I grew up as a missionary kid in poverty-stricken South Korea between the end of the Korean War and the beginning of the country’s economic boom. Just across the wall from our compound, families were living in primitive conditions. Children had little to eat, few clothes, and no running water or sanitation. My family had a housekeeper who, when my parents hired her, lived with her son under a piece of corrugated metal leaned against a cinder-block wall. While we were not wealthy, we were wealthy to them. We had a source of clean water and sanitation, never missed a meal, went to a good school, and, in later years, even had a small air conditioner in one room of our house for hot summer nights. Money was always tight for my parents, as it is for many missionaries, but I never felt poor - rather, I felt ashamed of what we had compared to those on the other side of the compound wall.
These years formed my views of money. The people around us were gripped by their poverty. In the same way, even with economic troubles in recent years, we Americans can be gripped by our wealth. We often spend our energy trying to gain command of what we have rather than having our wealth serve us. As a child in Korea, I learned that poverty is consuming. As an adult in America, I have learned that wealth can be consuming, as well. I have also learned about the apathy that sometimes comes with wealth and the need to turn our excess into purpose. What we earn and what we have been given has no value in and of itself. Money exists to buy comfort, time, or purpose.
My early years in Korea also helped form my views of the value in living away from "home." The rich experience and perspective that comes with living outside one’s own country is why many Americans choose to live the expat lifestyle. This is something I deeply understand and value and seek to support in my clients.