Editor’s note: Joel Barkman grew up as a missionary kid. Kara had never considered missions. After they married, they felt God calling them to reach Spaniards through art and music. They signed on with SEND, raised support, went through training — and now they’re gone. But they’re taking us with them. Throughout their initial year on the field, Joel and Kara will share here about their experiences as first-term missionaries in Spain. Click here to read about how they felt before they said goodbye, here for their first dispatch from Spain, here for Joel’s reaction to the first time he felt entirely overwhelmed, here for Kara’s mixed feelings about living far from home and here for why they appreciate serving on a multicultural team.
By Kara Barkman — Before Joel and I moved to Spain, we had a lot of training to help prepare us for what to expect. Our trainers described the end of the “honeymoon” phase and the arrival of “The “6-Month Slump,” which, contrary to its name, can hit from shortly after arrival to over a year after a missionary moves. During this time, the new missionary can feel homesick, become depressed, and criticize the new culture.
I have been in Spain for nine months. The honeymoon is over.
For me, the culture shock has gone away, but the culture stress has begun to kick in. Although I am so thankful for the warning and education regarding this, I feel as if nothing can truly prepare someone who moves overseas. Everyone responds to The Slump differently and if you have not experienced it before, there isn’t really a formula to follow; it is something that just has to be pushed through.
For my husband, Joel, this has not been a problem. Being a missionary kid to Japan and living in Chicago and Kansas, he says there has never been a place that felt completely like “home” to him, making him easily adaptable to living anywhere. That sounds so easy doesn’t it? Back when we were dating, in one of our first conversations, Joel talked about how he would enjoy living the “nomad” lifestyle. I was definitely not attracted to the idea, and the Lord had to drastically change my heart on this matter. I had to surrender my desire to keep myself rooted in one place and be open allowing my “roots” to be transplanted.
The Slump “happened” to start several months ago, around the time that we found out I was pregnant. As you can imagine, there were a lot of mixed emotions (and hormones). We had been advised to wait to start a family until we had adjusted to the culture and language. Obviously, God has his own plans and makes his own way. I want to be clear that both of us are tremendously excited and thankful for this gift of new life, but the initial shock was a lot to process.
The first week we knew, my emotions were all over the place. I had so many questions: How am I going to go to the doctor when I can hardly speak or understand the language, let alone medical terms? What will being pregnant for the first time in another culture look like? What will it be like to deliver a baby in another country without family around? Will I be able to continue language school? Am I going to be able to receive my Spanish driver’s license before the baby comes? How do you begin saving up for a baby? What will it be like for our child to not see grandparents or relatives as often because of living overseas?
As these thoughts layered on top of each other, I went through serious spells of depression, homesickness, and being critical of the Spanish culture — with culture stress adding significantly to first-pregnancy stress.
- In my first trimester, smells constantly triggered me to run to the bathroom. One of my biggest stress factors was besitos, a greeting of one kiss on each cheek. What do you do when the culturally appropriate way to greet someone is with besitos, but the person is radiating the smell of garlic from his or her skin? This has happened quite a few times, several of which I almost hurled because of the smell. For this reason, staying at home sounded so much easier.
- I struggled with weeks of morning sickness that left me at home most of the time with a minimal social life. Joel had to go grocery shopping alone because every supermarket smelled of fish and cured ham. There were never any nearby trashcans or bathrooms!
- All of my pregnancy cravings have been foods that I miss from the US that are not readily available or easy to make in Spain.
- One more added factor, even though our church here has welcomed us, many of the folks there still feel like acquaintances because of our language barrier that prevents deeper conversations.
Although God hasn’t answered all of my questions and I have never walked this path before, I am thankful that he is faithful and has already gone before us and is always with us. God answered a huge prayer by supplying a translator who comes with us to every doctor’s appointment and helps work with the insurance for us. We are so grateful; words can’t express how much stress this has relieved.
Joel and I are both thankful that my “morning sickness” is more manageable now and that I have more energy. I am also excited to be able to cook most things in the kitchen again, and I can tell Joel is happy to have his wife cooking him meals again, too. I am still working through some of the depression and homesickness, but through these trials I know God continues to develop our character and strengthen our faith in him.
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Follow along with the Barkmans
- The long goodbye — Joel and Kara share how they felt just before making their move to Spain.
- At home — for now — The Barkmans find the perfect apartment in Spain, but after six moves in three years, it’s hard to feel settled.
- Of furniture and frustration — ‘It wasn’t a big deal, really — it was the buildup of small events leading up to the moment when I felt entirely overwhelmed.’
- Of art and a sometimes-sorrowful heart: ‘What if my nieces and nephews don’t remember me? Will they have bitterness toward me for never being around?’
- 1 team, 8 cultures: A challenge worth overcoming: ‘I believe that being a part of an intercultural team is a huge testimony to nonbelievers, as long as we are working well together.’