Wednesday, June 6, 2012

RE-ENTRY

The contrasting worlds of 'not enough' and 'too much' weigh on our hearts and minds

Yesterday, I sent a follow-up email to our Bike Kenya 2012 cycling team.  I share part of it here because it may offer an insight into what is frequently experienced when a person returns from spending time in another culture, particularly in a developing country.  The experience is called re-entry or reverse culture shock.  Below, I've expanded a little on what I shared with our team:

I don't know about you, but I'm experiencing re-entry issues. I miss Kenya and the friends we made there.  I miss our team.  I am struggling to reengage fully with daily duties and ongoing relationships.  I am having trouble appreciating usual conversational topics--cars, clothing, gadgets, concerts, sports, politics, etc.  For now, these seem rather shallow and unimportant.
All this is normal.  It's part of re-entry, or what is called reverse culture shock.  We had an incredible experience.  We were exposed to and immersed in a culture and economy so very different from what is normal in USA.  We saw inspiring things.  We met wonderful people.  We also saw troubling things and situations.  Impressions about life there and at home formed in us that we couldn’t quite understand or articulate.  Then, all of a sudden, we're back in our homeland where there seems to be so much of everything for everyone--with too much to spare.
Welcome to re-entry.  The worlds of "not enough" and "too much" weigh on our hearts and minds. Our experience of being there and being back here can change the way we see things and feel about the way things are valued and done at home.  Frankly, it can be uncomfortable for you and for the people who care most about you.  Just be aware.


If you have not already done so, find somebody (or somebodies) to talk to who has/have also experienced this and who can offer some support and encouragement.  Journal your way through it.  Pray your way through it.  Hey, even bike your way through it.  Just don't not deal with it or try to deal with it alone.
Having experienced this a few times, I find that is helps me to find some way to serve others locally and tangibly.  Serving people close at hand who need support and encouragement is one the ways our head and heart find a new place of meaning, perspective, expression, understanding, resolution, clarity, and focus forward.
I look at what we have on our hands here as a gift and a burden. It was a blessing to have this unique cross-cultural experience. But this gift leaves us with something of a burden. What shall we do we do with what we experienced? Unlike a souvenir, we can't just put it on a shelf or pack it away. It's somehow with us in our thinking, valuing, choosing and acting every day.
My experience in India in 2007 ultimately found a forward and positive expression several years later as I began to work with International Child Care Ministries in development and communications. Through this role, I am able to impact lives and some of the situations and systems that initially left me troubled and feeling overwhelmed.  May there be some creative ways for each of us to offer grace to others--and change the world just a bit--from this experience.
I do not pray that you will return to "normal," so that this will have been one more passing experience in a string of life experiences--"been there, done that, got the t-shirt."   Instead, I pray that you and I will ultimately be able to use our unique and wonderful experience(s) to become compassionate and graceful advocates in tangible ways in the days ahead.  You have my prayers.  You also have my email and my phone number.
Thanks for your partnership in this endeavor. I am convinced we were brought together uniquely for this mission and experience and that the good that comes from it within us and for others will have multiplied impacts for years to come.
-- John Franklin Hay

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