Reverse culture shock is real.
Each time I return back to the States, I feel like a perfect stranger once again in a place I’ve called home for almost 36 years.
By now, after ten years of travel, I know what to expect when it comes to reverse culture shock. But can anyone be truly prepared for the bewilderment? For Jesus to truly be the only one that really understands the journey your heart was on?
This time I truly wasn’t ready for the shock of American culture. Everything is the same as before–yet in ways so different. So what has changed besides the gas prices and food inflation?!
Well, the problem isn’t that my home country is radically changing, but that I had changed. Again.
I missed this. Why do I wish I wasn’t here?
After the four-hour bus ride from Aarhus, Denmark to Copenhagen, two-hour flight to Amsterdam, ten-hour flight to Michigan, and I hopped on a three-hour flight to St. Louis. I wobbled and swayed under the weight of too many bags as I stumbled out of baggage claim.
Warm embraces and the unfortunate familiar humidity of the Midwest greeted me. I was happy to be home after the two-hour car ride that finally carried me home to the great state of Illinois.
I’d missed my family greatly, missed some of my closest friends, missed my easy way of living–like a car with automatic transmission. I was absolutely ready for familiar food (even though I know now American food stinks) and my own comfy bed.
But I soon came to realize spending three months in a foreign culture again has some strange effects on your former understanding of “familiar.”
I’m not all here
During the last two weeks, it’s been hard to be present at home.
And the truth is, I haven’t.
I’ve tried to escape from this place in ways, and from oozing, searing reverse culture shock. I’m slowly coming to realize a pretty sizeable chunk of my heart is still racing around the streets from many places my feet walked on over these last few years.
How do you explain that to people? Or make someone understand everything that happened in those places? How can I tell them about holding those beautiful people in my arms, or what it felt like to worship in another language? Or to see the grace of God spill out in torrents over people I’ll never see again in my life?
How are there words for things like that?
It’s an eerie feeling, this displacement.
Loving voices around me always ask, “How was your trip? I bet it was an amazing experience! What was the best part?”
And even as I stand there trying to speak, I still get utterly speechless inside of me. I try to fill my mouth with words, but overwhelming emotion floods me. My heart races, and mostly tears swell.
How can I explain it to you?
“I… it……… was an incredible experience,” is all that pitifully tumbles out.
I go off about the sightseeing or the food and how brilliant the people I met were. I try giving reassuring facial expressions, and everyone in response always gives an empathetic smile, and I then struggle to turn the conversation back around on them.
No one ever really notices. But as they launch off onto everything they’d been doing this past summer, I feel like I return to watching a TV screen in front of me.
What I Don’t Need
I’m currently staring at all my suitcases still packed with things I really haven’t even touched in two weeks.
It’s utterly overwhelming sometimes to remember when I grew accustomed to wearing the same two pants and the same few shirts every single day. And compared to most foreign women, even that was an abundance of clothing.
Truth is, it wasn’t hard doing that. I actually loved it. I don’t need all the clothes I have in America. And forget clothing: things I don’t need litter my borrowed room at my mom’s.
Mostly they’re just for comfort, for security. Mostly because in America that’s all we know.
But here I am two weeks stateside, full-on in reverse culture shock, just now coming to better terms with the onslaught of feelings. I’m starting to make conversations about experiences overseas without tearing up, but it definitely takes some patience to get to this point. (Find those good listening friends!)
And the fact remains that the ugly, panic-inducing, gut-wrenching feeling everyone has coined as “reverse culture shock” actually is a legitimate thing that takes a lot of prayer and intentionality to work through.
Allow yourself grace, global workers, through the whole process, even if it gets ugly-hard.
Reverse culture shock slides issues before my face that I don’t want to forget; things I shouldn’t forget.
REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK: Truth in the Loss
But for now, the biggest thing that I want to note about reverse culture shock: The same faithful God who called me with a purpose to the nations is the same God Who called me back to America unexpectedly.
If He really is who I believe Him to be, then regardless of my emotions, I know He hasn’t left me.
I know that He has a purpose and plan for my life.
I used to struggle with thinking I would miss that one big purpose. But I’ve come realize our purpose in life isn’t one big event that we’re climbing towards.
Our purpose here on earth is to love God and love people while we’re here on this earth. However we can, wherever we can, whatever it costs us personally.
When God is the One setting the vision of our hearts, we’re not missing Him. He’s dwelling there with us.
This is transcendence, this is peace in reverse culture shock, or anywhere: I want nothing but Your presence, God. I am filled. Wherever I am. When waiting for the next steps, or the next place you send me.
Within all the crazy radical, heart-wracking, humbling, joyous wilderness experiences God walks you through, be a man or woman after his own heart. Keep going, even if you fall. Keep seeking, keep growing, keep crying out to him no matter what.
Do anything it takes to stay in the “keep.”
Global workers, I see you.
Lydia Anne-Julene Imhoff recently returned from serving as a community leader for YWAM Campaigns in Aarhus, Denmark, where she partnered with Awakening Europe. She studied at the Iris Harvest School of Missions. This raw, beautiful post originally appeared on Facebook, and is gratefully used with permission.