Coming home? Fondly called the RE-ENTRY PROCESS, reverse culture shock is a formidable minefield. The unsuspecting could definitely be caught off guard. When our family returned from our five years abroad, there was a simple exit-interview with one of the personnel directors at mission headquarters and a few days at a camp called “Re-Entry,” but it did little to help us weather each family member’s unique adjustment back to life in the United States. Ups and downs were necessary as each of us found our way: new friends, new work, new home.
Recently, I found Lisa Chinn’s THINK HOME study book, “A Practical Guide for Christian Internationals Preparing to Return Home.” She quotes the work of Dr. Clyde Austin, a Christian psychologist, who identifies re-entry stress. “Emotional turbulence and tension is a very normal part of the transition process.” Chinn also includes these names for four stages of re-entry:
I love sharing this list with the visiting scholars at Missouri University who attend my English classes. Hopefully, when they get back to their homeland they will remember them.
Stage One: FUN
It is wonderful to taste your mother’s cooking again, to take walks on old familiar streets, and to catch up with friends and family. My, how your nephew has grown! Not to mention that you may have gained some celebrity status for all your comings and goings.
Stage Two: FLIGHT
Chinn describes it as a feeling of “wanting to return” to the familiar, your last home. Your time as a returning celebrity is over and you are faced with new demands on your time. The fun is over. The bills need to be paid, and the school bells are ringing for the children.
Stage Three: FIGHT
This is a stage of frustration and anger. Various triggers might cause you to question everything including who you are. Whose fault was it that you had to return? You might want to punch him. It is time of distancing yourself emotionally from others.
Stage Four: FIT
When you resolve the inner conflicts and feel confident that you are in the right place, contributing to the community, you will finally FIT. For me, this was a feeling that “everything was okay with the world.” It took four and half years. I’m sure the process could take a few months up to several years, depending on how long you were “away,” how wildly different the old and new culture are, how abruptly you left, and what circumstances caused your return.
Some signs that you FIT again would be finding a job or area of service that suits you and utilizes the skills you’ve acquired over the years. New friendships are established. Any pain or bitterness associated with your time overseas is replaced with a sense of well-being. Hope for the future takes hold.