Diaspora Blues

I was going on my merry way, enjoying my caramel macchiato and quiet neighborhood, when it happened. I was supposed to be past the hump, right? I mean, I’d been back in the United States for almost two years.

Sucker-punch.

Sucker-Punch

Definition: Primarily involves a closed fist contacting the soft underbelly of a person (beneath the rib cage) at a high velocity, causing the ensuing force to press upward on the victim’s diaphragm, leading to a sudden expulsion of air from the victim’s mouth and lungs. This opening blow leaves the now defenseless victim open to various other attacks.

A close friend told me she was moving away. Any pretenses I had been making about my re-entry security were blown away with the announcement. People weren’t supposed to move away here! Transition was par for the course overseas, but I didn’t expect my first friend back here to suddenly move. This friend had been the one to listen to me in those first months of my return. She had welcomed me and invited me into her life at a time when my home country felt so different.

After she left, other smaller attacks came and the cumulative effect left me walking through my days quite despondent. I felt let down by re-entry—after two years in, it was getting harder, not easier. Surrounded by all I had dreamed of overseas, I was still discontent.

Diaspora Blues

By Ijeoma Umebinyuo

So,

here you are

too foreign for home

too foreign for here.

never enough for both.

By this point, I have wrestled through a very identity-shaking move from Asia and we have settled in to our life in the United States. Even now, though, there are still times when I don’t fit. I moved to Mongolia as a young, 22-year-old, right out of college. My first years of being an adult (for really, college is still a protected enclave) were spent learning a new language and living in one of the most desolate places in the world. My first years of marriage were again spent learning a new language and culture, as well as navigating different team dynamics. As a new parent, I walked the streets of China and then Cambodia, trying to figure out how to raise my children.

The formative years of my young adult life have completely changed me. I was foreign there, but I have discovered that I feel foreign here in my home culture too. I can speak English, and I know how to navigate the streets and buy groceries. But my viewpoint on many things is different. It has been hard to find people who resonate with those worldviews. It has been even more difficult for me to give voice to those thoughts because so much was birthed out of experience and observation.

Such is the paradox of re-entry. It cannot be denied that we who have walked those formative years in foreign lands may find that we are a bit foreign no matter where we are. We may find that even years later, we are dealing with the “diaspora blues” and still feeling out of place. We may be walking unaware and suddenly get sucker punched by our old pal “re-entry.” For really, re-entry is not a one-time event. It unfolds, sometimes quietly and slowly and other times punches quickly, showing us how God has changed us and is continuing to do so.

The other evening we invited a young family over for dinner. They had recently moved back from Russia and were passing through our small town to talk to others about a building project they were raising funds for. As we sat and talked, we realized that we had spent time at the same beach resort in southern Thailand. It was a not-so-small moment of grace in the middle of a hard week for me. We could look at each other and say, “Hey, you’re a bit foreign too. I understand you.” And in that moment, I didn’t feel so alone after all.

How have you felt the “diaspora blues” in your current situation?

Has re-entry surprised you in any way?

13 Comments

  1. M'Lynn May 22, 2016

    Danielle, Your honesty about how hard re-entry can be has been so helpful to me in staying well. Sometimes I need the reminder “Surounded by all I had dreamed of overseas, I was still discontent.” Going there or staying here isn’t gonna solve all my problems. However, thinking one or the other is inherently easier makes the tug-of-war seasons of deciding whether to stay or go or shuffling through the actual staying or going even harder. If I can just grab hold of the reality that life is challenging in different ways on either side of the ocean…

    “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13

    1. Danielle Krouch May 22, 2016

      I’m glad it has helped you to stay. Indeed, returning home has shown me that we will struggle wherever we are with something. I thought certain things would be solved upon our return but they haven’t. I love that verse you wrote. Such a great reminder to find contentment in all circumstances.

  2. Joyce Stauffer May 22, 2016

    Yes, Danielle, re-entry is so hard… two years back this summer, and the strong emotions and levels of stress still come and go. Thankful that God does bring those into our lives that do understand even if they are only short encounters. It can be such a lonely and misunderstood time! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Danielle Krouch May 22, 2016

      I find those moments with people who truly understand to be so precious. I have found this space here on Velvet Ashes to be helpful, too, as I realize what a large community I’m still a part of. Those of us who have returned can feel like we are so alone. It’s comforting to know that others are inhabiting that same space.

  3. Vivian May 22, 2016

    I really sympathize…it’s only been a month back for me.  I feel that some people have a hard time knowing how to talk to me and relate to me.  Maybe it was easier to put me in a category when I was living overseas but now that I am here for a while they don’t know what to say to me.  I do agree that contentment is the key.  If I keep comparing or wishing things were like before, I will not be content.  I have to remind myself I had struggles of feeling out of place overseas too.  My true home is with God and He is with me always.

    1. Danielle Krouch May 22, 2016

      It’s hard to move back to a place where people may not know how to fit “the new you” in. The best thing we did upon our return was to find a good place to debrief our experience. We did ours through MTI in Colorado. God has taught me so much through this transition and one thing He needs to constantly remind me of is that He’s more than enough! He wants to fill is to the fullest and He goes beyond borders and circumstances. So hard to remember that sometimes though when we are feeling down and lonely.

  4. Jenilee May 23, 2016

    We are still in our first term and have yet to face this but a friend said recently that on the days she feels like giving up and going home, when things are hard, she remembers that she is “ruined for there and ruined for here.” She meant, nothing will ever be the same and we have to learn to move through it, move on, seek Him whether we live here or there. We no longer fit there but we have yet to “fit” here. The whole thought definitely makes me want to cling to Jesus more!

    1. Jenilee May 23, 2016

      And her “ruined” was said in laughter… it was not a harsh conversation but one that has stuck with me!

      1. Danielle Krouch May 23, 2016

        For sure! It’s a good kind of “ruined.” I think any encounter with our Father should be like that–we should live life differently because of Him no matter where we live. But living overseas definitely shows that in really deep, and forever changed ways.

  5. Sarah Hilkemann May 23, 2016

    Danielle, thank you for sharing this! Re-entry scares me. I’m not facing it yet, but know that it will come. Sometimes I can think that the grass is greener in my home country, especially when the temperature is over 105 F and I just want to talk to someone in my own language and know that every time I go to the grocery store the same things will be there. Your post was a reminder that there are really hard things and there are gifts no matter where we are. Praying for you in the re-entry journey.

    1. Danielle Krouch May 23, 2016

      Thanks Sarah! There are so many things that I appreciate so deeply because of those long, hot, stressful days in Cambodia. Re entry has been hard but it was a necessary part of our journey. You’re right, though, there are still hard things about living in the States. I think we have a way of idealizing other places when we are somewhere else.

  6. Kimberly Todd May 23, 2016

    Me too, Danielle. I nodded all the way through this post. Thank you. I love the Diaspora Blues poem. Nick read it aloud from your post this morning over tea.

    This song has become a comfort and a prayer for myself and others who have reentered: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnQqXC6JIc0

  7. Monica F May 27, 2016

    Going on year number 2 of an unplanned re-entry.  It’s been especially hard because we are still working for our organization and involved in work ‘back home’ in Asia, but trying to settle into our ‘home here’ for the foreseeable future.  While I’m grateful for this current season in our lives, I do find it hard to feel at home.  How does one re-enter, when still very much involved and attached to the place one left?

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>