Nicolette spent the summer in the States after her first three years on the field. She had been warned to expect reverse culture shock back in the home country, and wasn’t surprised when it happened. What she wasn’t expecting was the wave of culture shock that hit when she returned to the field.
You can read her blog post “The Culture Shock that No One Tells You About” here. Basically she poses more questions than I can answer in one short post, but I will say truthfully that, yes, I still go through that shock of re-entry both coming and going. It does get easier, and the transition happens more quickly each time around, but muddling through the discomfort of a major change is inevitable.
My first random thought is that flying has a lot to do with it. In the early years we used to drive back and forth from Guatemala to the States. In that way, we could ease ourselves in and out of cultures gradually. Flying makes the re-entry so abrupt at both ends of the trip. That could be a factor. Think of the old-time missionaries literally taking the slow boat to China. By the time they got there, they were ready to be there. This isn’t necessarily true with air travel.
Secondly, I think we tend to idolize our adopted country while we are stateside. We paint such a rosy portrait of life overseas that we start to believe it ourselves. Returning to the nitty gritty of reality can be a bit of a shock and disappointment just as intense as the disgruntled feelings we experience in the U.S. Neither place seems quite right any more.
I could hang my head in shame having to admit that I haven’t arrived, but the truth is that I am not home yet. It is only natural that I will feel out of place both here and in the U.S. Neither place is my home. The unsettling discomfort of homesickness and culture shock is a wonderful reminder that I will always be in transition until the day I land in heaven. That’s the good news, my friends.
Meanwhile, culture and language learning is a lifelong process. It’s never finished.
And lastly, may we never be so naïve as to forget that there is still a villain in our story who wants to rob us of our joy and replace it with confusion and misunderstanding. Keeping a journal is a wonderful way to document and analyze the wild swings of emotion we experience on the field. I mention it often, but a great tool and weapon is to make a list of things that make you thankful.
IRL* I am thankful most of all that this is not my home!