Podcast Episode 2: Ten things for leading a balanced life overseas

Podcast

This is the second episode of THE BOSNIA PROJECT podcast. This one came out pretty well, and I hope you enjoy it — it is a rehash of an old blog post, with a few new comments added by me. You can read the old list here, or just listen to this episode via your phone or however you listen to podcasts.

The music in this podcast is mostly from former-Yugoslavia artists. If you’d like to check them out, here is a list:

 

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Podcast transcript

Hi I’m Jonathan, and this is The Bosnia Project podcast. The Bosnia Project is the chronicle of my life as a world traveler youth worker father and husband. Today is episode two, and we are going to share 10 ideas that help give us a balanced life, and they work if you live overseas or in your home country.

The Bosnia Project is the story of how I came to live and work overseas in a country called Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s my blog, the Bosnia Project dot com, this podcast, and our Facebook community, and email updates we send out to our supporters and followers.

“The Bosnia Project” is at least two things. The first is obvious — it’s a project. This life in Bosnia is a project that takes up all my time and talents. But then the second thing is the thing that is produced – the product is me. So The Bosnia Project a process and a product, all wrapped up into one thing, and this podcast, the blog, and everything else is a way to catch all that work, write it down, record it and preserve it, so that it can be of use to someone. This is the Bosnia Project, and it will continue for a good while longer.

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The big idea in the last episode was that belonging changes everything. Belonging is often the key that opens the door to meaningful experiences and lasting memories. If you want to have any kind of influence on someone, you need to try and find some way to invite them into your life. But when you do, you have to be ready – they might influence you just as much as you influence them.

It is also helpful to see just how much we are influenced ourselves by the things two which we belong. We belong to families, and they influence us, forever. We belong to churches, schools, organisations, companies, and they influence us immeasurably.

If you want to change anything about yourself – if you want to experience meaningful progress – you should look for a group of people who are going to help you change in the way you want. If you want to lose weight, if you want to gain a new skill, if you want to become a better parent – it’s always best to find a few people who also want that thing, and go in that direction together. You’ll get encouragement, you’ll get motivation, and you’ll get that sense of belonging that will help you leave your old habits behind and take up new ones that you want.

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Today I am going to share 10 things that I do to try to lead a balanced life overseas. The thing about this is, as you listen to this list, you gain new perspective about living in the United States, or wherever you happen to live. Because really, these are things that would be beneficial to do wherever you happen to live.

And this list can also be found on my blog; a link is in the description to this podcast, and the blog has some different remarks about each thing from what I’ll be saying here.

Cut the grass
When I came to Mostar, the city where we now live, I had not had a yard or garden in my whole time living in BiH. When we moved to Mostar 3 years ago, we had accumulated three kids, a dog, and a few hobbies — we were looking for a house. No more apartments in buildings in the centres of cities — we decided that we would look for a proper house with a little yard around it.

When we moved into our house I really devoted myself to my work all the time, because my idea was that I came to Bosnia primarily to work. But I discovered that I did not like living in a house that looked uncared for. This was a dilemma — I paid money to get this big house so that we would have lots of room for my family and three kids and a dog, but I didn’t like living there, because the yard wasn’t a great thing to look at, and I was always telling myself I didn’t have time to take care of it, because I needed to work.

Eventually, I had to decide that I needed to invest the necessary time to make the house and the yard look presentable, in order to make me happier about my home. It meant taking some time off to build a playhouse in the yard. It meant spending money on a lawn mower and planting grass in the yard. But it’s worth it, because it gives me a sense of a more full life and a life outside of my work, which is a very important thing, no matter what you do.

Learn to fix things yourself
Over the years, plenty of things have broken in our houses, and we’ve been in need of a handyman plenty of times. Don’t misunderstand me — there is nothing wrong with calling a handyman. However, I have been disappointed so many times that I decided I was better off just buying some tools and learning to fix a few things on my own. And in the end, I think I’m a better person for it — I ended up gaining good skills and maybe (maybe not) saving a few bucks in the process.

