Pinterest, my Frenemy

When we moved to Brunei almost two years ago, I vastly underestimated the personal transformation I would undergo in becoming an expatriate.  Yes, I expected to face difficulties while putting down roots in a foreign country--culture shock, language barriers, cultural differences that lead to mistakes and misunderstandings.  I also expected to experience positive changes as my horizons expanded and I learned to adapt to and appreciate a new and different people, culture, environment and ways of doing and thinking.  But the person I am becoming after living here for this long, I didn't fully anticipate.

"I am an American, I will stay an American," I thought before I moved here.  (I am an American, and have stayed an American, in fact.)  But it's more complicated than that.  I am not the same kind of American (or person) I would have been, had I lived in the U.S. the past 2 years. Rather, I am an American living in Brunei.  An American rooted in two worlds which both feel almost like home, but not quite.

They call it "Third Culture."  As long as we stay here our kids will be "third culture kids," raised outside their parents' birth country and developing into a mixture of American and Bruneian.  While living, interacting, playing and learning in a Bruniean environment and context, they are also being parented, instructed and raised within a home environment rooted in American values, norms, and traditions.  It's called "third" culture, because a distinct and unique culture develops, different from both the home and host country cultures.  In other words, it's likely that our kids will be unable to completely identify or feel like they fit in either Brunei or America.

I was familiar with the third culture concept in this context and anticipated its implications on our children's lives and cultural identities.  But I failed to foresee that I wouldn't be isolated from its effects and underestimated the impact it would have on my own cultural identity as well.  I don't feel like I fully fit in here in Brunei (and never can as much as I like living here), and I also no longer fully identify with American life/culture either (my life looks significantly different than the average American's).

This is a fairly new realization, and I'd like to use it to set the stage to share something I've been learning over the past few months.  I don't doubt God would have taught me this lesson eventually if I had stayed in America.  He is in the business of making his children more like him, so he would have made a way to expose this problem one way or another.  But I believe my unique position as an American expat living overseas expedited the process, exposing a pattern of sin that was making my life here much harder than it needed to be.

So let me start by painting you Americans a picture of what shopping in Brunei is like for me.  (I truly don't mean to dishonor this country in any way here, so please forgive me if I do.  I'm trying to write an accurate and unbiased description of my reality here, but don't mean to judge or offend.) 

It's very uncommon for me to go to the grocery store and come home with everything on my list.  I typically shop at two stores every week, one 5 minutes from my house with better prices but less selection of more Western items I'm usually looking for, one 20 minutes from my house that usually has the things I can't find at the first store, but has inflated enough prices that I don't choose to do all my shopping there.  These stores don't carry many items that I'm used to: ranch dressing, most breakfast cereals, real ice cream that's not an imported Ben and Jerry's pint that costs $15 BND, to name a few.  They also frequently run out of stock of regular items they typically do carry so I can never be sure I'll come out with what I need for the week.  In fact, checking absolutely everything off my grocery list after the two trips once a week is so rare I usually send Justin a celebratory text message when it happens.  When Supasave randomly happens to have 3 bags of Tostitos hint of lime tortilla chips on the shelf I buy them all and it's the BEST.DAY.EVER.

There aren't any clothing stores in the country (that I know of) that carry American brands apart from sports clothes (Nike, Reebok, etc.) and a few other random brands (I've seen Fossil and other designer watches, Kipling bags, Carters baby clothes).  But if it is here you can pretty much count on the price being double to triple what you could buy it for in America.  I saw a Carter's set of 3 onesies selling for $49BND in one baby boutique.  Because of this, I brought a huge stock of kids clothes with me when we moved, my mother-in-law brought more when she visited, and I intend to stock up again next time we're in America.  Justin and I basically haven't shopped for clothes for ourselves over the last 2 years (a time frame where I was literally changing sizes monthly being pregnant and post-partum).  We have ordered a few items online and shipped them here or had our parents bring them.  Even many of our local friends tell us they don't shop for clothes in Brunei, and primarily order online or shop during frequent trips to Singapore, the UK, or other holiday destinations.  

