Transition, re-entry, cultural adjustment—no matter what the label, cross-cultural living involves parts of ourselves dying on a regular basis. When I first moved overseas, I didn’t fully comprehend all of me that was dying when I boarded the plane. The same held true three years ago when I boarded a flight home from Ireland. From vocabulary to favorite foods to friendships—loss came each time the plane left the runway.
I assumed I was prepared for reentry; I was anticipating tears and confusion and unknowns. What I didn’t entirely understand was the death that came with the loss of life abroad, of a career, of a part of my identity.
For all of the crazy that my years overseas entailed, I loved living in a foreign country. The challenge of learning a new culture, the sense of accomplishment when I finally completed an ordinary task without feeling exhausted—I learned to thrive on these moments, to succeed and adapt in a new place. Now I have roots, which feels comforting and odd at the same time.
Occasionally I ponder my current life as I commute to work. How long have I lived in this part of Southern California? How easy is it for me to find my way to various places here? What have I explored recently? I analyze my adjustment to a new place in my passport country the same way I did when I lived in a foreign country. I know how to navigate to most places. I feel less out of place and more at home. Slowly but surely my new life grows and flourishes, even though my life abroad has “died.”
When I boarded the plane in Dublin that March morning, I knew I was saying goodbye to my career. Now I’ve been home long enough that I no longer refer to myself as a “former” cross-cultural worker. Currently I’m a “customer service representative,” which doesn’t sound nearly as glamorous or exciting. My stories from work revolve around shipping issues and inputting data, instead of language barriers and lost luggage. A cross-cultural team certainly doesn’t function quite the same way as an office team, even one at a small company; however, I’m still part of a team, still working with others to accomplish a goal. My skills are needed, and my knowledge is put to use. While the days of preparing for small group studies and organizing a kids club seem distant, the Father is gracious, and I see Him using my work to stretch me, to grow me in new areas.
Perhaps what I understood the least was how deeply my identity was connected to what I did while living overseas. The death of who I was and what I did have allowed for growth, for new life to flourish. More than ever I understand the crazy which is life in the US. I see and experience first-hand the pressure to be all things to all people. To live a certain way. To meet all the expectations all of the time. I certainly fail to meet these cultural expectations; however, I understand my home culture more. The busyness of my life now has given me grace for all who say, “No, I can’t make it tonight.” Because now I say that too as I learn to give grace to myself. My empathy for my co-workers who work full-time and take care of families has increased as I have found myself struggling to keep up with work and home and any sort of social life.
But where I have grown the most is in trusting the Father. I thought my trust in Him was deep and strong, and it was. However, as I have walked this road of reentry, I have learned to trust the Father in new ways. To trust Him to give me patience when the work day is long and the phone call is difficult. To trust Him to provide comfort when I don’t understand what is happening in my life. To trust Him to help me when daily life begins to overwhelm me. Learning to daily trust Him no matter where I am, no matter what I am doing, has been humbling, yet I’m thankful for the growth He has given as I have trusted Him with “normal” life in my passport country.
In what areas of your life did you experience “death” as you transitioned to a different phase in your cross-cultural journey? How did you see new “life” come through the transition?