Grace, Gratitude, and Living Overseas

A Guest Post by my friend Jennifer Lyn King
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If you ask me on a normal day what I’m thankful for, you’d likely hear me mention ice water and sunshine, the flowers still blooming outside, or the sweet hug my eleven-year-old gave me on his way out the door. It’s not because my life is all roses, but that I’ve grown increasingly appreciative of many things in recent years.

About six months ago, my family and I moved back to the United States after four years of living on the outskirts of Prague, Czech Republic.

prague_041710_ 301

Our time in Prague was an incredible yet difficult experience all rolled into one. We were able to travel by car throughout Europe, which was a dream—as far as Sweden, Dubrovnik and Montenegro, Hungary, Spain, Great Britain, and Italy—always Italy. We learned to change languages at borders like some people switch hats, and experienced places and things I had never imagined getting to see. Some sights changed my perspective forever, like the rows of whitewashed tombs lined up like dominoes in the rocky hillside villages of Croatia, and the shell marks which still pock Bosnian buildings from their very recent war. We traced our fingers over the remains of the Berlin Wall, walked the paths of ancient Greek Mycenae high above the Aegean Sea, and slept in Italian centuries’ old stone dwellings surrounded by endless vineyards. The traveling was marvelous, but not everything during those four years abroad went smoothly.

We had scary times, while traveling and while home in Czech Republic, including break-in attempts on our home, mafia-related stake-outs on our tiny street, and even a blown gasket in our car’s engine while I drove the German autobahn near Munich. And, the most traumatic – my youngest son fell and broke the end off of his elbow one Sunday, requiring immediate emergency surgery in the former Communist hospital—the expat mom’s biggest nightmare. Those days and nights in the hospital, the fact that I had spent months learning a conversational amount of Czech paid off. I was able to speak with the nurses and beg them to let me stay overnight, which was usually forbidden.

I remember the first time I stepped into the village Potraviny (food market) in our village of Horoměřice, Czech Republic, taken back by the filth creeping out from the walls, the ripe smells of the other shoppers and the butcher stabbing meats from his case, and the toothless woman selling an assortment of bread from her baskets. I also will never forget the first time I had to get mail at the local Pošta, when the post office woman scolded me in a flurry of Czech, and I was forced to leave empty-handed and on the brink of tears. I remember wondering why—why do the locals not smile, not help strangers, not give a little compassion? The Czech culture seemed rough, impossible even. Yet it wasn’t until I walked the desolate streets of Terezín, a Nazi concentration camp just north of Prague, and soon after began reading about and hearing stories from friends, about what happened to their families during Communism, and the forced labor camps at the Uranium mines, that my questions began to change. By learning about them, about their history, I began to see things from their side and gradually understand. The layers of “normal” began to peel back and open my mind to new reasons and ways of doing things.

Prague in winter

The most difficult aspect, and biggest blessing, of being an expatriate is that everything is different—the people, the language, the weather, the culture. The people’s responses and the reasons behind them are foreign, as we are to them. But when we begin to listen, to slow down and try to understand the suffering of individuals, of entire countries and regions, we open ourselves to one indisputable truth—we are so much better as a whole when we have tried on someone else’s shoes and walked a few miles alongside them.

Travel does that. Daily living in another country pries open our beliefs and widens our perspectives. It makes us grateful for things we never would’ve noticed before, and bonds us to those friends and family who are there with us, holding our hands while we gain a more expansive view of our lives and of our futures. To me, it is grace.

The experiences I was able to have with my family, my husband and three growing sons, far surpassed any dream I ever dared to have. Those four great years abroad changed me from the inside out, and I will always be profoundly grateful for the experiences I had with my family in Europe.

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Jennifer and I met at a writers conference years ago, and have been fast friends every since.  She is a writer and author who loves to read and share great books with others. Jennifer has recently moved back to the USA after living for four years in Prague, Czech Republic. She enjoys photography, oil painting, tennis, and traveling with her husband and three sons. She is currently at work on a novel set in New Orleans and coastal Italy. For more about Jennifer, visit her website and blog at http://jenniferlynking.com. She can also be found on Twitter @JenniferLynKing. 

(All photos for this post were taken by Jennifer — definitely check out her site for the writing AND the art!)

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Throughout the month of November, I will be posting stories of change, gratitude, forgiveness, and grace — both my own words, and the tales of carefully selected guest voices.

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