I Had No Training On How To Return Home

I was trained really well for how to stay on the field.  I had no training in how to return home, however.  Being handed a re-entry book and given a one-hour seminar on the actual logistics of leaving our organization obviously didn’t even begin to prepare us. A mentor of ours recommended doing a week of debriefing in Colorado a couple months after our return. This week was pivotal in our moving forward; it gave us the space we needed to process through the range of emotions we were going through. Most importantly, it gave our family common language to talk about how huge this change was.

Re-entry is full of paradox.  It’s okay to feel two seemingly contradictory things at the same time. We had moved from a crowded and congested city in Southeast Asia and were transplanted into the cornfields of rural Iowa, and at times, the transition was jolting. I wrote down these thoughts a few months after we had moved:

  • The green grass and endless space are restful, but our hearts remember the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh and the convenience of shops right out on the sides of the street.
  • We like the predictability of life here, but miss the spontaneity of our previous one.
  • We love hanging out with our family here, but miss our family there.
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
  • Sweet corn and juicy steaks are so delicious, but our tongues miss the flavorful Khmer dishes.
  • Stores in America are full of everything you could possibly need, but there was something special about finding that one item you hadn’t seen in ages and didn’t know if you’d see again.
  • Team life can be tiring at times, but our hearts ache for a deeper sense of community and connection.
  • Loving the cooler weather, but it was so much easier planning for only one season of clothing than it is now, trying to buy for four seasons.

Sometimes just identifying the paradox in your transition can help you move forward.  One of the biggest paradoxes I had to work through was our identity as overseas workers.  Life in Cambodia had many times been stressful and extremely difficult, but we had found great purpose in our work there.  There was the sense that we were doing a great work that people admired and supported.  Our kids were getting exposed to amazing things and were living that wonderful and diverse third culture experience.

Upon our return, I had to ask, “Who am I if I’m not doing that work overseas?  Are we settling for less than what we were called to be? Are my kids missing out on a meaningful cross-cultural experience that I see my friends’ kids still having?”

While we lived in Cambodia, I missed life back here in the States.  I would see pictures of family gatherings or school events, and in a way, long for that environment for my kids.  Now that my kids are in the States, I have grieved the missed experiences and growth in Cambodia.  I have discovered that no matter where you live, a part of you longs for the other side.  That is part of the paradox.

It has been almost a year since our return, and slowly, the ache has begun to fade.  The ache of loss and disorienting situations.  The loneliness of feeling like an outsider in your own home culture.  These things are part of this huge transition.  We still feel Asia tapping us on the shoulder, beckoning us back, and at times we have wondered if we made the right decision to leave.

As we have settled, though, into our home in Southwest Minnesota, we have seen that God is at work here, as well as in Cambodia.  It may not be the most exotic location, but He has fully met us here.

I don’t know where you are at in your re-entry journey, but a helpful exercise at any stage is to make a list of the paradoxes you have faced and/or are currently facing.  Sharing it with a spouse or a close friend is important.  Writing them down helped me tremendously.  It doesn’t mean things suddenly get easier or more understandable, but it can help you to see why you at times feel so torn and emotional.  We have had the privilege of living across the world, and there will always be a part of us that straddles both.

How has paradox helped you in transition?

10 Comments

  1. Danielle Wheeler May 5, 2015

    It’s SO powerful to articulate the paradoxes we live in.  Yeah, it doesn’t “fix” the tension, but there is a release of tension in being able to identify and name it.  You articulated your paradoxes beautifully.  There’s a release of tension for people to read and have you articulate their own tensions.

    And yay for DAR! 🙂

    1. Danielle May 6, 2015

      DAR is highly recommended for sure! I’m glad for this space at Velvet Ashes to talk about the many sides of our life as overseas workers.

  2. Elizabeth May 5, 2015

    I’m so glad you wrote about this Danielle! We need to give ourselves permission to embrace the paradox! Physicist Niels Bohr is quoted as saying, “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” This is as true of quantum mechanics as it is of transition. As you say, “Sometimes just identifying the paradox in your transition can help you move forward.”

    This is so true. Sometimes we struggle when we cannot reconcile our contradictory facts and feelings (or, in the arena of theology, reconcile contradictory Biblical passages). In my own life I’ve found that’s it’s easier (in the end, not in the beginning!) to simply accept the paradox of two seemingly opposing truths than to attempt to force them into one truth and lose my faith. Niels Bohr is also quoted as having said “The opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth.” That kind of thinking has just really helped me in my love for God, my study of the Bible, and in my processing of my past, not to mention my ability to offer grace to other people!

    This is possibly my favorite quote from the post: “As we have settled, though, into our home in Southwest Minnesota, we have seen that God is at work here, as well as in Cambodia.  It may not be the most exotic location, but He has fully met us here.” Truly God is everywhere, and able to meet us in all places. That was one of my fears in moving to Cambodia, that God would not be here, that He would not meet me here. Yet He has! We are both living the truth of Psalm 139:7-10 — me here in Cambodia, and you in Minnesota. (These are the places He meets us in the present, for who knows what the future holds for either of us.)

    I can never escape from your Spirit!

    I can never get away from your presence!8 

    If I go up to heaven, you are there;

    if I go down to the grave, you are there.

    If I ride the wings of the morning,

    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,

     even there your hand will guide me,

    and your strength will support me.

    I’m so thankful for a God like that!

    1. Danielle May 6, 2015

      Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful and meaningful words, Elizabeth. I love the comparison between quantum physics and our normal paradoxical lives. I will have to write that down!

  3. Elizabeth May 6, 2015

    Also I think this is really important: “I was trained really well for how to stay on the field.  I had no training in how to return home, however.  Being handed a re-entry book and given a one-hour seminar on the actual logistics of leaving our organization obviously didn’t even begin to prepare us.” This is more of an organizational/member care issue, but you’re pointing out a very definite weakness here! You’re right, we are trained for how to stay on the field, not on how to return. Ouch! Hopefully stories like these will help turn the organization tide.

    1. Danielle May 6, 2015

      Vandenn and I thought a lot about this after we made decision to leave. We had been working all those years to keep teammates on the field and wondered what we could’ve done differently in supporting their return. Thankfully our org recognizes that gap in care and points us to MTI, a place dedicated to transition and change.

  4. Julie May 6, 2015

    I just returned to the US six days ago from living in Phnom Penh for over two years. It’s so helpful to read these words and know that you KNOW.

    1. Danielle Krouch May 6, 2015

      Wow. Six days ago! The transition is big. There is so much that I miss about Cambodia. I hope you have some space to process this change.

  5. Monica F May 17, 2015

    I loved this post.  I am still feeling disoriented after leaving our home in East Asia 9 months ago, with every intention of going back this Fall.  A few months into our sabbatical we realized that we needed to delay our return to Asia to allow my husband more time in finishing his PhD and for us to continue un-rushing our life.  We’ll be going back to Asia this summer for a one month visit though… to say goodbye to our friends and team mates who live in our small rural town there.  It will be hard to go back and say ‘goodbye’, not knowing when and if we would ever return to live there.  A lot of re-entry going on, on both sides of the world.

    1. Danielle Krouch May 17, 2015

      I am praying now for your goodbyes–especially hard in uncertainty.

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