Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I can't believe I'm going to tell you how to build a raft.

For a few moments, I just want to sing the praises of the company we work for.

In any organziation there are flaws and failures, and this one has its share, I know... because it's made up of people like us! But at the same time, it is a truly unique and special place to be a part of. For one, because it has a common vision where under the umbrella of seeing this world as God's and it's people as creatures of value- it treats it's employers as such. We are so well taken care of, from the moment we sign on until the moment we sign off, and sometimes even beyond.

One important way this occurs is both the entry and the re-entry process they take us through as expatriates-- people leaving their home country to enter another culture, and then perhaps also someday re-entering that home culture.

When you move overseas, usually you are thrust into chaos. That is exactly what is feels like, because of the speed, suddenness and jolting change of leaving all that was familiar and close to you in people, places, and cultural nuance, and entering into everything that is unfamiliar- from the language to the way you pay your bills,to the food you eat, to the way you make friends, to the places your children can play, to where you buy your groceries, to the way you decorate your home, to the way you get your news information, to the way you get around (or don't), to the places you send your kids to school, to the kind of clothes you buy (or can't), to the weather, to the feeling of security or belonging you no longer have.

So our company, knowing how vital this transition time is, whether leaving your home country or your host country, goes through great efforts to make sure we can do it well. Before we left to move to China, they sent us to New York for two full weeks of Pre-Field Orientation. And now that we are leaving, not even to go back to the States but to another city in China, they are trying to help us work through that as well.

On Saturday, we had several hours of meetings (while our kids were cared for elsewhere) just to talk about what we were thinking, expecting, feeling and needing to do as we prepare to leave this place. They gave us ideas and suggestions for ways to do all of those things, as well as thoughts and testimonies from others who had gone through this transition, and the things that are important in order to do it well. Leaving Well. You may not think it is that big of a deal, but I'm here to say-- it is. Even the things that are now "old hat" to me because I hear them talked (and joked) about so often, were good to look at and think through again.

Here's a rundown, in case you ever need to leave a place... and want to attempt to leave it well.
It's called building your RAFT. And my apologies to all my comrades who may be laughing at me for posting this right now... but you know you love the raft.

this acrostic was developed by the late David C. Pollock
Forgiveness and apology. We need to reconcile with people who we are upset with, or who are upset with us. Usually the first things that spring to your mind are the things you need to pay attention to. If we leave without fixing these problems, the problems don't disappear but stay in our lives and affect the future. Reconciliation is obviously not something that should have to wait for when we leave, and it's also not just about getting your ducks in a row before you go off somewhere else... but the point is that it also should not be brushed under the rug because you are leaving and somehow think your departure will take care of the problem. This one of the most important parts of leaving well.

It's so important to thank, encourage, affirm and commend those who have had a significant part of our lives. It not only is affirming to the one who receives the note or word of thanks, but it helps to cement some of the good memories that we have experienced overseas. This helps us say goodbye to others and helps them say goodbye to us. It's being intentional about those who have mattered in your life and who you have mattered to and sometimes if not done well, can bring about regret later.

As obvious as it may seem, we often neglect the importance and health of saying good-bye. We need to make sure that we say our proper good-byes, not just to people, but to places, pets, and possessions.
This is also important to think through for and with your children if you have them. Taking pictures of places you want to remember, even rooms in your house, and making a point to say goodbye to the people in your life- usually days or even weeks before the actual departure date.

Think Ahead
This is where you try to articulate what expectations you have about your re-entry or your move, whether good or bad. Even down to what you are imagining the arrival at the airport will be like. This is helpful in not only communication with family and friends, but also in preparing yourself for what may be unmet expectations.

I know that many things I hope to do in order to leave well are already overwhelming to me, especially since with a sudden decision (and there are some who have had far less time than I have!), I just don't have the calendar days to do all the things I would like to. But nonetheless, the reminders were good in and of themselves. And the care that was shown to us on that day as we were prayed for and listened to, brainstormed with and fed with cinnamon rolls and lunch, and even given amazing childcare-- was a loving good-bye all by itself.


  1. I will book mark this post. There is no training for expats with my husband's company. So thank you for sharing this. We repatriate next summer. I am already scared. Love the RAFT analogy!
    Love & Blessings from Hong Kong,

  2. we probably could have used a raft this time last year. thanks for sharing.