8 Things I wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Moved back to the US

Letter to Returning Missionaries

To all of you who have recently returned after living overseas, you have a special place in my heart because not too long ago, I was walking in your shoes.  So here it is…my letter to those returning from the field to tell you what I wish someone had told me when I first returned.

8 Things I wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Moved Back After Living Overseas

1)  “I am sorry.”

I am sorry that this next season of your life is going to be a really hard one!  {I could say it in a nicer way…but I don’t think it will help to sugar coat it}.  Maybe not for everyone, but for most people who’ve lived overseas, moving back to their home country is the hardest part of the whole experience {yes, even harder then dealing with the crazy aspects of living in another country}.

“for most people who’ve lived overseas, moving back to their home country is the hardest part of the whole experience.”

I am very sorry that you are finding yourself in this season because it is a hard journey.  Not a journey that many people will understand, and not a journey I would wish on someone {but a journey that I am thankful for…now a few years down the road}.

I tell you this because I wish someone had told me that it is normal for the transition to be very hard.  I wasn’t going crazy.  Other people have found moving back to the US after living overseas to be quite a challenge too. 

I am also sorry for the hard things you are bringing back that others may not be saying I’m sorry for.  I want to take a minute to acknowledge some of those things.  You are not alone in this journey even if you feel like it.

  • I am sorry for the grief of leaving all the aspects of your life as it has been.
  • I am sorry for the loneliness you may feel for a while.
  • I am sorry for the days you have to watch your kids sort out the confusion of reentry.
  • I am sorry for the stories you would love to share but don’t get too because few people will sit and listen long enough, or they are stories that might be misunderstood in your new context.
  • I am sorry for the loss of friendships overseas…and the loss again in the states as you realize that old friendships may not return to what they were.
  • I am sorry if you feel like you church or supporters or agency have forgotten about you now that you are no longer living overseas.
  • I am sorry for the days when you feel like you’ve gone from having an amazing job that makes a difference in the world to not knowing what you are supposed to do next.
  • I am sorry if you feel like you are trying to clean up a mess someone else has made in your life.
  • I am sorry for the hard things that may have happened overseas.  The things you aren’t sure how to talk about.  The things you aren’t sure what to make of.  I am sorry for the complicated and painful parts of your story that may not have a perfect ending.
  • I am sorry if you’d really rather not be in the states, but are finding yourself here anyways.
  • I am sorry for the way your emotional and mental health may be affected by reentry.
  • I am sorry for the things you left unfinished and for the part of you that is still in another country.
  • I am sorry if God seems very far away and your faith feels out of whack in this new reality.
  • I am sorry for all the moments of awkwardness and confusing as you sort out your identity.

I am sorry for the hard season you find yourself in, but there is hope.  You may someday wake up and find that this season has had moments you are thankful for.

2)  This season is not forever.

I know it may feel that way, but hang in there.  Give it time.  How much time?  I wish I could tell you.  It’s different for everyone, but it will take longer then you would like it to.  For a long while, I felt like I wasn’t overseas that long so why is this so hard.  So whether you define short as six months or three years, it can take longer than you think it will to feel like you are in a place of thriving and not just surviving.

Just keep living each day {even when they seem very boring and unexciting} and pursing growth and healing…and eventually {a very long eventually} you will wake up in a different place.  Trust in the power of time. It really can work miracles. 

If there is one thing I would say about re-entry it is:  you can’t rush it.  You just have to keep living each day {even when they seem very boring and unexciting} and pursing growth and healing…and eventually {a very long eventually} you will wake up in a different place.  Trust in the power of time {as long as you are pursing growth and healing}.  It really can work miracles.  I wish someone had told me it would take 5+ years for me to feel like I was back to a place of emotionally thriving.  I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself to speed up the process.

3) You are grieving.

I wish someone had told me that I needed to give myself permission to grieve even if I wanted to jump over that process.

Make a list of all the things you’ve recently lost or given up in the last year.  It’s probably a long one.  Grief is confusing and unpredictable.  One day you are doing great, the next day you are crying because you can’t figure out how to load a dishwasher or operate a soda machine in a restaurant in the US.  Grief is not fun to live through, but it does eventually become less.  I wish someone had told me to talk to people who have recently experienced grief about their experience.  As I’ve done this, I’ve realized that we have some similarities in our journey.  I wish someone had told me sooner that I needed to give myself permission to grieve even if I wanted to jump over that process {which I found you really can’t do…the grief shows up in all kinds of random ways anyways}.  Chances are those around you will not be making room for you to grieve.  They will have moved on, and assumed you have too, but make time and space for appropriately grieving what you’ve lost.  It may be hard, but it will help.

4) Give yourself permission to just be.

I know that for a long time people have looked to you as the person who’s supposed to have it figured out.  Here is permission to not have your whole life figured out in one week or one month or even two years.  Here is permission to just survive for a while.  Here is permission to just do what you are able for today.  Here is permission to celebrate the little accomplishments {even if they don’t seem big to other people}.  Here is permission to not have all the answers about what happened overseas or what you are doing next.  Here is permission to take a season focused on recovery and not on serving.  Here is permission to just be yourself {even if it is a messy and confused you}.

I wish someone had told me that the answer to re-entry was not figuring out something to do that would give me a new identity, but rather just being myself in this new place.

