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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Neither Here nor There-Why Re-Entry Is Harder Than Culture Shock

I walk into Walmart and am immediately feeling a duality of emotions.  I'm excited because there are so many choices, and yet my heart rate quickens and I feel something like a panic attack coming on because….

There are so many choices!

We have just returned from serving as missionaries for two years in northern Brazil and although we have lived cross culturally before this is the longest stint that I have been 'away'.  At some point, the scales tip and it stops being away and becomes home, or something like it.

Going to a new country means your senses are overwhelmed, you are soaking in a new climate, culture and sometimes language.  You are overwhelmed, you long for 'normal' and you feel completely displaced, out of place and definitely not in Kansas anymore.

But you expect that when you pick up your life and move to a foreign land…you don't expect it when you come back to the place you used to call 'home'.

I have explained re-entry or reverse culture shock to others like this.  Before you left your home country you were part of a beautiful puzzle, you had a shape and it meshed with the shapes of those around you.  But then you pulled your piece out of that puzzle and moved to a new puzzle where for a while, turn and twist as you might you don't fit the same.  So slowly, your shape shifts and changes to fit into the new puzzle.  Trouble is, when you come back that new shape that you had become to fit in the new puzzle, doesn't just slide back in to the old puzzle.  Because you are different and guess what?

So is the puzzle you left behind.  

You can't just 're-enter' and pick up where you left off because you are not the same person and even though you in your mind you hit the 'pause game' button on life at home, the people you left behind didn't actually pause (GASP!!) their lives went on without you and maybe, just maybe there is a new puzzle piece where you used to be.

So although you had started to feel comfortable in that foreign land, it is in fact still foreign and now that place you call home isn't the same either so you feel out discombobulated wherever you are.

What can be done?  Not a whole lot unfortunately.  But for those reading this who are welcoming home missionaries or other travellers you can be patient, understand that most of their conversations will revolve around that other place, because they are trying to make themselves fit back into your puzzle by bringing a bit of the foreign puzzle into your life.

It's confusing, and emotionally overwhelming and they are feeling a bit lost.

In the end, I wander around Walmart picking things up and putting them back down again and eventually leave with nothing.  The choices overwhelm.

I don't fit yet.  But maybe, most likely, I will feel like I fit again just as we are about to go back.

That is life when you live neither here nor there.


Jet Ryan said...

You've nailed it VERY well!! I still feel that way after being in Santarém for 12 years; and I came back 10 years ago. Gasp! It's less, but still there. And funnily enough, I have more Brazilian friends posting on my Facebook page than from USA, how's that for dichotomy. Reverse culture shock is SO real, and unless they've lived overseas for a long stint, anyone here judt doesn't understand it, NOR do they know how to help OR want to listen.

I learned quickly when people asked how I was, how I was feeling, or what I'd been doing... to ask if they wanted the 15 second, 30 second, 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 5 hour response!

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