Hannah and Colleen bemoan their grey hairs but also wish they’d had some more of them while living in Iraq. They discuss the pros and cons of being younger or older while living abroad, and how you don’t have to be one or the other to serve with us in Iraq! What does age actually have to do with any of this?


Ask questions or contact us at Hannah@servantgroup.org!
And read more over on our Iraq page!


Here’s a rough transcript!

Hannah: Hey Colleen.

Colleen: Hey Hannah.

Hannah: So this is “Between Iraq and a Hard Place”. Although it kind of looks like a storage closet.

Colleen: Seriously, though, we are here to talk about life in Iraq.

Hannah: Right.

Hannah: Colleen, we’re not getting any younger.

Colleen: This is true.

Hannah: And some people would say that that’s like a negative thing.

Colleen: It’s definitely seen as a negative thing in the US.

Hannah: Yeah. There’s there’s a pervasive culture of youth. Youth is good. Age is bad

Colleen: Right. Dye away your grey hairs.

Hannah: Yeah. Oh my gosh. I’m still upset about the grey hairs that I found this week but they were my own gray hairs not like someone elses. That would be weird. Kurdish culture. Doesn’t doesn’t see age quite the same way although I do think there is a heavy Western influence coming in.

Colleen: Yeah with the younger generation there’s still there’s some of that influence out of TV shows and movies and the Internet.

Hannah: And just like yeah pervasive youth culture in Western culture. But there’s definitely is still a respect for age just the home like you are older than me and therefore I must value your opinion in a different way than I would someone my own age.

Colleen: Yeah anyone treat you differently than I would someone younger than me or my own age.

Hannah: Which was always kind of interesting living there and teaching there. In part because my students can never figure out how old I was.

Colleen: None of the normal age markers worked for you because you just look different

Hannah: Right. I look different. I wasn’t married. I didn’t have kids. I didn’t wear a lot of makeup and I dressed very differently just because I’m Western and I would also never tell them my age because it amused me.

Colleen: Were you able to like come off as older than you were or younger than you are?

Hannah: They definitely thought I was younger than I actually was which maybe was a good thing but not always. So we’re going to talk about that a little bit like the benefits of coming across as older or actually being older and we were just saying that ours are stories of going to Iraq right out of college are kind of unique in the history of SGI. That’s not really typically been the way that people get there.

Colleen: A lot of people do other things in their lives or have either traveled to other places or have spent time just doing other things here in the US before they decide to travel halfway around the world.

Hannah: So we have had team members. What would you say the age range kind of is? I mean post college. Everybody got to be post college.

Colleen: I mean except for some of the children of the family members who also felt like my team. But yeah they weren’t necessarily teaching or like hired as independent team members, obviously. So yeah. Twenty two to… I think the oldest people that have ever gone with Servant Group were in their early 80s?

Hannah: Which is awesome! Yeah like I love that. I love that.

Colleen: They actually came back for a visit while I lived there and they were in their mid eighties by then. Just super fun super fun couple everybody adored them.

Hannah: And I think that’s something that we forget international work international ministry is not a a young person’s game only.

Colleen: No I mean it’s a whole range but I think a lot of the more visible organizations that do trips and travel and stuff do target younger people.

Hannah: Yeah, and there are reasons for that.

Colleen: But it’s not required.

Hannah: There are reasons for that because there are benefits of being a younger person and starting out your life internationally.

Colleen: And I think you’re more likely to be an older person in international work if you got involved when you were younger.

Hannah: Yeah. So there’s kind of that longevity kind of thing that if you start right out of college you know potentially you could spend the rest of your life doing this. I think younger people tend to be more open to kind of the adventure of it.

Colleen: Yeah and maybe have less ties to stuff.

