As times change, more young people are striking out from their farms, suburbs and quiet lives to move to the city. Except it’s not just the closest city anymore, but probably a massive metropolis two continents away.
Sure, my friends and I are a rather skewed sample to be analyzing — Hong Kong is, after all, filled with expats from all over the world. Similarly, Singapore, Dubai, New York and London don’t make up the “majority” of the planet’s population. Even so, as we’ve processed through what it means to make a life for ourselves far from the familiarity of our families and childhood friends, several friends and I have a couple thoughts to share on the topic.
1. The importance of community
While the Bible doesn’t have much to say specifically about international travel, I believe God’s Word does have a bit to say about the nature and necessity of community. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Living within a community, either an extended family or church fellowship, is one of the greatest protections and needs of a Christian. In community, we’re more clearly able to hear the Holy Spirit’s promptings, more encouraged to stand against sin, and better able to navigate the highs and lows of life as a young adult.
However, when we travel, the community that should surround us often vanishes by virtue of distance. Sure, you might be able to Skype with your parents or send WhatsApp messages to your best friends, but without their daily presence and input, we make ourselves vulnerable to a fallen world.
2. Not fully present
If you’re considering travel, and most young adults are, you need to consider whether you’re planning to visit a country (staying for up to three years) or move there. Our grandparents’ generation mostly moved permanently from one country to another apart from rare expat postings. However, in our times, most people think that their trips abroad will be between one- to three-year visits, perhaps to get some international exposure or travel before getting married. Visiting a place means you plan to come back home, which often gives the security of keeping in contact with friends back home and a safety net in case things don’t work out.
The downside to a visit is that you’re not home, yet you’re not fully present in building a new home either. This makes some already challenging processes even harder: building friendships, establishing a job, or serving in church. Torn between two worlds but not really getting the full benefit of either, you’re left without wise counsel from older friends, relatives and family who have seen you grow. You also won’t have as strong of community to show for your time at the end of a couple years away either.
For the above reasons, I often urge young adults to be cautious when they think a two-year assignment overseas will be a great time of personal growth with very few drawbacks. Whether a company offers you a sweet expat package to be abroad in a new regional office or you find an exciting opportunity to both work and travel, keep in mind that when leaving your network, you will sacrifice much more than is immediately apparent.
When you move to a new place, you put on hold your ability to develop within a community, and it could be years before you get to the same level of trust and relationship with those in your new place. If you’re only abroad for a couple years, your friends back home will change and grow — as will you — while eventually it will come time for you to say goodbye to the community that you’ve begun to build.
So consider carefully if opportunities like this come up, and look beyond just how travel might affect your career. Value your communities and home, your family and your friends. Don’t be too quick to leave them behind.