Home stores carrying interior decor that appeals to my American tastes are few and far between.  There are two small shops that carry a limited selection of Ikea furniture and items (again, at double to triple the cost of American Ikea).  A few other shops I've been to carry modern Western style furniture that is way out of our price range.  The majority of stores carry home items in Chinese or Malay style which doesn't suit my personal design taste.  We recently bought some throw pillows and bedding I'm finally happy with when we made a special trip to Ikea while we were traveling to Bangkok, Thailand and ordered some Ikea furniture in from Malaysia when we moved a couple months ago.

Beyond shopping I could go on... limited affordable school options, no church groups, few moms groups, no extended family visits, long lines and inefficient practices at the medical clinics or government offices, local businesses' lack of online presence, different holidays, but you're getting the idea.  Though this country is more similar to America than many we could have moved to, it's also very different.  

While that was the reality I was living in, I spent my free time reading American fashion and mommy blogs and browsing Pinterest, where beautiful young women and mothers adorned themselves in designer clothing, shoes, jewelry and bags, filled their homes with easily accessible and affordable, modern and on-trend furniture and decor, and provided their kids with by comparison what seemed like infinite opportunities for play, learning, and social development through commonplace American establishments I used to take for granted like the public library or recreational sports leagues.  My social media feeds were filled with my American friends and acquaintances' pictures, constantly reminding me of what life could be like if we lived in the U.S.: visiting their families regularly, lamenting the tantrum their toddler threw in Target that day (TARGET! aka the embodiment of everything America does right), confessing to just ordering Chipotle for dinner after a long day (literally the first thing I want to eat when I get off the plane when we visit).

Now please hear me, I do not want to judge or complain.  I do not want to imply that these good and nice things in American life are inherently bad.  I don't want to make you feel bad for enjoying them.  America is AWESOME, but removing myself from the awesomeness brought out some bad stuff in me.

I do want to confess my own sin.  I looked at my facebook friends' lives and was filled with envy and jealousy.  I started to believe that Pinterest and the blog world should be my normal (it seemed so normal!) so I seethed that I couldn't have all the nice and pretty things.

After a year and a half, I realized that continually exposing myself to these online worlds was making me sad.  I used to find it recreational and fun to browse Pinterest, blogs and social media, but I was becoming sinfully envious seeing lifestyles I identified with, was accustomed to, and felt entitled to as an American but couldn't have in Brunei.  So I took a break to change my perspective and get better.  I stopped reading blogs for a month.  (I already wasn't browsing Pinterest regularly.)  I didn't really cut back on social media because it's the universal Bruniean love language, #loveyouguys ;)

And here's what I remembered when my head was clear from all the noise and glamour of the shiny and seductive American dream:  I want the life that I'm living.  I chose it and I still choose it.  I believe that God lead us to Brunei and has plans for us here.  I believe that he is working all things together for our family's good, and that our life right now is truly good here.  I believe that the sacrifices and hard things are worth it because we're following his plan.  When I change my perspective and cultivate a heart of thankfulness, I realize how blessed we are.  I remember my life circumstances are infinitely easier than a vast number of less fortunate people in the world.  I can stop comparing our life to others' lives that seem more desirable or to what our life could have been had we made different choices.

I share this with you today because, although God particularly used my life circumstances as an American living overseas to bring my sin into the light, it's so easy to fall into no matter where you live.  'Comparison is the thief of joy' is how the saying goes, right?  Especially in today's world of social media self-promotion and the highly edited/perfected realities of Pinterest and the blogosphere, every moment of every day there is an opportunity for envy, jealousy, and greed literally in the palm of our hands.  Instead I hope to cultivate thankfulness, trust, and contentedness in its place.  

What are you thankful for today?
(I'm thankful for many things, but especially for all of you reading and praying for our family!)

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