Hannah: They’re probably not homeowners and they probably don’t have dogs or kids to think about take care of. There’s also a lot more like enthusiasm and energy. Which CAN make, I don’t think it was true in my case, but can make them more outgoing and more willing to try new things be more sociable. Although, I will also say that like being in Iraq as maybe a single female, maybe just because I was younger, there were fewer things for me to connect with people my own age over. Because in Kurdistan most the women who were my age were married or getting married and so that kind of put them in a different bracket of society that I didn’t really interact with because they don’t they can’t really invite me to their home because I’m a single woman and like even though even though they’re married they don’t really want their husbands interacting with unmarried women. There’s like this time frame of when that’s acceptable and it’s not early on in the marriage. So I would go over to married couples homes but they were always like 40 years older than me.

Colleen: You know that’s not an obstacle that older couples face at all. I know that like some of the older couples that I knew. Definitely yeah, I enjoyed a lot more invitations from both married and single men and women. There was like something about them that was culturally safe.

Hannah: But as a as a younger as a younger person you don’t get that benefit. And I think male or female because like you get invited to a household that has teenage or young adult aged single children in it there’s kind of this like the only reason you would get invited to that household is if you were like potential spouse material for one of their kids.

Colleen: Right a marriage prospect.

Hannah: Which is awkward.

Colleen: Yeah.

Hannah: And I would get invited to like students houses but always with parameters of like you’re only going to hang out with the student and the parents and not like the rest of the family.

Colleen: Right. You’re here as teacher, right? Teacher-friend.

Hannah: Which was fine.

Colleen: I mean I appreciate some of those boundaries you know really clear. Expectations and I think yeah as a younger person in some way there’s really easy to adapt to those societal expectations and not having a lot of previous life experience to have already things set up in my expectations. When the school worked a certain way I didn’t go, Well back at my school it worked this way. So I think it should be done differently.

Hannah: Or this is the way that an employer should treat their employees.

Colleen: Yeah, I learned a lot about that since coming back to the US.

Hannah: Work life balance is a little different. I do think as a younger person I was able to connect with my students in a way that even the National Teachers of a certain age were not able to, because I understood their connection to technology and if they brought up some weird cultural American cultural thing that I hadn’t heard of I had the free time to and the know-how to get on the Internet and figure out what what the heck they’re talking about.

Colleen: Right.

Hannah: I think it was in Iraq when that Korean dance music video thing was a thing.

Colleen: Yes.

Hannah: Gangnam Style. And I heard about it at school and I was like I have no idea what this is. And then I got on the Internet and watched it on YouTube and I was like. I don’t need to be like, Stop doing that! I can also be like that’s enough, now. That’s enough.

Colleen: Whereas yeah sometimes our older teammates you know struggled with either adapting to the technological problems that are there, whether it’s you know getting the Internet to work correctly or or accessing different school materials that are online. You know some of those things can be challenges that aren’t as much challenges usually for our younger team members.

Hannah: I think travel is easier when you’re younger in a lot of ways.

Colleen: Jet lag, I think doesn’t hit you as hard. Like I feel like even in the last 12-13 years that I’ve been traveling I’ve felt the change of like how I physically respond to travel. And when I first was going, I mean sure, the time change is hard you wake up and you fall asleep at weird times. But, the sense of exhaustion I had after my last travel or I don’t think I’d ever had it that bad.

Hannah: I also have found myself less willing to sleep in an airport. I’m much more willing to shell out the 80 bucks a night to sleep in a hotel in a real bed and take a real shower.

Colleen: Yeah, no more airports train stations for me.

Hannah: Yeah it’s just not worth it. I gotta sleep!

Hannah: Hey. I just wanted to interrupt myself for a minute here to ask you to do us a favor share this podcast with someone that you think could find it interesting or amusing and let them know about Servant Group International. We’re always looking for more people who are crazy like us, and want to go to Iraq. And so if you know someone who fits that bill, share this podcast with them. Pause while you have time share this podcast. Thanks so much. And now back to me!

Hannah: I think too, it was good for me to see the difference that my older teammates the different societies, people groups, interactions they were able to have. And I feel like I didn’t have a lot of teammates that were significantly older than me. I was on a team with a family that the husband and wife were 10-12 years older than me. But they had like teenage daughters. So like where they fit in society was totally different from where I fit. And to be able to see some of the things that they were able to do and some of the interactions that they were able to have that… I couldn’t I couldn’t reach those people just society said no this is not your group you don’t get to go. You don’t get to mix there, in that way. I think that’s a benefit of being in another country, as an older person or as a married person or as a family, is there are just some groups that you’re going to naturally mesh with in a way that a younger single person isn’t.

