my partner in a way I never thought possible.  I cursed my business and the initial frustration it caused me, finally surrendering to what I knew was my greater calling.  I marveled as my needs and desires changed as a result of experiencing poverty first-hand.  I discovered my own unique brand of spirituality.  And I came to peace with the fact that my life was never going to look like anyone else’s and that different was, in fact, good.

You see, I will never again be the same girl that came to Manila.  I now play on a bigger stage and I know I’m being called to do grander, more magnificent things.  But it’s scary to step onto that stage and stand in the light.  I already miss the comfort and safety of the world I used to know, where everything was familiar and largely risk-free.  Yet I also know that I’m finally ready, that this one year mark (which coincides closely with my 30th birthday), is the beginning of another chapter for me.  It just happens to be one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” type novels and I’ve yet to select my ending.

So stay tuned.  If there’s one pattern I’ve seen in my life, it’s that I always have a major breakthrough after periods of intense resistance!  And I do not plan to give up this fight easily…

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  1. Chris Coleman says:

    Dear Sarah – I feel your pain – I know EXACTLY how you are feeling, because I felt it so many times during the 20 years we were in the Foreign Service. I took all the courses for spouses that explained the feelings I would be experiencing and how I could counteract those stressful moments. They went something like this . . . I’m here now – I love this place, my friends, the culture, but I really am excited about the new place, a new beginning, new friends, new experiences, sob, sob, but I don’t want to go, but yet the new place sounds so great, sob, sob, I don’t want to leave – you’ll have to take me kicking and screaming . . . and so it went for 20 years. But I’ll have to say that each new place taught me so many different things, experiences that made me grow so much and that will be with me for a lifetime. We still keep in touch with many of the wonderful friends we made in all those places, both in our embassy community and outside. I can’t leave you with any great wisdom to make it easier. I can only say it is what it is – go with the flow – you’ll grow to love the yin and the yang of it all. Hugs, Chris

  2. Carly says:

    Your comment that your “life was never going to look like anyone else’s,” rang so true with me. In many ways, I feel that is both the the beauty and challenge of an expatriate life. Whenever I waver, I ask myself if I want a different life. Not once have I said yes. Keep enjoying yours!

  3. minnesotagal says:

    Deal- I feel exactly the same Carly! You were one of the ones who encouraged me to keep dreaming ‘globally’!

  4. minnesotagal says:

    Yeah, there’s such a tug of war Chris. I guess it really is a good problem to have! :) I love that you’re willing to share your experiences with me… its very comforting!

  5. Bfiles says:

    what a beautiful post! I just love reading your blog and your insights.

  6. Megan says:

    I love to see the change from the Sarah I had coffee with 3 or 4 years ago…it makes me smile to think about sitting in Peavy Plaza with you, telling me that you really like this boy but he wants to move abroad and you’re not interested! I’m envious of your adventures and so amazed with how much you’ve changed (but stayed yourself!) through all of this.

  7. minnesotagal says:

    Thanks Bfiles! Appreciate you following it… connect with me on Facebook, will you? Sarah Miller Novak is what I’m under!

  8. minnesotagal says:

    Awww, thanks Megan! You really have witnessed the full progression. My Target days feel like they existed in some parallel universe now. Was that really only a few years ago? I am thankful to have you in my life and look forward to the day when you will take us up on the offer to stay with us for a vacation! Hugs, SLN

  9. Hiromi says:

    Hi, found you through Smart Expat. I grew up as an expat kid and am now living it as an adult. 2 years is not nearly enough time to spend anywhere. I think minimum 3 so you spend the first year acclimating, second year playing and third year saying goodbye. I hope to make it through all your posts eventually, I’ve really enjoyed the first couple.

  10. minnesotagal says:

    Thanks so much, nice to meet you! Can’t wait to learn more about you Hiromi! Sarah

  11. Lauri says:

    Love your blog. I’ll sit in MN, continuing to read it, while continuing to hope that someday hubby and I are globetrotting too! No go on the first try at orals but there are plenty of years left!

  12. I loved this piece and identified with it, even after 25 years married to the foreign service. I’m in the middle of yet another move myself and still have conflicting feelings about it all, recognizing there is good with the bad. Moving is never fun and saying goodbye is hard. But I like your line about having a major breakthrough after a period of intense resistance – that would probably describe me, too! I’ll keep that in mind as I face yet another packout this week!

  13. minnesotagal says:

    Hi Lauri- Nick to meet you! Thanks for following the blog. I LOVE meeting new readers! The Foreign Service lifestyle requires you to be a very patient “waiter”, so consider this good practice. When it’s meant to happen, the opportunity will arise! Cheers, Sarah

  14. minnesotagal says:

    Awesome Rebecca- I love hearing that there was a take-away for you! I was hoping that as a veteran you’d tell me it gets easier over time, but I guess I’ll just have to learn how to manage all those conflicting emotions! What’s your next post? Maybe we’ll cross paths some day…. Sarah

  15. gweipo says:

    I can tell you 16 years on that it never gets any easier, you just cope worse with it! And then once children arrive things get more complicated.
    But you do grow as a person and meet so many wonderful people and learn so much. I don’t know if it would be possible for us to go home ever now.

  16. Naomi says:

    I’m not a FS wife, but am currently living overseas and we are about to cross our first year as well.

    Great post … will be following you …

  17. minnesotagal says:

    I sooo appreciate words of wisdom from wise veteran expats! Appreciate you sharing…

  18. minnesotagal says:

    Awesome Naomi- Happy Anniversary to you too! Can I correctly deduce that you’re in Delhi? Look forward to getting to know you…

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