Current missioner Hady Mendez writes about the realities of cultural adaptation while on mission and a few successful methods of addressing them.

Hady and Caitlin having ice cream

This is not vacation. This is my life.

Cailtin and I were walking home from language school like we have every day since school started on January 20th. Caitlin is a Maryknoll Missioner and will be living and working in Cochabamba for the next 3.5 years. We talk about all sorts of things on the walk back home. Sometimes we talk about what we had for dinner the night before. Sometimes we talk about some cool place the other Maryknoll Missioners took Caitlin to see. Other times we take notice of who is breathing harder as we walk up the hill that leads to the intersection where we go our separate ways.

One day last week, we got to talking about our current reality. About how this is not a vacation we are on. We don’t get to go home in a few weeks. We don’t get to shrug off the inconveniences because they are only temporary. Rather, we both had the same harsh realization:

THIS IS IT. THIS IS OUR LIFE. AT LEAST FOR THE NEXT TWO TO FOUR YEARS.

So what do you do with that? How do you embrace each day for the gift that it is regardless of the situation in which you find yourself? Here are some of the strategies I’m starting to implement that I hope will help me to feel better about my current reality.

Cristo de la Concordia outside Cochabamba (public domain)

Build in some type of “normal” into your day. When you are on vacation, you can forget about your routine and just enjoy the moment. That’s not an option when you are living in another country for an extended period of time. Therefore, I have tried to give myself somewhat of a morning routine. I check my email when I wake up before I hop into the shower. When I’m getting ready, I play a Spanish radio station from Florida on my iPod — it’s the same station that I used to listen to on my drive to work each day.

After breakfast with my host family, I come back to my room and pray. I spend about 15 minutes praying, reflecting, giving thanks, and going through the readings for the day. I bless myself with holy water that I brought from the Franciscan Monastery in DC. All these things bring me great comfort and provide me with a consistent start to each day.

Stay connected. I have an iPod, a cell phone and a laptop. I use any one of these 3 devices to stay connected with family and friends. I have a personal Facebook page and a missioner Facebook page. Each day, I try to update at least one of the pages with things that are happening, something I’ve learned, or just generally how I’m feeling. Most of my friends are on Facebook. If they are not, then I will make time to email them or call them. Every one of my friends knows how I’m feeling, what interesting article I might have read, and what event or activity I’m looking forward to.

And by the same token, I know all about the parties going on, the insane winter they are having back home, and can see babies grow – all online. I have a friend who won’t Skype with me because she thinks it’s weird to look at each other while we talk – I won’t mention her name – so we have agreed to talk on the phone regularly. And we can see each other through pictures and video. It’s work. But it’s worth every minute of the time it requires. I feel loved, involved, connected, and in the loop. I will get more busy here soon enough and will have less time to devote to staying in touch. But I will always make time for it because it feeds me.

Listen to your body and your soul. I felt like I wasn’t getting enough physical exercise. Especially because I’ve been sick and haven’t been doing much of anything but going home after class. This weekend, my buddy Caitlin and I walked, strolled, and otherwise got in the movement I was craving. There are other needs I’ve been identifying as well. I would like to go to mass on more than just Sunday. I found a church close to home that I can go to during the week. I want to be more social and meet more people. I have started to schedule one-on-one meetings with various contacts here in Cochabamba to start building relationships and expanding my network. I want to start focusing on my ministry. I’ve been doing a lot of research on local organizations doing the type of work I’m interested in.

Moving to another country can be overwhelming, potentially disappointing, and certainly stressful. But in the end, we are all responsible for our own happiness. I thank God every day for His guidance and the thoughts/ideas/people he puts in my path that help to make every day a little better. I’ll be glad when the rain season is over!