I wish someone had told me that the answer to re-entry was not figuring out something to do that would give me a new identity {whether that looks like a job, a volunteer opportunity, a new church to attend, a field of study to pursue, the right neighborhood to live in} but rather just being myself in this new place.  I needed permission to just be for a while without the pressure to have a cool answer to the question “what’s new with you?” Here is permission for you to embrace living in the awkward and confusing season of you life.  Learning to be someone who is OK with living in the midst of the messiness of life is a powerful gift that re-entry can give you.

5)  Sometimes re-entry can affect your emotional and mental health.

If you find yourself experiencing emotions or dealing with depression or anxiety that you have never dealt with before, this is sometimes a part of the re-entry journey {not for everyone but for some}. I wish someone had told me that it’s not uncommon for expats in re-entry to find themselves dealing with burnout, depression, anxiety, PTSD or PTSD type symptoms, etc.  Stress has real physiological and emotional effects on our lives.  So, if you are feeling like your emotional and mental health seem a bit off kilter, you are not alone.  Perhaps you don’t feel like you’ve experienced anything all that traumatic that would warrant what you are feeling now, but the reality is that living internationally is a really high stress job, and it’s OK {and even good} to recognize that and bring the tools into your life that will help you build your resilience and process your experiences well.   I wish someone had told me that I was not out of the ordinary to be dealing with depression and PTSD type symptoms.  That I was not going crazy.  That this was only a season.  That I wasn’t doing something wrong that was causing me to feel this way.  That I didn’t need to feel ashamed {more about that in this blog post} that I was struggling.  That I was not less of a Christian because I was struggling.

I wish someone had given me permission to be proactive if I found myself struggling.  While it’s true that time is a great healer, some things don’t just get better over time.  Many expats in re-entry find themselves benefiting from some professional guidance.  So if you are struggling here is your permission to be proactive…GO…do it!  Whatever this looks like for you.  Find a counselor, psychiatrist, physician, mental health professional who can help you figure out what’s going on and equip you with the tools you need to work through how stress is currently affecting your life.  I wish someone had told me sooner that it’s OK to find a counselor.  {A little secret I’ve discovered since…most expats in re-entry I know have benefited from a good counselor.}

Sometimes we wonder: is what I’m experiencing normal re-entry stuff or is it more than that?  We wait to seek out a professional because we think maybe it will get better, maybe this is just reverse culture shock.  If you are wondering this, here is my suggestion:  make an appointment with a good counselor and ask them.  {here’s a directory of therapists who have experience working with expats in re-entry}  They will be able to talk about your symptoms and see what might be going on.  It’s better to err on the side of caution, and if you find out it’s just normal re-entry stuff then you will probably find tools to help with that too.

6) The re-entry season is an opportunity to connect with God in new ways.

One of the greatest gifts I’ve received from my re-entry journey is a deeper connection that I have formed with God through this complicated season.  Don’t let me paint a wrong picture, it has not been a nice warm journey with God all the time.  There have been some very rocky places, but sometimes when you can’t explain what’s going on inside of you to others…it leaves room for talking with Jesus about it {or yelling at Him on occasion}.  I wish someone had told me that it’s OK to be honest with God about whatever it is you are feeling.  {Someone actually did tell me this eventually, and it really did help}.  You may be really angry with Him or feeling really distant from Him.  That is OK.  Be honest with God.  He can take it.

I also wish someone had told me that your spiritual life may look different then it has before.  You may for a season feel differently about your relationship with God.  You may feel distant.  You may feel a lack of excitement.  You may find that the ways you used to connect don’t help.  That’s OK.  I am so thankful for people in my life who encouraged me to find new ways to connect with God, and to give myself grace to just be who I was for a while.  I have also been amazed to sit back and watch as slowly, in subtle ways, over time, God has shown up for me in ways that I have needed.  And this is why I can say that I have now been able to connect with Him in a deeper way because in times of my life when not even I knew what I needed He has shown me in a little yet beautiful ways that I am not alone on this journey.

7) You may never understand exactly what happened on the field.

{This one is especially for those who are coming back after complicated situations}.  I know you would like to understand fully what happened, but I wish someone had told me that it may never all make sense. {I might have tried less to figure it out}.  You may never know why.  You may never know the answers to the what ifs.  You may never know what the effects of your ministry will be.  It’s OK to wrestle through your questions because they are good questions to ponder, but you probably won’t ever know all the answers.  Eventually it won’t matter so much.

Along with this, if you’ve had a complicated experience sometimes a challenging part of re-entry is the anxiety that comes with having to see people or places again who are connected to your former life overseas.  This is something I get asked about a lot:  “What do I do?  My former coworker is coming into town, and I just don’t know if I have the emotional energy to see them.”  It may not even be that you had a bad relationship with that person it’s just that it’s more then you can handle right now.  I wish someone had affirmed that it was OK to take some space from the people or things that are hard until you are ready.  If you can’t say no altogether, meet in a neutral place for a set amount of time.  Then you know what you are signing up for.

8)  You will not be the same person ever again.

That is a good thing!  I know it is hard today to see the good in all this, but one of the best things that someone did tell me when I first moved back was:  “There are things you will gain out of this season of your life that you can’t gain any other way.”  It is true.  Re-entry is hard.  But it has given me gifts that I wouldn’t exchange even if I could get out of living through that season of my life.  One day {in what will probably seem like forever from right now} you will wake up in a new place…realizing that you have gradually been sorting out your identity and working through and processing things.  And your hard work has paid off!

