The Art of Coming Home, by Craig Storti, is an excellent book about re-entry that my organization mailed to me when I returned to America after spending five years in China. I wish I had read it.
The book is divided into five main sections: coming home, the stages of re-entry, the return of the employee, the return of spouses and children, and special populations. As I was a single person when I “re-entered” my passport country, I could relate most to the first two sections of the book.
Though he does not discuss it in the book, Storti experienced living abroad and returning first hand, which grants him credibility as a writer. It is also obvious that he researched extensively for this book, as is evidenced by a vast bibliography, and I found myself starring and underlining items on at least every page.
Though Storti remains objective throughout the book, he has an obvious sensitivity to the struggle that many expats encounter when they return to their passport culture (and encouragement that they will survive and make it through in the end!).
In his first chapter on coming home, Storti states, “this very realization, that home is really not home, is at the core of the experience of reentry” (4). He aptly spells out some of the main issues for the returning expat such as wrestling with the meaning of home, what makes it difficult to come home and the impact the return has on us and our relationships.
Storti defines the stages of reentry as: leave-taking, honeymoon, reverse culture shock and readjustment. His description of reverse culture shock is so familiar to me as he speaks about being judgmental, living in the margins as a “cultural hybrid”(54), doubting your decision to return, feeling overwhelmed, and resisting readjusting. “It’s almost as if readjusting would mean that your expatriate experience never happened, that you would revert to the person you were before you went abroad” (58).
Chapter three outlines some of the issues related to reentering the work place and offers practical helps to reintegrate the employee into the work environment. Colleagues trying to identify with what their coworkers or employees are experiencing as they return to work from another country would benefit greatly from reading this chapter. In one of the many helpful charts provided throughout the book, Storti provides 9 questions that are “recommended content for a repatriation workshop,” such as:
1. “What did you like about being overseas and what will you miss the most?
2. Who are you now? How has the overseas experience changed you? What new skills, knowledge, attitudes have you acquired?
3. How has home changed? What the country is like now…” (88)
In Chapter four, Storti discusses some common issues of the returning spouse, such as returning to work, going back home alone at first, having less house help, adjusting to a more independent (less social?) culture, helping the children, spending less time together as a family, and guilt over children going through reentry. The second half of this chapter focuses primarily on the issues that teens may face in reentering after spending time abroad and what parents can do to help them to weather this storm.
The final chapter, on special populations, addresses the problems of these particular subgroups of returning expats: exchange students, international volunteer organizations, military personnel and missionaries. This is the only part of the book that seems to be a bit redundant as the issues and solutions are very similar to those described in chapter one and two, but it is possible that someone in one of these specific categories may find a different angle that is applicable to their unique situation.
The Art of Coming Home is a valuable resource for anyone returning from living abroad. I know that I would have benefitted greatly from it had I taken advantage of reading it before returning to America.
“Readjustment is the final phase of reentry, but it should not be understood as the closing of the book on the overseas experience, for in a larger sense, reentry never truly ends. After all, people don’t actually get over experiences, especially profound ones; instead they incorporate them into their character and personality and respond to all subsequent experience from the perspective of their new self” (65).
This post is day 15 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)