Living Abroad

Amanda Larkins, '15

What drives two young parents of three girls, all under the age of 4, to move to Nairobi, Kenya, for six years?

Kent McDonald, current assistant theology professor, explains his family's move to Kenya as an attempt to remove his "white upper-class glasses. McDonald said he needed to see how the other half of the world lives.

Like McDonald, many Whitworth alumni have felt a similar call and have found themselves living and working abroad. Rachel Longton, '10, Greg Graybill, '98, and Gail Lilo '01, have all lived or are currently living abroad in non-English-speaking countries. They moved abroad for a variety of reasons, but they all share the willingness to embrace the unexpected, to seek out adventure, and to allow themselves to be changed through the experience.

For the first two years in Kenya, McDonald said, he and his family struggled with the physical issues of living in a developing country. They had limited access to water and electricity, something that was strikingly different from the United Sates. They quickly realized the vastly different lifestyles of the United States and Kenya.   

Then came the more emotional challenges, McDonald said. He had become accustomed to always having something to do, but in Nairobi they could not go out at night because of the danger. McDonald became aware through reflecting on his constant busyness in the United States that his identity had been defined by what he did rather than who he was. He had subscribed to the American ideal where busyness was good and down time was nonexistent. It was a whole new and different way to think about life and identity, he said.

"I learned to appreciate wasting time with people," said McDonald. He spent most of his time with his family; and together they grew and immersed themselves in a new culture, McDonald said.

"The great joy in setting out lies entirely in the unexpected." Mariano Azuela

It was through the grace of God, Rachel Longton said, that she ended up at Whitworth studying nursing. She was introduced to mission work, and found her passion for serving others.

A year after graduation Longton found herself working in a rural mission hospital in Bolivia while also serving at School of Christ International, an international missions organization.

"In the beginning I remember being embarrassed by being an American, but now I realize how blessed I was with this opportunity," Longton said.

Longton explained her newfound belief that there is no right or wrong when it comes to culture. One just has to be willing to experience and make mistakes, she said. This makes it possible to grow within the community.

"Learn a new language and get a new soul." Czech proverb

Greg Graybill graduated in 1998 with majors in international political economy and theology. After serving in a pastoral position, he chose to live abroad in order to employ his doctorate in theology. He pursued his call to missions through Global Scholars, an evangelical Christian agency that places scholars in posts overseas to teach about the Christian faith. Graybill was able to fund his mission work through a Fulbright research grant, which he received to study the Reformation in Germany.

"The best part about living in Germany was making friends and sharing life with other believers," Graybill said.

Reflecting on what it was like being part of a new culture where one does not speak the language, Graybill said.  "The most difficult part was speaking German and understanding regional dialects. Culturally, Germans can be more blunt than the average bear.  Sometimes it's refreshing.  Other times not so much," Graybill said.

"Living abroad helped me to experience what it is like to be a foreigner.  It was challenging.  It gave me new eyes to see the struggles of foreigners living in the States," Graybill said.

"I think wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow." Anita Desai

Gail Lilo majored in theology, while studying music and gaining her certification for ministry. While at Whitworth, Lilo first traveled to Albania as a part of a study-abroad program. Now she is serving in an evangelical church in Ersekë, Albania, with Alongside Ministries International. 

"Albania was once the most closed communist nation and the only nation that wrote atheism into its constitution," Lilo said.

Lilo described the struggle of fitting into a new culture. "I lived with an Albanian host family and," according to them, Lilo said, "I did not know how to cook, eat, bathe, or dress ‘properly.'" The humility that one gains while living in a foreign culture not even knowing how to speak the language is both awful and awesome, Lilo said.

"The best part of living overseas, though, is the way God opens your eyes to His world through someone else's lens—namely, their culture and language," Lilo said.  

Lilo experienced a meshing of her two cultures.  "For me, the best part was a surprise: I met my husband in this country! Now we have the delights and challenges of raising a bicultural family," said Lilo.

"If you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore." Apsley Cherry-Garrard

McDonald, Longton, Graybill and Lilo all would encourage people to pursue their dreams of traveling or living abroad but they also expressed their concerns.

Begin with prayer and talking to others who have forged the path before you, Longton said.

McDonald said, "Go and listen. Know where you are going and the limitations you face."

Graybill said, "learn as much as you can about the culture and language of the place you are going to. Don't just be a tourist." Have an open mind and heart going into the situation. Have no expectations, he said, and do not feel like a failure when things do not go exactly as planned.

Yet it is precisely through such risk-taking that alumni like Graybill have ended up discovering themselves, living out the insight of T. S. Eliot:

"We shall not cease from our explorations, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."