Are you prepared for Re-entry? – Tips on Reverse Culture Shock
If you’ve been on a short-term, or longer, ministry trip overseas, or if you’re going overseas for a year or two, you’ve probably heard about culture shock. Especially if you’re going to a poorer country, you know that there are going to be many things that will be very different from home, and you are going to confront poverty, suffering, and other things you may not be very prepared for. Hopefully the mission sending agnecy you are going to do missions through will prepare you at orientation for this. But what about reverse culture shock – When you decide to return home and everything is the same, except for you?
Are you ready to re-enter your home culture and home church?
Reverse culture shock is one part of “training” or preparation that many people don’t think about – Until they get home! Being on the Missions Committee at my church, and having been overseas myself – I do my best to help each missionary understand what is in store for them.
You go overseas and have these amazing experiences, totally different experiences, then you come home and you don’t know yourself anymore or what you think about things you used to take for granted, or all that you’ve been through. Maybe you’ve lived in a country for a year or two, and then you come home and people ask, “Hey, didn’t you just get back from a trip somewhere?” It takes everything in you to not scream at them, “It wasn’t a trip! I was a missionary over there for two years! It wasn’t like a vacation to Bali or something!” But you have to hold your tongue. Or, someone says theh want to hear about your time, but never make time for you. Or after saying they want to hear about your trip, two minutes into telling a story, the person gets bored and changes the subject! You haven’t even finished the story and still have 20 or so more to share! So what do you do? (Article continues after image)
Tip 1: If you look hard enough, you can find people who genuinely wants to hear your stories. Tell them about your time and struggles and growth! Even if they can’t understand the poverty you’ve witnessed, or the specific struggle, they will care about how you are dealing with it. When I got back to the US after living overseas for two years, I found some friends who really wanted to hear my stories, and asked question after question about my time, and I was so thankful for that.
Tip 2: If you’re part of an mission organization, and they have a debrief for those returning home, make sure you go to it! The debrief (sometimes called a “degrief” since a lot of times it is a time to purge and work through the struggles you’ve experienced) will allow you to be with other people who have been through similar things, and want to know how you have processed or are processing the same things. Often during the debrief they will also offer tips and methods for getting through hard times, feeling lost or empty or “worthless” now that you aren’t doing ministry full-time, how to write your CV in a way that will make companies want to hire you, and how to talk to others about your passion/experiences.
Often during debrief they will offer tips and methods for getting through hard times, feeling lost or empty or “worthless” now that you aren’t doing ministry full-time….
Tip 3: Use a journal and write down your struggles. This will help you get them out, and help you think through what has happened – Both good and bad. I also recommend writing down different versions of your experiences, and practice telling them to different people. This way, if a person only wants to hear the two minute quick update, you will be ready, but if someone wants to hear more, you are prepared! Don’t be disappointed if people only want to hear a quick two-minute version. Remember that everyone has short attention spans these days, and many people don’t have a way to accept/think about the things you’ve experienced. It’s okay. Give them short snippets when you can, and be thankful for that! If they prayed, you help them see how God answered.
Tip 4: You will be asked stupid questions, and questions that are difficult to answer.
We already stated one of them: How was your trip? Many people only know friends who have done short-term missions trips. So since you went overseas too, it was a “trip.” You will also get asked, “Why are the people there so poor? or “Can you imagine being born there?” or “I bet you’re glad to be home!?” I found this last one very difficult to answer. Yes, I was glad to be back home, especially since I came home right before Christmas, and it was great to see my family and friends again. But I was having a very difficult time calling where I grew up “home” since I was so different now. People will also respond by telling you about when they went overseas for a two-week trip, or how their aunt or best friend is a missionary, and think it’s the same thing, end of discussion. As much as you want to tell them more, don’t. They aren’t going to understand, anyway. Just let it go.
People will also respond by telling you about when they went overseas for a two-week trip, or how their aunt or best friend is a missionary, and think it’s the same thing, end of discussion…..Just let it go. Let it go…
Tip 5: If you are struggling with depression or anger, over other people’s indifference, or their greed and shallowness Christianity – That is a sign that you should get some help. Hopefully from someone who has lived overseas themselves or been stationed overseas themselves. And sometimes “missions-type” people don’t help either – “When are you going back overseas?” can seem uncaring or a focus solely on missions when you might be dying inside and in turmoil. Check out some of the resources at MissionaryCare.com or see more resources and centers on counseling/care for missionaries here.
Tip 6: Have a plan, a goal, a purpose – before you get home
When I came back to the U.S., I entered seminary, which helped a lot. One of the great things about seminary is that there were plenty of people who were from overseas, or had been missionaries overseas for a few years. These people were a lifeline. I hung out with them, and we shared our struggles with the church in America. If you can find a community of people who have been overseas, take advantage of this! Get together for coffee and dinner. Share life together. Another big difference between many countries and the U.S. is that they place an emphasis on community raher than busy-ness and rushing around, while Americans are a bunch of individualists who try to do everything on their own, are too busy, and don’t like to talk about their struggles (love that reverse stereotyping?!). So, finding a group who have their own experiences overseas and understand the importance of community, will help create that needed community for you. Another great way to be in community is to find people specifically from the country where you lived, or a similar culture. They will be excited to find an American Christian who knows a bit of their language, has served their people out of love, and wants to know them. You might even find them agreeing with you against certain aspects of American culture! That is always a weird feeling, but you will get your international community needs met! Transitions don’t have to be as tough. There are some things you can do.
I will be adding a Part 2 soon so be looking for it! And beware of anger and disappointment over other believers promising you things that never come true…Because that is another sign of reverse culture shock!