A lot of preparation goes into moving to another country and culture shock is expected, but when we are returning to our home country we feel we are coming ‘home’, therefore we think we know what to expect. Often, though (and to varying degrees, depending on how long we were away, how impactful our time was, what we experienced, how much adjustment to the host culture was, and various other factors), we find we experience a kind of ‘reverse culture shock’ when we get home.
This can range from finding it difficult to go into large stores, being overwhelmed by the abundance of things available (even to the extent of experiencing physical nausea), feeling that you don’t ‘fit in’ anymore, feeling no-one can understand or relate to you, feeling alone and out of place. For an accurate description of how most missionaries feel when returning home, please check out this article.
These feelings can happen when we come home for short visits, or furloughs. When we return permanently, the feelings can increase:
- Moving back is nothing like coming back for a short home visit.
- We have a lot of questions. Setting up a home again – what telephone plan, what cable or internet company, where to buy things?
- All kinds of things have changed since we left or were home last. Sometimes we feel like we’ve been living on another planet or people look at us as if we have!
- We experience a lot of losses – our gifts were known, well-used and respected in the host country. Here no-one seems to care. The type of ministry we do changes, we can experience loss of identity, frustration and feel like our gifts are not being used.
- Due to changes in our family, or new location when we return home, we might be part of a whole new church where no-one knows us. Again, frustration, loss of identity, loss of friends – the feeling of having to start all over again.
Of particular concern are our kids, who have been born and/or have grown up in a different country, have traveled a lot, have been privy to adult conversations, been exposed to a lot of teaching or life experience with social justice issues – we are concerned about how they will adjust to the home nation, which might not be ‘home’ to them at all. We have touched on some of those issues in our TCK/MK section. Please check the resources available there.
It is important to prepare yourselves and your family as much as possible before leaving the field. If you have the time (that is, you do not have to leave the field unexpectedly and suddenly) then take time to read about some things you can expect, be in contact with people at home, try to get things set up a bit before you arrive, possibly travel a bit on the way home to provide a break between one place and another.
It is also important to ‘leave well’. Make sure you are debriefed before you leave – that is, talk to leaders or peers or spiritual mentors on the field about your time there, what was good, what was hard, how you feel about leaving, what worries you might have about returning home, what you need prayer for, etc. and let them pray for you. And make sure, as much as possible, that you do not leave with anything left undone, particularly in relationships.
Below are some websites and books that might be helpful. Many of them touch on all these issues. We are also available to listen, encourage and help by email. Contact us to speak to someone who has experienced re-entry.
Though we are already Canadian, sometimes when returning to Canada (especially after having lived overseas for many years) we find we are out of touch with a lot of things… the travel.gc.ca website has a lot of good, up-to-date information that can be helpful.
Relocate Canada is a website with all kinds of information on different Canadian cities, finding a doctor, bringing your pets back with you, and other useful things to know.
Compass House is a Christian group home for young adult Missionary Kids (MKs) who are returning to live in the US after living abroad, especially for those whose parents are still living overseas. Compass House is a non-profit organization that is completely dependent upon the gifts of God’s people to operate. It is located on the grounds of D & D Missionary Homes, in Pinellas Park between the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida.
ReBoot Re-Entry Camps – Providing a safe place for Canadian MKs to review their life stories, be refreshed through worship and peer relationships in order to re-enter and navigate the transition to Canadian life and culture with God’s grace.
Re-Entry: Making the Transition from Missions to Life at Home – Peter Jordan. Available on various websites
The Art of Coming Home – Craig Storti -- http://www.craigstorti.com/book3.html (also available on Amazon)
Burn-up or Splash Down: Surviving the Culture Shock of Re-entry – Marion Knell -- https://www.ivpress.com/burn-up-or-splash-down (also available on Amazon)
Returning Well: Your Guide to Thriving Back “Home” After Serving Cross-Culturally – Melissa Chaplin -- https://www.returningwell.com/ (also available on other websites)
The Reentry Team – Caring for Your Returning Missionaries – Neal Pirolo. Available on various websites
Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service by Amy Young, 2016 - Particularly helpful for any who are facing year long home assignments or repatriation. A book that should be read and used as a guide for preparing to leave – basically expanding R.A.F.T. into a plan of action starting several months in advance of departure.