Make things with your hands for your family
This is my thing now — I developed a hobby of woodworking, making furniture and other things out of wood for my friends and family. It “cuts against the grain” as they say — because I have discovered that people are surprised by this. It is a very practical skill that I can nurture over time, and it often surprises people that someone in my line of work knows how to build things. But just like cutting the grass, it does enrich your life in many ways, and it gives you a life outside of work.

Ride a bike or walk to work
Many who move overseas find that it is suddenly possible, in their new surroundings, to eschew driving a car, at least for the daily commute to and from work. I took up commuting by bike last year, but in years past I had always walked. Many joke that it’s part of the so-called American weight-loss plan that American expats commonly take up when they move overseas: cut out fast food (because it doesn’t exist), walk everywhere (because you often have to), immediately lose x-number of pounds 😉

Participate in sports
I still haven’t figured this one out. But it’s a good habit. And it also is a way to lose weight.in the end, the relationships forged may be the biggest positive outcome of spending a couple hours playing a game.

Find community activities for your children
This can be a difficult one. My son isn’t interested in sports, but many young children are, and it is something that will enrich your life and their lives if you can find something that they truly enjoy and that fits with your family’s schedule.

Go on dates with your wife
This is one that you can read about in any book on marriage — one of the secrets to a happy marriage is spending time together, and one good way to do that is to plan it out like a date. Get a sitter, make a reservation, plan on an activity, and make a night of it. Make special time to spend with the person that you love.

This is one of those things that, again, helps someone have a life outside of just their work, and is really important for achieving meaningful success anywhere you are. Just like when Jesus said, what good is it if a man gains the whole world but loses his soul, what good is success in the workplace if your marriage isn’t strong and healthy? Your marriage is like your soul, and your work at the end of the day, while it’s meaningful, needs to be just your work. It can’t compete with your family.

Become a connoisseur of local attractions, restaurants, and cafes.
This is something I have yet to do well, but I’m trying. One of the places that we have in Mostar is the American Corner, which is an interesting place. The US government has these American Corners that they’ve opened in cities around the world that promote things like studying in the US, scholarships for students, work programs, education, and other things. These places usually have lots of English books and a space where you can come and quietly read or work on your computer, and then they often have events where they invite speakers from the US Embassy. This has been a great place for my son to start going and play with the LEGO robotics set that they have, check out books, and have fun.

Mostar has a lot of history as well — the old town is internationally recognised as what’s called a “UNESCO world heritage” sight, which means it’s been historically preserved from medieval times and it’s a very important part of our world’s cultural heritage. There are many great Bosnian cultural restaurants and buildings, but there are also lots of great modern attractions too, and it shows a certain level of personal investment if you know about those things and try to stay up to date on the events of the town where you live.

Keep up with local cultural events.
This is related to the previous point, but implies an ongoing habit of keeping abreast of the events in one’s town or city. If there is a festival or concert in town, chances are it would also be a good opportunity for a date.

This has been nine things so far, and the tenth thing I will leave for you to see on my website. So thank you for listening all the way through but there is one more important habit that I think is really crucial to living a healthy and fulfilling life, whether you’re overseas or living in your home culture or wherever you happen to be. You can find it in the blog post that I’ve linked to in this podcast’s description. So go over there, take a look at the post, and at the bottom is a tenth thing that will put the finishing touch on this list.

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The big idea from podcast 1 is that belonging can change everything. And the big idea here is that when we have a place and a community outside of our work where we belong to, it can give people purpose. When it’s taken away — when you begin to make your life all about just your work, no matter how important that work is — life becomes very hard. These are some things that are not gospel, but they are some good things to keep in mind if you feel that life has become dry and difficult, and they are things that help me stay balanced while living overseas.

This has been the Bosnia Project podcast. You can follow the podcast at thebosniaproject.com, on Facebook, and via email. Thanks for listening. In a couple of weeks we’ll have another episode where we’ll talk more about the origin of the Bosnia Project and how living overseas brings experiences you’ll never forget.

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