Colleen: And I found for even like the next level up you know the the older gray haired folks that they have this automatic, before they’ve even set a word, level of respect that their ideas are heard and listened to and applied in ways that as a younger person you’re just dismissed. If you’re trying to like help a school function or teach even some of those things are just very useful. I had a class I remember that I struggled to keep classroom management over even though I generally managed most of mine pretty well. There’s one class I really struggled with. You brought in a guy who’s in his 60s and shazaam he tells them to be quiet and they are.

Hannah: Right. That automatic authority.

Colleen: Automatically. Yeah the authority that I had to build and work for with that class, finally managed to achieve, whereas they gave it to him right off the bat.

Hannah: When I went back to Iraq with my dad I think I noticed some of that too where we would get in a taxi and the taxi driver would immediately expect my dad to like give him direction, where my dad has no idea where he’s going or how to communicate to anyone. So you know I have to pipe up from the backseat and be like this is where we’re going. This is you know how much is it gonna cost. All of those things. And it was always a surprise to the taxi driver of like, oh!

Colleen: Oh wait, Who am I supposed to talk to? That’s funny. I just thought about that in connection to the refugee families we serve here in Nashville. And how many of them require their kids to translate school papers or doctor visits or you know basic power and water and apartment conversations for them and how that really does turn the social dynamic upside down for them.

Hannah: Yeah. Because all older people are are venerated in a lot of ways. And if you can befriend older people like we we had some older neighbors that just like loved us and so we would spend a lot of time with them. And because of that I feel like we had a better reputation in our neighborhood because these older people enjoyed us, so we must be OK.

Colleen: Their opinion matters

Hannah: In a way that is not a thing in the US. It’s almost like oh whatever you like as an older person isn’t cool. So we need to like not like it. There is also that that line though of Kurdish grandmothers who always look disdainful.

Colleen: They always have a scowl.

Hannah: Towards every one!

Colleen: It’s really intimidating at first if you don’t know to expect it. They can be some of the most lovely sweet people. But their face will look they hate the world.

Hannah: Right. They hate you. They hate everything about you.

Colleen: At least in an American context, right. Like from our cultural perspective.

Hannah: And they they don’t like you said they don’t they just. That’s just the way they look. I remember going to a different neighbour’s house the first time I ever visited with them and getting put in the fancy living room.

Colleen: Oh yeah.

Hannah: With just the grandmother and being like well this is really awkward because I don’t speak enough Kurdish and she doesn’t speak any English. And she’s gonna sit over there and scowl at me and then realizing much later that like that was their way of honoring me. It was like We want you to spend time with this person that we we honor. And so we are honoring you as our guest by putting you in this room. Where you don’t have to do anything like you get to hang out here. We’re going to take care of everything else. Now my twenty-five year old brain was like this super awkward.

Colleen: But really if you’d understood the cultural reasons for it like this was a blessing and a gift.

Hannah: Right. Right. And then like she loved me after that.

Colleen: You passed the test.

Hannah: Yeah. She sat next to me when we ate dinner and like put food on my plate and she could tell that like because we sat on the floor and she could tell thatMy legs were falling asleep.

Colleen: Yeah. Because if you’re not used to it, if you don’t grow up sitting on the floor your legs get uncomfortable.

Hannah: Yeah. And so she was like once all the food got cleared away she was like she slapped me and was like stretch out your like motion like stretch out your legs. And she did it too. To make it OK for me to do it.

Colleen: Aww! It’s so sweet!

Hannah: And I was just like this is awesome. Yeah is great. I got Grandma approval.

Colleen: Yep. Those are the ladies that I’ll kiss you like five times on each cheek.

Hannah: Yeah if you get in their good graces. And I feel like that’s that’s an area a group of people that do get left out when only young people go to foreign countries because there is that societal gap. There’s no one spending time with the older people. And I feel like in societies that value their older people like what a great group to get connected with. And I think it gets neglected.