So…hang in there friend!  Good can come out of this complicated season.

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Ruthie

Ruthie formerly served cross culturally in Central America. She had her own rocky reentry back to the USA about eight years ago. She currently lives in the Midwest where she enjoys volunteering with refugee families, shopping international grocery stores, and drinking cups of coffee with friends.

115 CommentsLeave a comment

  • We are about to re-enter our country after 7mths living overseas. We planned a long-term ministry here and several things have come into play forcing us to leave early, with a traumatic experience while here on top of that. This was a very good read for me today, thank you so much for sharing!

  • Great words of advice! Wish i had had the privilege of reading them upon my re-entries. It is also amazing how so much of the advice still applies to major stress almost 4.5 yrs back in home culture!!! Thanks for sharing! Plan to pass along to my other M friends.

    • I’m 3 years ‘back home’ now after almost 10 years of cross cultural work (most of it in the states in large cities) with 6 months overseas — and I agree that it’s a long process. Longer than I expected and sometimes more challenging the longer it goes because it becomes more permanent. Helpful read.

  • Thank you. I read it with tears in my eyes. Our first time back in the States (after 3 1/2 years overseas) was the toughest time I have yet had in my life. We returned overseas for 4 years, and the next time we spent a year in the States it was better; we knew what to expect. Thank you for writing about it.

    • Jackie,
      Thanks! Yes, Re-entry is challenging. That’s really the reason we’ve started this blog…to help people who are preparing for this process.

  • Really helpful! I could have used it a year and a half ago……but it’s still incredibly helpful now! I love that you said you don’t have to have an answer to “What’s new with you?”…..it’s a question that plagues me because I never know what to say……or really have anything to say.

    • Thanks Karisa…yes…that’s a hard question. What’s new with you? Perhaps because it could imply that your value is linked to what you do. Glad you found it helpful.

  • My family didn’t serve overseas, but in a disaster area in the US and many miles from “home” for almost 3 years. It was an amazing experience and our re-entry to “normal” life has not been easy – even now, being about 3 years out from our time in the field. This article rings so true for my family and our experience as well. Thanks so much!

  • This is a very real and honest look at what re entry is like! Thanks for sharing and should there be anyone from the UK reading this, there is support! Send me a message and I can point you in the right direction!

  • This is beyond good! We were overseas about 32 years… been back in the States for 9, and still haven’t grown any roots… and so plan to return to retire in our adopted country. Thank you so much for writing and publishing this! I have said and felt so many of these thoughts in the past 9 years, and still am experiencing them as if I came back yesterday.

    • 32 years is a very long time…I can’t imagine how challenging your re-entry has been. Thanks for sharing and Thanks for your feedback.

    • Jonathon – I thought my pondering living again in the country where we served was a little “over-the-top”, so I never mentioned it to anyone except my wife and son. We’ve been back from Asia for 8 years now, and I still mourn our leaving. My wife and I are along in years now, so my thought would be more that I would return to live there until I died.

  • Excellent post on re-entry, Ruthie! I also read it with tears in my eyes, as I’ve experienced every single thing you wrote about over the past year and 8 months after returning from the field in South America. I kept reiterating with a sound yes, yes, YES, to every thing you said! I will definitely be sharing this with friends who are also going through this process or are on the brink of re-entry. Specifically, I want to say thank you for the “permission to take a season to focus on healing/recovery and not serving”. Wow. I don’t think I’ve really intentionally done this since being back – I’m constantly still trying to figure out how/where to serve in my church, what my purpose/role is, and what on earth I’m supposed to being “doing” here, back in the US. I take this as a good word from the Lord to just BE! To allow myself a season of healing and recovery. Thank You!

    • Thanks Shay! Yes…the decision to take a season of healing and recovery is hard, but it for me was one of the best decisions I have ever made. So…here is permission to only do what nurtures you and provides rest and healing for however long you need…whatever that looks like for you! And way to go for having the courage to pursue becoming a healthier person (not that you weren’t healthy before…but we are all on a journey)…that is a gift the whole world needs.

  • Thanks for the post! We returned 5 months ago and lived like gypsies for about 3 months but just bought an house 2 months ago. I lived in Africa for 2.5 years before marriage, so this is my 2nd reentry but I found this round to be harder. We adopted while living overseas, so it’s our 7 year olds first entry and she is doing far better than us! God’s grace. I think something I would add to your post is for encouraged grace for spouses and children as somedays one may be ‘doing better’ than the other. We desire to go back overseas in a few years to another country for missionary work, but are desiring to thrive in the mean time and not make that our go to in our mind for peace or identity….but it’s hard. We were in a high risk situation for safety bc of the government, which is why we had to leave at a moments notice, but otherwise enjoyed it for the most part so I think that is adding to the struggle. Anyway, God is faithful and constant wherever we are! Thank you for your ministry to us misfits!

  • While I certainly understand re-entry can be a difficult time, the challenges can be minimized by the preparation the parents give their kids. If we emphasize the negative are we not conditioning the child to expect a horrible experience? Let’s be realistic but emphasize the good things. I am both an MK who grew up in Africa and returned to the USA when I was entering the 8th grade and I have also been a parent bringing my own kids back to the US after raising them in other countries. Sure I experienced a lot of the things you all have mentioned but looking back, I wouldn’t do anything differently. It has shaped my life and that of my kids in so many positive ways.

