More on Reverse Culture Shock, part 2 (See part 1)
In our last blog, we began a discussion on reverse culture shock – That feeling of dislocation, feeling different, that no one understands you. We spent some time on how-to start getting re-adapted, how to tell your story, and how to find safe people and communities to tell it to. But that was just the beginning when dealing with reverse culture shock! Here are some more tips and ways how to understand reverse culture shock and cope with it. (Article continues below image)
Plan your first few trips to the store carefully. Especially if you’ve been living in a developing country. All of those choices in our stores in America can be overwhelming and make you feel guilty! Before I returned to the States, I had been warned of this, so I planned my first trip to Wal-Mart very carefully. I knew exactly what I needed. I walked in with my head down, went straight to the area that had what I needed, found it, went to the register and paid, and walked out of the store. That being said, a month after I got back, it still took me 30 minutes to pick out toothpaste because there were too many choices! Do we REALLY need all these choices? Do you know that companies manufacture and brand many additional products simply to sell more to niches and not because there is any real need? (More product placement and space on the shelf!) Yay! We know that Americans love having choices! And we love American ingenuity! (Article continues below image)
Accept that America’s standards are different. Yes, there is a ton of waste in America. Christians largely do not know, and do not care. It’s not that they are “uncaring,” but rather that they have simply never been exposed to real needs – systemic needs, based on poor soils, lack of water or education, endemic corruption, years of frustration and lack of opportunity. So what to do? Start handing out copies of “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” to everyone you meet? Be careful because if you are frustrated you may be turning off more people than influencing. (Article continues below image)
Remember that very few things in your “home” culture and your adopted home culture are comparable! So don’t compare the two places, at least not out loud in front of people who don’t understand. They are simply different – not necessarily “better” than one another! I still remember one time within my first few weeks of being back when I was comparing some way Americans did something and the way Indonesians did something, and my dad looked at me and said, “Well, you just think everything is better over there, don’t you?!” I had to explain to him, “No, I didn’t, but not everything was better in America either.” and I had to get used to looking at things all over again–Even look at things I had never questioned before! This can lead to some interesting discussions, or even arguments, so be warned.
Be prepared to break down your first Sunday back at church. Often when you’ve been a missionary in another culture, you’re only able to worship in your heart language every few months (if at all), and even then it’s in often in a way that still isn’t comfortable, because it’s being led by people in that country, or it’s an international community, so it’s led by people from a different country. So, when you come home, and you go to the church that has cared for you from afar while you are gone, and you finally get to worship in your heart language, you will break down. You will. Be prepared. It is overwhelming to be surrounded by family who love you and care for you and have prayed for you while you were gone. To know that those were the prayers that were the only thing that kept you in that country some days. It is overwhelming to worship in English. If the children’s choir happens to sing that morning, it is overwhelming to hear 3-year olds sing praises to Jesus when you know that on the other side of the world, 3-year olds are being taught to chant from another religious book. And also know that these feelings will not just be on the first Sunday. You’ll be fine for a few weeks, and then someone will come up to you and tell you they prayed for you every day, or maybe even tell you about a specific time when they were burdened to pray for you, and it will have been when you were going through a particularly difficult time, and you’ll break down again.
Last but not least, accept that fact that you will never completely fit into America (or whatever your home country is) again. You may have heard the term, “third-culture kid.” It is used for kids who are from one country, but grow up in another country, so they have a “third culture” – a mix of the two cultures. Well, you are essentially a third-culture adult. (Or bi-cultural adult?) Although you grew up in one culture, you’ve lived long enough in another culture for it to change you, and you have taken on things from that culture. So you will never fit into your home culture again, no matter how hard you try. You simply see things from more angles now. And truth is more complicated. It’s much easier to just accept this fact, and even embrace it. Be thankful for the experiences you’ve had. Make fun of America, but just do so secretly, and try not to tell anyone why you feel the way you do too often. You are part of a very small minority, that has seen beyond the curtain. So be thankful! And try to be a little more quiet with your opinions, so people will continue to send out the rest of us.
This is part two of a two-part series. The first article can be found here.
There is also a free online book on re-entry shock, called “Coming Home” by Ron & Bonnie Koteskey that might be helpful to you. Get the .pdf here or see other download options for iBooks, Kindle, etc. here as well as additional resources such as rentry shock for children , etc..
They also have a free book on re-entry shock for short-term missionaries.