Colleen: Yeah I mean it it can be more difficult to because of the language barrier and both older people I think all around the world and even in the US can tend to be a little less flexible. That’s true. What they accept and what they are willing to put up with in other people and have their expectations all lined up. It must be this way because it always works that way in my whole life and you’re like, But your whole life has been lived in this one cultural sphere. This one’s different.

Hannah: I will say that is one thing that I have seen older expat people struggle with in Kurdistan and not ever anyone on my team per se because I feel like SGI does a great job of preparing people for things be different.

Colleen: Setting those expectations. It’s a different category.

Hannah: Right. But other people who have come in from other organizations or just on their own that if things don’t go exactly the way they would in America they really struggle with, How do I adapt to this? How do I deal with this? And that’s again not exclusive to older people…

Colleen: But what do I object to and complain about and cause a stink over and what is just this is really just the way it is.

Hannah: Right.

Colleen: This is OK.

Hannah: And I think it’s more more noticeable in order to older people because they do carry that that gravity of, you are older and wiser and so your opinion matters where if a younger person comes in and complains about stuff everybody’s just like, Ugh! Always trying to change the world.

Colleen: The other thing though with older people that I think is one of the really big benefits that we haven’t really mentioned is just their life experience and wisdom. And I know I really benefited from a lot of older people on my team as they knew how to deal with people. Also how to rightly prioritize things. Is this something that actually needs to be fought over as a matter of principle or is this something that needs to be let go of, because it’s not actually of the utmost importance. Yeah, I really found a lot of my older team members to bring a lot of insight and balance and steadiness.

Hannah: And even like life struggle experience. They know how to deal with hard things in a way that the younger people don’t and they know like, Yeah this is hard but it’s not the end of the world. Or they’ve struggled with some of those spiritual things. I can remember a teammate telling me at one point that the doubt and the struggle that I was dealing with she just straight up said that’s a lie from the pit of hell. And I was like, Oh yes.

Colleen: There’s so much freedom in that. Yeah I’m pretty sure that same team member told me something like that.

Hannah: Yeah. And it’s just like she had the life experience to recognize that. Where I didn’t because I was young and I expected to doubt myself and expected that I would be wrong about a big thing where it really was just a lack of spiritual maturity and in some ways. So we need we need a mix of people I think.

Colleen: I think that’s really true we need young people, middle-aged people, older people, families…

Hannah: …single people, retired people, people who have grandkids we need it all.

Colleen: And, I think, you know all of those people that need to go in with both a lack of expectation and expecting that it won’t be the same for everyone.

Hannah: Right.

Colleen: You know they’ll all have different roles and different callings different parts of the same body, for example.

Hannah: Different gifts and a variety of wisdom for both like new technology things on the younger people’s side and just life wisdom on older people side. So I would say if you’re listening to this and you’re thinking, “It’s too late for me it’s like I’ve missed my chance, I should have gone as a college student.” That’s 100 percent not true. To share that wisdom from before, it’s a lie from the pit of hell. You have not missed your chance and maybe right now is not great timing…

Colleen: But maybe next year?

Hannah: Yeah, maybe next year and if ultimately if God is calling you to it, you should do it. Don’t be afraid of of age. Age is just a number, which you know is also not true, but it shouldn’t hold you back from from doing what you think God is calling you to do.

Colleen: Yeah absolutely. So figure out what that is. Go do it.

Hannah: And if you want to email us and have us get you in touch with some of our more experienced team members. Absolutely. We would love to do that. We should probably interview some of them at some point. Yeah they’re all still out there you know and doing stuff.

Colleen: They are our role models.

Hannah: It’s true.

Hannah: You can find us at Servant Group International on Facebook or Instagram or on our Website at servantgroup.org.

Hannah: Yeah and if you have a question that we haven’t answered yet, send us an email or Facebook message. We’d love to hear from you. Thanks for listening!

Hannah: Yeah, some day I want to grow up and be just like them. That would be amazing!