“Returning home is not something we do once, or even every time we come back from a trip. It becomes a continual, daily decision to be where we are when we could choose to be elsewhere”.
Arriving Well: Stories about identity, belonging, and rediscovering home after living abroad is a short book (and cheap/free on Amazon). A collection of essays where five people write about their own experience of re-entry (returning to live in your “passport country” after time living in another). At the end of each essay, the editors pose a few questions and a brief comment to help the reader think about their own experience.
Finding ways of navigating re-entry is really important. The experience of living in a different culture can’t be undone, you can’t unlearn it, but you can adjust to living once more in your ‘home country’. It takes time and requires deliberate processing. Being mindful of your feelings and experiences; recognising that “life is a journey, not a destination” (so coming home isn’t the finish line so much as a new phase) and that ‘home’ is another new culture to adapt to.
Clearly, I read the book through my own experience. The quote “But it wasn’t home anymore. Rather than feeling like part of what was going on, I felt more like a really well-informed spectator” is an accurate description of my own feelings even now I’ve been back for several months.
We had only been in Peru a short while but can identify with several writers experience of finding it hard to talk about what they had done. One writes “I was deeply hurt to discover that, back home, my stories were things to be endured, not shared”. It’s not that people aren’t interested so much as a recognition that while my body may now be ‘here’ part of my heart is ‘there’
This book is great as a resource for people returning from midterm trips, needing to work through re-entry. I suspect (and hope) that those returning from longer mission service will find other resources and people to help, though this is a good place to start. But it will also be helpful to church mission support teams trying to understand what the people they support are experiencing.
We expect to have to adjust to living in a new culture, we prepare for culture shock – but perhaps we don’t adequately prepare for the shock of return and how to live in a place which is familiar but where life has moved on.
“It’s hard to feel incompetent, isn’t it?” But that’s what re-entry can feel like.