    • Thank you for this MK perspective. Yes…there is both a hard and good aspect to re-entry. As for children, it is good to have your perspective here. Since I don’t have children of my own, I have no experience in this area. Our goal with this blog is to focus more on how this impacts us as adults…there are several great resources for MK’s and helping them transition so that’s not our primary focus at Rocky Reentry. I appreciate your point that how we think about this will affect how our kids think about this.

  • Excellent. We spend 7 months a year in Mexico working with orphanages, teaching the children how to raise food and helping them put in gardens. Then we go home to raise money and live on our little farm up north. The constant change from one world to the other has been perplexing in the mental gymnastics required. This article is a huge help. Thank you for articulating the confusion and helping us understand what is happening between our ears and in our bodies.

  • Very good article on reentry. My wife and I served in So. Amer. for 38 years, three children born & raised there. Each time we returned for furlough, family went through many of the things you described, often not knowing how to express our feelings. About five years ago we relocated to US for part time retirement. Gradually we’ve attained a rhythm of life here, balancing good relationships with family, caring churches, our mission agency and news & small ministry with many friends we left behind. Our ‘retirement’ experience has been enhanced by our overseas experience, but not without certain stresses. Perhaps someone could address specific issues retirement aged ‘re-entrees’ face, though probably not much different from what you’ve described! Thanks for sharing so candidly!

  • I was forced to return to the US from Zambia after 4 years because I picked up 3 different kinds of parasites. That was 5 years ago and I’m still feeling everything listed above! I willingly gave up everything to go overseas and expected it to be my life’s work and now I’m back home just breathing air and taking up space with no direction and admittedly a little angry with God. Thanks for letting me know it’s not just me! Here’s a poem I wrote a few month after I got back.
    A New Song
    by Debra Lueck 3/2010

    Lord, you sent me out to far off lands
    Over crystal seas and desert sands

    To show your love to all the lost
    To tell them of your gift, the cross

    You asked me to give up what I’ve known
    To trust in you, and you alone

    So I stepped out in faith and love
    Accepting your guidance from above

    I did my best, I give my all
    To share the good news, to answer the call

    And in the course, and over time
    I loved them Lord, I made them mine

    Now it seems that you’ve closed that door
    And I’m left to wonder what’s in store

    This chapter of my life has past
    And I’m back here, I’m home at last

    But my heart is heavy, tattered and torn
    My body’s weary, my spirit worn

    So I come into your presence now
    On bended knee, I humbly bow

    Show me your love, mercy, and grace
    Wipe away the tears upon my face

    Renew me, Lord, this I pray
    Restore my strength and joy today

    Give me the courage to continue on
    Create in me a brand new song

    • Thanks so much for sharing your Debra. What a neat expression of your heart. Yes, it is a difficult road…when life takes a turn into the unexpected. Hang in there!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your poem. I have lots of heartaches and pains after we left UAE going to Paris. I had lots of bad memories in UAE one of those is losing my daughter to cancer. She was only 12 and I felt I died.
      With the poem you shared and the article of Ruthie, I knew it wasn’t only me who experienced pains and heartaches so thank you so much. God bless you.

    • I love your song and I feel you pain. It’s been 13 years since I came back from Japan — I was prepared to spend the rest of my life there (I went at age 60 and I’m 78 now) but it seems the Lord wanted me back here. I had a very hard time adjusting — all the electronic checkout things still confuse me. I stayed in touch with a few friends but know I will never see them again unless they come to see me. And the surprising thing is that a few months ago the Pastor and his wife that I worked with actually came to see me — it felt like we had never been separated by 12 years !! I still wish I could have stayed there, but I have rebuilt my life here. The Lord is good and I treasure the time I was in Japan. Blessings to you — we may never know the reasons why, but for me, I have peace where I am now. Hope you can find that peace too.

    • We are missionaries that have served 40 years and have returned to the U S. due to my husbands failing health and its been difficult. I read your poem and it spoke directly to my heart and situation. I would like to ask your permission…using your name as the author, of course….to add it to our next prayer/report letter to our churches. I will respect your decision whatever you say. God bless you.

  • An interesting thing just happened. This link was shared on Facebook by a fellow worker from our time in Asia – but it was also shared by one of the young people whom we worked with while we were there. He and his wife spent three years in America, spending weekends at my house. Their return to their home country has been difficult – and I think this was a mirror reflection of what the two of them went through. His sharing of the link is all the more poignant as the couple had adamantly denied they would have trouble returning.

  • Thanks Ruthie. I am about to re-enter the US after living in the Middle East for a year. You have addressed some of my biggest fears about re-entry and now I know I am not alone in this. And thank you for saying we may never have the answers to some of the grief that happened. I have actually even seen a counselor in my host country because of situations. I was afraid to go back and not have a way to continue to process because others who have not lived through situations overseas won’t understand. Thanks for the assurance that there is hope and I need to give myself the time to heal without worrying about what my friends and family in the States will think of my return.

  • Your letter made me cry. I felt there is finally someone out there who understands. We lived 15 years in Malaw, Africa and moved back to Finland two years ago. It has been a painful period. Thank you and bless you. Kirsi

  • Thanks so much for writing this! This has really resonated with me! Our family has moved back to the U.S after serving 19 years in East Africa. One advise a missionary shared with us when we first returned is to not to give up on our ‘Missionary Calling” and allow God to continue to use us in this new place he has placed us in. This has not been easy but it has given some purpose to each day.

