So there’s this thing called reverse culture shock and it’s kind of the worst. I have heard people say that it’s not real or that it’s actually depression, but I’m here to say that it is very real and very painful. Reverse culture shock comes when you’ve gone on an amazing trip, likely overseas, that has changed your outlook on life and on the world. You get home and you realize that it doesn’t feel like home anymore, not really. It feels like part of your heart is still in the place you left and with the people you left. You feel broken, confused, misplaced.
Going to Greece I never really felt culture shock. I should have considering I moved from midsize Spokane where I lived in a 3 bedroom house with my parents and my younger sister to big city Thessaloniki where I lived in a two bedroom apartment with three girls I had never met before in a city where I didn’t speak the language. Coming home three months later was a another story. I had only vaguely heard of reverse culture shock, and it seemed to me that it only happened to people who had gone to a third world country and when they got back home they had a hard time readjusting to all the luxuries that they enjoy in America. Contrary to my understanding culture shock is so much more than readjusting to all the things that you do have.
The best way to explain reverse culture shock is that it is like trying to fit a piece of a puzzle in a spot where it doesn’t fit; either it is going to break or you’re going to have to try a different spot.
December 19th, 2013 I returned home after spending three months in Greece. During my time there I built stronger friendships than I had ever had back home; I had learned how to live in community, something that I had always desired but never experienced; I learned to relax and let life happen, to enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation with close friends, and to always be up for an adventure. Now I was home in freezing cold, icy Spokane with my family who were all curled up on the couch with the flu. I had hoped to hit the ground back home running, to do thinks to keep my mind occupied, to be able to reconnect with my old friends. What I didn’t expect to happen was to go to church my first Sunday back and leave service crying because it was like everyone had forgotten I had ever been gone. I didn’t realize that when I came back home would still be there but I wouldn’t be able to fit in the same roles and friendships that I had before I left.
For several months the only thing I could think of doing was jumping on a plane and taking off. The hardest part was that my family never really understood what I was going through. I had lost the best friendships, the best community that I had ever had in exchange for a church where I didn’t feel I belonged and friends who didn’t seem to care. My family didn’t realize that I didn’t need advice I needed support and community. They didn’t realize how thoroughly my heart had been broken, it felt like it had been ripped in half and the other half was sitting in Greece in my apartment with my friends at my church. Then I began to see new people come in and take my place and with each Facebook post and each Snapchat my heart broke a little. In all honesty it took about a year before I could see the pictures on Facebook and not have my heart hurt.
It took months before I found a new place for me to fit. I joined a college group at another church and built new friendships. I stepped back from my positions volunteering at the church until I figured out where I would fit. I stepped out of my comfort zone and spoke in front of my entire church and a youth group at another church. I chatted on Facebook with the friends I had left frequently at the beginning and less as time went on and I began to feel like I fit again.
Not everyone is going to experience reverse culture shock so deeply. For some, coming back home is the easy part because they have things to look forward to.
It is okay to mourn the loss of close relationships or the feeling of being somewhere for the sole purpose of serving. It’s okay to come back home and see all the things that need to change. What is not okay is pushing your need to change aside in favor of breaking a little in order to fit back into a place that you don’t belong. God didn’t give you the desire that you have to change the world only to squash it in a job that is miserable or a life that is simply passing you by. He gave you those desires so that you can change the world. So that you can live a life that is worth getting up each morning to ask what adventure that day might bring.
So go out and pursue the desires that God has given you. For me, the desire is to change the world or at least my circle of influence. Coming back I feared that my overwhelming desire for adventure was simply me trying to find a way out of the hard reality that my life would never again be like it was in Greece, but over time I came to realize that my desire for adventure was given to me by God so that I could GO. What desire has God given you that you have been too afraid to pursue?
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
Before you were born I set you apart
and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”
“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”
The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. 8 And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 1:5-8, New Living Translation)