After the decision to return, there is much preparation necessary for a smooth re-entry.
Preparing to Leave
Begin by facing the reasons you are returning home. For some the reasons are quite clear and understandable to everyone, it is time for an extended furlough or the short term project is complete. But for others, illness, financial strains or loss of visas make the return difficult to understand. With the confusion, disappointment, frustration and bitterness can creep in. It is important to accept your return as God’s direction for a change. He will give you the grace and direction for the next phase of your life.
If guilt about leaving starts nagging at you, don’t ignore it. It can lead to condemnation that will steal all the joy about your present field of service and your coming new assignment. You need to know for sure that you are supposed to leave. Knowing that, trust God to take care of the people and work you are leaving behind and to lead you into your next field of service. He knows how to take care of His people and His work.
Feelings of sorrow and joy may wrestle inside you as you think about leaving. Give yourself permission to grieve over leaving. There are many things you will miss and it’s normal to feel their loss. If you don’t allow yourself a time of grief, you may find anger breaking out at inappropriate times. Better a good cry every so often during those last weeks than hurtful words that cannot be taken back.
Also allow yourself joy about leaving. After all, you ARE going home. That should stir joy in your heart. It’s all right to express your joy with your family. They will be feeling it too. But be careful not to leave the impression with those you are serving that you cannot wait to leave them. They will understand reasonable joy at returning home, however.
Beginning the Transition
Start delegating your responsibilities to others on the field. Leave documentation about your work for those who will be taking your place.
Also begin preparing for sharing about your experiences with folks back home. Take things back that you can use to describe your new friends and host culture. Show and tell always works better than just trying to tell.
Buy gifts for your family, friends and supporters. Don’t wait until the last minute. Remember you have to pack everything you are going to take with you, so consider the size and weight of each item you buy. Think about whether the item you are considering will look too out of place for anyone to display in their home. What looks good in Africa or Asia may look too strange in America or Europe. People don’t expect expensive gifts from those serving overseas, but they do appreciate that you thought about them while away.
The Trip Home
Jennie has some wonderful suggestions. After four years in Indonesia, she and her family recently returned home. She says, “One of the things that I found most helpful in terms of re-entry is that we were able to take a holiday break in a different setting between leaving the country we were working in and arriving home. That allowed us time to renew our energy after all of the packing, emotional farewells, etc. It also allowed us to think through the term we had just experienced and then more gradually start thinking about our home country.
“It meant that by the time we arrived home, our ‘heads’ were also ready to be home and not just our bodies. Otherwise we would have found it very hard to have come straight from the major issues we were facing on the field to what could seem like minor issues at home- but still vitally important to those telling us about them.
“The advantage of picking a third country (en route home) was that if we had stayed in another part of Indonesia, we would still have been reading the paper daily about the problems we were trying to mentally leave behind.”
Anyone who lives in a culture other than their own for an extended period of time changes. You see things differently than you did when you arrived. You see the world differently from your friends and family back home. Your home country has been changing while you’ve been gone too. Be aware that you are heading into a time of rapid changes again. Just like you had to learn a new culture when you arrived on the field, you have to learn a new culture when you arrive home. Some of the very same things that helped you adjust to your host country work with reverse culture shock.
Reverse Culture Shock Strategies
- Keep a good sense of humor. A good belly laugh relieves a lot of tension.
- Remember different does not necessarily mean bad. Not all the changes you see are bad. Embrace the ones that are good. Remember to add mercy when you are judging changes in people. If people first feel your judgement, they might not wait around to hear your wisdom.
- A servant’s heart and hands opened doors for you on the field. They work just as well in your home country.
- Find a home church and settle in. It may take a little while for people to know “what to do with you.” They may feel threatened by their own “image” of a cross cultural worker. Just like you had to take the first step towards your hosts overseas, you may have to take the first step in your church back home. Find a prayer partner and become involved in the life of the church.