  • Thanks for the reminders. People have told me all this stuff before and during my reentry after living in Burkina Faso for 10 years. I am still in the throes of it though a (2 and a half years in) and knowing all this doesn’t always help as much as knowing that others are also going through it and understand. Thanks for articulating all of this for me and giving me some space this morning to grieve a little more.

  • It’s now 5 years since I returned from Uganda – this article is excellent at capturing so many feelings and emotions that still continue. Some days are better than others. At times, I feel like I will never truly belong anywhere again. Even though I know that I needed to come back (to Canada), and God was (and still is) in control, I grieve for all the work that I didn’t get done, for the friendships, for the purposeful life I lived there. It’s hard that people don’t really want to talk about or hear about what happened there – especially the people closest to me. It’s like that chapter of my life never happened. I am searching for, and trying to fulfill what I believe to me my mission and purpose for my life, here and now – thank God for His grace and mercy.

    • Thanks for sharing and joining us here glenna. It is a challenging season. Hang in there…and please join us here as we continue to talk about these topics.

  • Wow….Thanks so much for sharing. I really needed that. We spent 10 years in Africa and have been home 9 years. I feel as if I am still dealing with the return. Before our return we heard so much about the issues for our children returning to a culture they did not know, that I focused a lot of energy on them. Since, I was returning to my “own” culture, I didn’t expect to have problems. Thanks again for your insight.

  • I have been back 57 years from living in the field as a kid and feel that I may be able to share what I feel is part of the struggle. When you were on the field it was a commitment in response to a calling. It was a purpose for being there. It was a 24/7 living in which anyone could call on you. It was not about money or not usually about a tight schedule.
    Then you come home. All of a sudden you find that it is not about a calling but rather a career. Now all of a sudden it’s about the clock/watch. It’s about me and “what I can get” and “entertain or pacify me attitude” not as your past has been which has been “what I can give”. With this drastic change in your surroundings challenging your sensibilities or values, it causes a conflict in you.
    That being said, regardless of change, just continue to hold on tight to God.

    • Appreciate your insight … a commitment in response to a calling. Returned to Canada almost 30 years ago after being missionaries in Brazil for 8 years. And yet I feel as if it was just months ago. So many vivid experiences and memories. A piece of my heart will always remain there. Was very difficult to return to a “normal” life…

  • Thankyou so much!!This is just how I feel and I have felt so isolated in my feelings.Thank you.I have just returned to the UK with my family having been in Asia for 10 years.

  • I am experiencing, as strange as it may sound, delayed culture shock. When I moved back to the U.S. after serving in S.America for 3.5 years I had it pretty clear in my head I was going to go through culture shock and I was prepared to be proactive. What I found was smooth waters. For a year, I never once felt like I was going through culture shock. And then, I moved across the country to Boise, ID. What has ensued has been the rockiest, craziest, loneliest season I’ve ever experienced. I had a breakdown a few weeks ago and realized I was finally facing culture shock through reentry, and ever since God has been doing amazing, mind-blowing things in my walk. I’ve been told that this shock can come and go and lay dormant for years when all of a sudden it rears it’s head. I am experiencing that first-hand! Thanks for this article!!!

    • Trevor, Yes…culture shock is a funny thing. It can show up in the moments we least expect. But it’s great that you are recognizing what’s going on…I think that’s half the battle of walking through these seasons. Understanding some of the reasons why this season is challenging for you.

  • I was an MK for 10 years in a former Soviet country and just this past year my family moved back to the U.S. Thank you so much for sharing this! It has definitely been the hardest year of our lives and we haven’t found the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but this is so encouraging. I am beyond excited to remind my parents that what they’re going through is normal for almost everyone!

  • Thank you for writing and sharing! My husband and I did pastoral care in Asia. Upon returning to the states, I experienced all that you described. Since we went straight into pastoring upon our return, we had no one to process with except each other and The Lord. This conversation is needed and going to help so many. Thank you! I will be passing it on to many.

  • HI – this is such a good post! I speak from personal experience – as someone who was completely broken by re-entry but who has also been healed and restored by our loving God. As a result, I have been left with a great deal of compassion for others going through re-entry. My interest is also professional (I’m a psychologist). If anyone reading these comments would be interested in reading my e-book about re-entry, the link is below. I don’t gain from the sales – it all goes to the ministry with whom I served.
    http://www.amazon.com/The-Ruby-re-entry-survival-story-ebook/dp/B00CNUZGQI/ Love to all who are going through this hard journey…

  • Wow! You have just described perfectly what I am experiencing, becoming a widow. After dealing with my husband’s long illness. Then he’s gone. I have to move to a new town, I’m confused about my identity – I used to be a part of a pair. We were an inseparable mached set.
    Yes, as a child I delt with re-entry issues too when we came home from living in Africa. BUT at the time I felt like it was an adventure “exploring the strange new world”. I seemed to be more resilient then. Now in my 50’s and after a 25 year marriage; losing the other half of me – seems like I’ll never recover or feel whole again.

  • Thank you for this post. I really needed it, in so many ways. We served overseas for seventeen years and because of dangerous circumstances we ended up having to flee the country. We have been back a year but there are days when it feels like it was only yesterday we left. Glad to know it’s not just us.

  • My wife and I serve in Africa and even short trips’ home’ we find difficult. After two years overseas, going ‘ home’ we doubt will ever be an option that we would choose!

  • Moving across country or even within a state can be a culture shock. Things are not the same in the city as in the country, customs are different from one community to another, most of all the people are all new. A whole host of people to meet and learn their names. For women our identity is often with our job, our husband , his job or our children. Then one day his job moves him, the children are no longer at home having grown up, health problems make a job impractical and you have problem with culture shock. Some communities in the US, I live in one, you are a new comer even if you have lived here 22 years, because your parents weren’t here when the state was settled, you don’t have relatives living here, you didn’t go to high school here, they don’t know your children and you don’t know theirs. While work environments can sometimes provide identity sometimes because you are a Christian and they are not you are not one of the crowd to go drinking nor do you want to be. Moving across the country now for 45 years, well it can be a challenge! Culture shock can happen even within the US maybe not the same and yet many of these challenges occur for those who move in order to keep working. My husband is an engineer, the company points and we move. Yes, God controls where they point. Some moves have been wonderful and some much less wonderful, but no one ever talks about culture shock, it’s “suck it up cupcake, you’re married to a successful man with a good job, don’t be a whiner”. Do you quit, not when you need a job and God gives you peace, you endure. Does anyone pray for you or have a welcome committee or do you have a status in the new church, no way.

  • I arrived home Monday after four years in the UK, three of those being spent in London. I absolutely don’t know what to do with myself…I keep saying I’m bored…which is no surprise going from the bustle of London to the quiet of my hometown! Thank you for permission to just be.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this & sharing from the wisdom the Lord has given you through your season of pain. You articulated it so beautifully – it resonated deeply within me. After almost 15 yrs on the field, I’ve been back four years. While the Lord has been healing & growing me, what you wrote is still so palpable even now.
    Thank you for using your gift of writing about your experiences to minister to me & many others!

  • THANK YOU!!! this is the best thing I have read….I’m crying my eyes out! We moved back to the states December the 19th – almost 4 months ago. Sometimes I cry my eyes out, sometimes I just push through, sometimes I just sit & try to figure things out – I have decided I am at a point where I need to just BE. This article really HIT HOME with me….as a mom of 8! We are all kind of going through daily life & feel numb some days……. Just thank you for this! I don’t even know what else to say!

  • So very helpful. Our daughter is moving back to the States in a few months. Now I feel like I have some insight into the thoughts and feelings she has experienced in the past and probably will in the near future. I love all the “permission” statements! Sometimes in ministry we forget that “servants” need re-focus moments too.

  • Excellent.I think this resonates with non US people also. I shared on my FB page earlier today and two Indonesians like it immediately. Another missionary who is coming to the US this week after living in Africa for two years posted it to their FB saying,” if we are wacky, this is why.”
    I didn’t have time to read all posting above, but this is spot on. I’ld just change one thing..instead of “returning to the states” it would be appropriate to say “returning to your passport country” since it clearly resonates with other nationalities.

  • This article had me in tears because I felt like in was having a chat with someone who totally understood me and what I was feeling. Thank you for your apologies acknowledgments and permission. It is OK to not feel OK. Will be sharing this article with my friends as it is a lot more constructive than my current advice . . . reentry sucks and takes a lot longer than you think! Thank you!

  • Thank you! It’s amazing reading this and feeling “I’m normal” 🙂 I was serving two years overseas and came home to Sweden (where I’m from) six months ago. I’m so glad you’re sharing this and being honest, because so many times I feel like I must be exaggerating my feelings and taking the whole re-entry thing slightly over the top. Now I know I’m not. I love your last point. I am forever changed and I am so thankful for it. However hard it might be coming home, I wouldn’t trade my time abroad for anything and I cannot wait for an opportunity to go again.

  • Wonderful article. I’ve seen so many missionaries go through this. To all churches: don’t be those who forget about your wounded warriors. Love them, support them, and embrace them!

  • Grieving for friends I thought I’d never see again was a big problem for us. We had gone though re-entry counseling to make it easier for us, but understanding the grieving we would experience was not mentioned. It took two years before we understood why we kept feeling so down. About the time we understood what had happened to us and why, one of the closest friends was able to get out of the country and to the US. When we were able to see her and spent time in tears and joy, the grieving seemed to go away and hope took its place. In time several were able to come to the US and all eventually became believers. The Lord made it all happen…what an encouragement!

  • Over 30 years ago I spent my summer in Europe. I had just graduated from college and 6 weeks of my travels were spent in Ireland, my father’s family’s homeland. While in London I had met a fascinating gentleman with whom I had fallen in love(I doubt he knew this) and found the whole travel experience fascinating and exhilarating! Well, this was ONE summer, yet I cried all the way home! I tried to find a way to find employment somewhere in the British Isles,etc. I realized that America was not the greatest nation on earth,etc. So I know exactly what you are talking about! But I fear I may have to go overseas again-to save my life and the lives of my family members. If you know what I am referring to, know that it CAN be a very positive experience and you WILL be safe!

  • Wow – you’ve just explained something that happened to me nearly 40 years ago! Very minor as reentries go; I’d spent a year working in France as part of my French degree (I’m from the UK). On my return I found myself suffering inexplicably from depression…… I was only 20 and I think the whole experience of living in a different culture affected me profoundly. There was also the thing about returning to live with my parents yet feeling that I had moved on from all that, and they didn’t ‘get’ it or treat me any differently than before. But yes, the changes I experienced have stayed with me and I know God is using them as I minister in an area of London with a very high number of immigrants.

  • My wife and I returned home in 2006 after six years in Asia. We realized we needed to care for her aging parents. It’s been nearly nine years now, Mama passed away two months ago, and my wife has been struggling with feelings of having wasted her life after wanting to spend it all overseas in ministry. I, too have been feeling like I’m just marking time. We’re in our 60s now, and wondering if we have enough left to go and give it one last shot. The America we returned to has become an increasingly alien place, and I don’t think we needed to go overseas to realize that. We’ve both been overseas numerous times in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, so the “reverse culture shock” has either worn off or become a permanent state :-). I remember the last time I left our host country thinking, “I actually made it out alive! Wow!” Now I’m wondering if I’ll make it out of HERE alive. The Lord knows.

  • Read this today and it really was helpful .My re–entry has not been from overseas, but being a retired pastors wife, and and serving a church again after being out of it for three years . I’ve had many of the symptoms listed . I thought some thing was really wrong with me . I believe this would be helpful for so many different transitions . Thanks

  • This article really hones in on the true experiences that many expats have when they “re enter” their home countries after wrapping up their jobs/travels/discoveries abroad. Every person that moves back to their home country will have a slightly different experience when returning but this article hits the nail on the head. We all go abroad, work abroad, travel abroad, and study abroad for mostly the same reasons: to soak in and embody what this beautiful world has to offer that is different from what we have experienced back home. What I wish I had known after deciding to move back home after living in South Korea for three years was that I was never again going to be the same person I was before leaving. That my life experiences were going to expand my mind far greater than I could ever have imagined. That the friends I made and places I traveled to would forever change how I view the world and the life I live. Living abroad was the best experience of my life. Dealing with adjusting back to the life you once knew is hard to measure.

  • Wow, it’s as if you wrote this article from my experience. My wife and I were in another country “only” 5 hours by car from “home” (whatever that means…). We lived in Québec for 5 years, our own denomination became the stumbling block to us staying. We had gone “all in” in poker speak. When we came back it was as if we had died. Nobody called and nobody wanted to hear what we were feeling. The Lord is close, and yet so very far away…this July will be 5 years back and I wait for a normalcy to return.
    But I know it never will.
    The worst is no matter how hard I have tried I cannot explain what happened to us, because it doesn’t make sense… other than to say people are fallen and sometimes the most fallen get to “lead.” Thank you for this forum.

  • this is terrific but not just for re entree–it holds true for those recuperating faced with a long term rehab physically from unexpected illness or injury or emotionally needed separation… Life is tough- Time is kind!!! thank you as I needed that today

  • I am in tears !! I am so happy I found this site as I have been experiencing many of the “feelings” expressed here. My husband and I returned to our home after serving as missionaries in Mexico for 16 years. I have had such a difficult time with re-entry I was beginning to think I was going crazy !! What a relief to know I am not alone and I don’t have to be ashamed of my feelings. Looking forward to reading everything I can here. God bless you all.

  • Thankyou for sharing. Even though I was only away for a relatively short time overseas – for ten and a half months- I can relate to many of these things. One day I’m content with life in Canada and the next day I have longings to return overseas and the grief and processing and triggers are real. I don’t know what my future will look like but I know I’m encouraged and challenged during this time to take my time and embrace re-entering for what it is and to seek to rest in God’s presence. Anyway, Thankyou for these timely words. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

  • Wish I’d had this to read 20 years ago…….or even 9 years ago. We were about 16 years in France as missionaries, then returned to work with an inner-city Bible College/Seminary and churches, still with our mission. Then, nine years ago, we left the mission to return to the small town and church where we started out as young marrieds, and where my husband pastored for 9 years before we moved to France. He is once again pastor of the church and I am once again a “Pastor’s Wife” (YES, that’s a “career”!). I cried reading this article because it so described feeling that I have even now. When we first returned to the states my husband and I not only had to cope with our own perplexing feelings but also with those of our four kids, who were all in college and trying to cope with the same feelings, having grown up in France. After these three major transitions and after all these years, some of these feelings still pop up, surprising me. One of the hardest things,I think, for all of our family, as I’ve heard others also say, is how rarely anyone would “really” listen to how we felt….. or understand or even TRY to understand……though its gotten a lot better now, I still find that sometimes. Thanks so much for writing this. I will be sending it on to some former missionary friends.

  • Thanks so much for this site and your wise words. I’ve lived in five different countries, each for about a year at a time, and have experienced all of the above over and over again. Presently, I live in the U.S., spending half the year in the Northwest and half the year in the South, and I realize that I am living in a constant state of “return.” Though it sounds glamorous to some friends and has very real pleasures, it’s a bit discombobulating, maybe especially because I’m in my seventies and “out to pasture” professionally. Thanks for lending clarity and credence re my feelings.

  • Thanks for posting this! This is exactly what I’ve been going through after returning from a two-year STM in Japan. Two years doesn’t sound like a long time until I think of it as being over 700 days. You start to get used to life looking one way after 700 days, then suddenly, you’re in a whole different world that everyone expects you to still be familiar with. Anyway, thanks so much for assuring others that we’re not going crazy!

