I read books, talked to other international teachers, and knew re-entry would be a bumpy ride but I was not prepared for the loneliness, waves of sadness, and months of feeling weary and adrift that would follow. The feelings of loneliness are what led me to take a chance and sign up for a Velvet Ashes (VA) Connection group.
Our journey abroad began with home stays through a local Japanese university. I was nervous about moving our family overseas when my husband started looking at teaching jobs in Japan. We were home group leaders, not international teachers. However, after two years of hosting, our family was all in and my husband and I both landed teaching jobs at an international Christian school in Japan.
I was teaching high school English, making friends with the locals, and navigating the challenges of living in a foreign country. Unexpectedly, I absolutely fell in LOVE with Japan, our school and community. Our second year abroad, my husband was promoted to principal and we both expanded our roles as is often the case when working at a small school. I knew we would eventually move back to America, but each year when our contracts came due, I voted to push the decision out one more year.
Our fourth year abroad —due to my mother’s health and a variety of other reasons—we decided it was time to return to America. Prior to departing, I read Amy Young’s book Looming Transitions. The book is wonderful and undoubtedly set us up for a successful departure. Because of her book, we were very intentional about saying goodbyes, leaving well, taking the family to see famous Japanese historical sites and visiting our favorite ramen shop one last time. We handed out gifts and postcards to friends and neighbors with our contact information explaining we would be moving back to America.
The piece we did not anticipate were the numerous tearful and heart-wrenching goodbyes that followed. They proved to be both incredibly meaningful yet utterly exhausting. I had known we were leaving Japan; I also knew it was the right thing to do. But unlike moving to Japan, our departure left a huge hole and many unknowns. I did not know when I would return or if I would ever live in Japan again. It was this reality that brought overwhelming grief and a deep sense of loss.
We moved back into our home and started rebuilding our life in what were familiar surroundings but felt strangely foreign. I was part of a women’s small group before moving abroad and had longed for and anticipated time with these women. Being a principal’s wife is much like being a pastor’s wife, and I found myself guarded with very few to confide in about my own personal struggles while abroad. United with my small group I still felt lonely, weary, and adrift.
It wasn’t long until feelings of resentment and a deep sense of longing for Japan were common. I realize now I was extremely weary leaving Japan and pretty beat up for a variety of reasons. How to navigate the sense of loss, loneliness, and feeling insignificant after having felt so valued and appreciated at the school and in our community escaped me.
Re-entry is tough, and I prayed for a mentor with whom to process my experiences for months. I attended a couple of VA online retreats in Osaka and they were wonderful, so I often visited the VA website upon returning. I signed up for the Returning Home e-mail series and read accounts of women who had gone through re-entry seeking hope during this challenging season of reverse culture shock. The re-entry resources spoke to my desire to feel understood, to know I would get through this, and things would in fact return to a new normal.
I saw the Connection Groups and desperately wanted to find a group who would “get me”, know what I was feeling, grieving, and longing for without having to explain. I was skeptical an online connection group was the answer. I had been in the U.S. for nine months and was still struggling to find someone who “got it”. I read through the re-entry groups, prayed and waited another day. Honestly, I was questioning how a Facebook texting group could possibly provide a true sense of connection and thought I would just skip it. However, when I logged in the next day the groups had filled quickly and I feared if I waited, my hesitation would be my decision.
So, I signed up doubting but hopeful. All I can say is what an answer to prayer. I did find my people and they were in fact what I had longed for the past nine months. The prompts were great and caused heartfelt, deep, and thought-provoking exchanges. It was so comforting, encouraging and healing to hear other women say, “YES!” it is just like that. You get it, you know what it is like! We prayed for one another, shared hurts, victories and struggles relating to our re-entry journey. It was wonderful and a huge blessing, way more than I expected. I am so glad I took the chance to meet these women, hear their stories and be a part of their journey back into their home country.