5 tips for a better transition
Reverse Culture Shock. Re-Entry. Transition.
All terms for an elusive feeling that is difficult to define and even more difficult to explain.
I've been back in the United States eight months now after living in England and working in OM communications for two and a half years. In some ways, I feel like I should be fully transitioned by now, and in many ways, I am.
I've reconnected with friends, family and my home church. I've started my own freelance editing and photography business. I got engaged to my rockstar of a boyfriend who stuck with me through a year and a half of interrupted, long-distance relationship as I trotted all over the world making documentaries with OMNIvision.
I no longer ask friends if a building or business is new, only to be told it's been around 2-3 years. My British accent has all but disappeared, except for idioms and some vocabulary. I love being home.
And yet, it's still hard some days. Some days, I still feel like I'm living in a dream and I'll wake up in England and go hop on a plane for some far-off destination. I listen to my fiance's voice over the phone and remind myself that it's okay, I can get a real hug tomorrow, because he's only a short car ride away, instead of an ocean away.
It always felt like living in two dream worlds at once and only the current dream is the real one. Real or not? They both are real, and yet, neither feels quite real yet.
Often, people think of reverse culture shock in terms of adjusting to dozens of choices at the supermarket, struggling with changing technology, and other issues common to transitioning from Third World countries back to First World. My experience is different. I don't fit well into the charts. My struggles have been more with people and situational in nature.
Case in point: I live in the American Midwest, where talking to strangers in the grocery store or on the street is a regional past-time. Yet now, if a stranger approaches me or starts a conversation, my instinctive response is to go into "stranger danger" mode. Too long living and working in countries where a stranger approaching or initiating conversations with me means a potential threat or someone asking for money.
I find myself becoming easily frustrated if I can't find an item at the store or getting upset when I'm left out of conversations about current or cultural events that happened while I was gone. I become extremely frustrated by people's narrow-minded or simplistic opinions on situations which don't directly affect them or that they haven't personally experienced.
It's not easy. It's not simple. And it's definitely a process. So if you're in the midst of tough transition right now, here are a few tips for riding out the storm.
1. There is no "should." Everyone is different, and everyone's circumstances are different. Make the transition on your own time and in your own way.
2. Give yourself grace - and lots of it. You may find yourself sobbing uncontrollably in the produce aisle of the grocery store. That's okay. You'll get through it. Strive to give yourself as much grace as Christ has given you.
3. Let others help you. It can be hard to go from being the strong, independent person helping everyone else, to feeling like a helpless child yourself, but we all need help sometimes.
4. Beware the trap of self-pity. It's tempting to soak in that particular bathtub until your fingers wrinkle. Your friends and family don't understand what it's like? No. How could they? They probably never will, and that's okay. There will always be legitimate reasons to feel sorry for yourself. Transition is a hard, lonely, and at times, humiliating process. But self-pity is the train to nowhere fast.
5. Be willing to let go. Maybe you wanted to leave your mission field. Maybe you didn't. It can be easy to hang onto those feelings of significance in your previous work and miss the significant things God wants to do in and through you in your own current mission field.