Part 8: A Retrospective Overseas Job Description

Brent, you asked me to look back about 20 years and write my job description for when Bruce and I and our four small sons lived overseas for 7 years. He asked if I had a job description—I don’t think anyone did back then for this type of job.


Brent, you should understand that I am not making a legal recommendation that anyone have this job description, and most job descriptions would be much shorter. This is only my job description—what I actually did. I just read it to my husband, and he said, “That sounds like fun; I want to go back.”

Company Mission:

Glorifying God among those who do not know Jesus Christ.

Job title:

Cross-cultural communications—wife


Oh please.


Build the Kingdom on multiple levels from family to church to broader community in a relatively primitive multicultural setting.

Essential functions of the job: 

  • Teach university English classes;
  • Teach preschool and elementary school;
  • Train inexperienced household help; 
  • Run a house in a primitive tropical setting; 
  • Learn a national and tribal language; 
  • Assist in church work; 
  • Show hospitality to people from multiple people groups;
  • Assist in development work; 
  • Provide nutritional and tasty food for a family, where most of it has to be made from scratch (as in making bread, noodles, and tortillas); 
  • Care for three small children; 
  • Give birth to a baby in a primitive medical setting and provide for adequate newborn medical care; 
  • Sew or cause to be sewn clothes and curtains for the family; 
  • Identify markets and shops to buy or make needed items;
  • Any other task required to be done from time to time.

Time required: 

14-16 hours a day and always on call.

Physical activities: 

  • Ability to work continuously in tropical heat and resist tropical diseases;
  • Bear a baby without medical complications; 
  • Design and implement adequate exercise in an environment where walking on the street is not practicable; 
  • Drive a large manual Landrover with no power steering (up to 9 months pregnant);
  • Eat a variety of food without becoming ill.


The job takes place in a mid-sized but fairly primitive Asian city on the equator and near the ocean. Temperature varies little throughout the year, but is consistently hot and muggy. Rainfall is about 36 inches a year. Tropical diseases, including cholera, typhoid, dengue fever, and tuberculosis, are endemic.

Work environment:

  • The work environment is not organized; the worker must organize it. 
  • The worker must be able to identify tasks, design an approach, and implement the tasks in a self-directed way. There will be no supervision and no feedback.

Training and qualifications: 

  • Capable of learning languages rapidly; 
  • Qualified to teach English and ESL at university level;
  • Qualified to design curriculum;
  • Qualified to teach preschool and early elementary;
  • Skilled in training uneducated workers; 
  • Psychological knowledge to diagnose and treat disabilities and identify emotional conditions; 
  • Able to diagnose and treat medical conditions with no formal training; must be able to tolerate the sight of blood;
  • Management skills to run a household and school of small children and workers; 
  • Theological training for church work; 
  • Cross-cultural skills; 
  • Emotional ability to stay calm in crisis; must be able to deal with overwhelming situations with no visible emotional reaction;
  • Sufficient inner resources to exist with few friendships and little communication back to the U.S. or with colleagues in other parts of the country;
  • Practical skills in cooking, sewing, and decorating;
  • Driving skills to drive under dangerous conditions and on inadequate roads. 

Accommodations that could reasonably be made: 

It is possible that for some physical disabilities, additional household help could be hired. Many disabilities could not be accommodated. Wheelchairs would not work—no sidewalks. You couldn’t learn the language with a hearing disability. The environment would severely exacerbate any emotional disabilities. Any physical weakness would lead to severe illness and possibly death. 

More blogs in the "Job Descriptions" Series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9Part 10


Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion

Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations