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.
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.
By Ijeoma Umebinyuo
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?