This is my discussion group (can you see me in the back row)? The couple on the right was our discussion leaders. There were 24 adults and 20 kids in attendance. 15 of the adults had served in various countries in Africa, 8 in Asia, and 1 in Central America.
“The fact is, one is never the same once they have experienced a cross-cultural ministry. The individual has become different. Something happens to us personally when we adapt to a new culture, and in that adapting, our parochialism (based on our unquestioned feeling that there is really only one way to live and our way is it) is smashed. We acknowledge cultural variety. Re-entry shock is caused by returning to a setting presumed to be familiar, but in reality it is no longer the same because both you and the culture have changed. You are out of step with your own culture.”
- Burt and Farthing, Crossing Cultures
I learned that I must allow myself time to navigate through the transition of re-entering the American culture. We discussed the various stages of transition that occur as we move back and forth between our host culture and our home culture:
· Settled: While we live in our host culture, we are settled. We have an established daily routine, a place to call home, and a sense of purpose. Things are familiar and comfortable.
· Unsettled: As we begin the process of leaving, there is a sense of being uprooted. It is a very unsettling time. We are forced to begin to detach and we have a feeling of abandoning people. We struggle with a mixture of emotions and so many good-byes. It’s hectic as we pack and tie up loose ends. There is much sorrow interspersed with so many decisions. A sense of dread and the unknown start to creep in.
· Chaos: We’re exhausted and overly emotional. We face visa issues, encounter repeated points of airport security, and suffer from the effects of jetlag. We’re disoriented, confused, and numb. In fact, we feel like we’re in a fog much of the time. We begin to realize that we’re coming back as a different person. Additionally, we’re unsure where we stand with various relationships.
· Re-Settling: We face reverse culture shock as we re-enter the American culture. We often feel like an idiot with all the changes in technology, etc. We may have to remind ourselves of seemingly simple things, like looking left first when crossing the street! We can be overwhelmed with all the decisions we have to make and getting re-oriented to our home country. We face loneliness and wonder what our role is.
· Settled: Finally, we do develop a new daily routine and create our own sense of space. We re-connect with old friends and family members. We still struggle, though, with an awareness that we don’t quite fit in. We make cultural blunders and social errors. We can be confused about how to properly greet others. We’re faced with the realization that things are not the same in our home country and they never will be. We are also different than when we left; we’ve become bi-cultural and our world view has changed.
“How do you pick up the threads of your old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back.”
- Frodo, Lord of the Rings
“Even after 12 years of living back in the States (after more than 13 years serving overseas), we still don’t feel completely at home.”
- George and Connie Blake, our discussion leaders
“Re-connecting with family and friends takes a great deal of emotional energy… Although it should not surprise us, it does hurt when exciting moments and new discoveries made overseas are of little interest to anyone else.”
- Burt and Farthing
“Sojourners who adapt well to the host culture, experience changes to their values, attitudes, and perceptions and must attempt to integrate them. Thus, their re-entry is painful and problematic. These returnees become marginal in terms of the home culture because they are cognitively and behaviorally different from their people.”
- Study done by Hara, LaBrack, Montgomery, and Smith
“There is an overlap as we move from the host culture to the home culture. It is in the overlap where the cross-cultural person lives, and there they become a bi-cultural person.”
- Burt and Farthing
“Bi-cultural is the capacity to understand and accept the cultural ways of other groups of people, while at the same time recognizing the validity of one’s own cultural heritage.”
- Lyman E. Reed
“A bi-cultural person develops a new self, a new personality. When we join a new culture our goal is to bond and identify with the people, and in the bonding a bi-cultural self emerges.”
- Burt and Farthing