Babies born, friends wed, new buildings constructed, beloved shops closed and crazy technological advances were changes back home that I had only vaguely been aware of while I was living in China.
I knew I had changed when I was overseas, I just hadn’t made allowances for the fact that everyone back home had, too.
Taiye Selasi, in her TED Talk, “Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local,” said, “We can never go back to a place and find it exactly where we left it. Something, somewhere will always have changed, most of all, ourselves. People.”
Most of my conflicts that first year back home were the result of me assuming my friends and family had remained frozen in time, waiting for me to return. Naturally.
I remember having a heated conversation with my mom in the fury of wedding planning and she pointed out that my family had changed–I just hadn’t noticed. And not just in the “we like a different kind of cereal than we used to” kind of changing. They had loved hard, overcome struggles, dealt with grief, developed skills and made new discoveries just like I had. Our life lenses were slightly different, but the raw material of Life was still the same.
Six weeks after coming back from China, I began a new job teaching eighth grade in the school I had worked at before moving to China five years earlier. Keep in mind that when I moved to China in 2005, flip phones were all the rage. I got my snazzy silver pocket-sized phone in China and sent all kinds of…text messages. So when I re-entered the states in 2010 to the age of Smartphones, Ipads, and parent portals, I had issues. (Teaching in northwest China, I had been excited if there was a whiteboard in the classroom). Assuming I had a Smartphone like them, parents had new expectations that the teacher respond to emails not just within a day’s time, but within an hour’s time. Grades that used to be private for me with my own system of 5/5 homework points made parents crazy because their kid’s 3/5 showed up as a D on the parent portal. When it came to technology, I had been in a coma for five years.
After living at sea level most of my life, we recently moved to Colorado at about 6,000 ft. altitude. Even athletes in terrific shape arrive early for a race here to allow themselves time to acclimate to the environment. If you have recently returned to your passport culture after living abroad, know that your air will be thinner, breathing more difficult, hills will take longer to climb and, like a dream, the scenery on your hike will be the same, but slightly different than when you left. No matter how strong you are, your body will scream for you to slow down, adapt to your surroundings and re-learn how to breathe the air up here. So listen to it.
And get to know your fellow journeymen again. They have climbed peaks, carried heavy loads, fallen on rocks, meditated and heard from God in ways that will benefit you, even though they have never left their home forest. Walk with them, learn from them and trust them. You are on the same road again.
If you are preparing to return home, maybe take a few moments to jot some notes in your journal. You can use the following questions as a springboard:
1. How have you changed?
2. What major life events have happened to the people you love back home? How do you think they are feeling right now?
3. How have society, pop culture, technology and current events changed while you have been gone? Just as you may have enlisted a cultural mentor from the culture where you have been living, is there someone in your passport culture that could be your cultural mentor?
4. Pray for understanding and a renewed love for your passport culture. Pray for your close family and friends by name.
Have you been on either end of this equation–either the traveler or the family or friend waiting to welcome someone back home? What was your experience?
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This post is day 10 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:
Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)