  • Was over seas missions 10 yrs. Been back 6 months. Thank you so much for your God given insight. It is very encouraging to see in writing how I am feeling. Thanks for helping me see I am not totally nuts and it will get Better. THKS

  • Mine I hope is a season and birthed in me is a desire to serve and minister. But for now my season is back in my homeland of Australia. God has perfect timing and plans for our lives. But that doesn’t change the loneliness and hole left inside. Thanks for sharing.

  • It was hard when we came back though we knew all of the things that you posted…excellent by the way. We had been told plus knew alot already from years of experience. Our org had a re-entry week that was really helpful to attend in the beginning. We also learned it was okay to just rest and nap initially. We were so tired. I still puzzle over some things that happened but trust it was for something good… my refining or for someone else. I found a community Bible study group who expected nothing from me. No hosting, leading, planning or teaching. Just a warm group of women who welcomed me. So blessed.

  • I was wondering how these experiences about re-entry could get to those of us who want to welcome back our loved ones.
    It’s a gift my daughter(still overseas) liked it on facebook – that is how I found the article –
    She had expressed concern about her children’s re-entry – not sure she and her husband have considered their own issues about re-entry.
    Tx for the education

  • Thanks so much Ruthie, this is dead on!! I was overseas for 18 months and have been home for 6 years. I’m still searching for that place of purpose and praying desperately to go back or at least go somewhere. In time, I will go. In the mean time this will be a great resource for friends and church family as they come home!

  • Wow, I was really touched by this post. We were living overseas helping Christians in various countries and were forced to leave under bad circumstances. We went through all the emotional stress listed in the above post. Our trauma was compounded due to physical damage done to me. I was left dealing with broken bones & chronic pain, a constant reminder of when I had been. That’s where grace & love found me and led me out of the darkness and into the light.

    So if you find yourself dealing with reentry and stress, you are not alone. There are people who have been there and understand.

  • Wow! We came back to the States from South America almost 20 years ago. I sure wish someone had shared all this stuff with me! The first 2 years were “horrible” but after that it smoothed out for me. I always said I wish someone had said “Give yourself time to readjust.” And an understanding counselor would have been so helpful. My friends at church “listened” but no one really understood what I was going through. I read this article with tears for my friends going through it now. Thanks for sharing!

  • This is a wonderful article for those of us who are military and returning to the US after years or decades of living abroad. While there was of course a culture shock moving abroad (Italy for my family), the adjustment is significantly bigger returning. My 4 children spent much of their formative years overseas and traveling Europe. Unfortunately , where we’ve moved back to, there is no one like us and that makes the transition even harder as the kids have no one to connect with in the same boat. It is hard to share our experiences as well because it feels like people think I am bragging about where we have been. The military lifestyle is hard enough without adding things like feeling like an outsider in your own country. And unfortunately, going to Italy was the way my family connected to God. There you could connect and see and “touch” it like never possible in the states. Now we are struggling to keep the enthusiasm of our faith with 60 year old preachers who drone on. The reality is, you will never be the same once you have been touched by the blessing of getting to live overseas, but once you get past the grief of returning, you should see how the experience has made you a better and more well rounded person and all you have to offer. Just give yourself the time to mourn and adjust, just like you probably did when you moved initially from the US.

  • I’m hoping to be able to return home soon after 20 + years abroad. I know it will be a major culture shock and yes I have concerns over how much things have changed. That’s actually why I won’t be moving back to the state I left but have chosen to live in a completely different state. It’ll still be different but I won’t be comparing everything to how it was when I used to live there.

  • We are about to head back to the US in a few months after 9 years on the field in Latin America. I have a 5 and 6 year old who have never lived in the US and are now technically going “home.” Do you have any advice regarding what your kids went through during the transition process?

  • Thank you for this post. I’ve been home 10 months after teaching in the Middle East for two years. Wish I would have come across this sooner as I have experienced PTSD symptoms and a mental breakdown. I was hospitalized and just recently got off of the meds I was prescribed during that stay. I am still not fully adjusted or “rooted” back in America yet and don’t know when I will be. I will probably read your post often as it helps me feel better about my situation. Thanks so much again.

  • Hi Everyone! Thank you for this post, and for so many of the replies. I learned as much from the replies as I did the post.
    My friend who is a missionary serving at home sent this to me because she knows my story – and WOW was it just what I needed!
    We did short term missions in Asia, and never had issues with re-entry – a month here and a month or two there, but my son did service in Afghanistan, in the Army, and has really struggled with many of the things you speak about.
    This has been a help to me, as a mom, to try and minister better to his aching heart. If you think of him his name is Micah, please lift him before the Lord in prayer.
    A grateful mom,
    LA~

  • Excellent post and entirely accurate. I wish I had this post, printed out and in-hand, on my flight back from North Africa. It would have been very helpful. I’m definitely going to give this to any friends I have who may return from overseas work! I ended up sorting some of these things out myself, but it would’ve been less lonely knowing the experience is so common. Thank you many times over for sharing this!

  • This makes so much sense. I am an African and served in another African country for four years before returning home and I was hit by all these issues. I had done a little research on re-entry but still it knocked the wind out of me. I was depressed, put on weight and felt like a fraud for not fitting back “home”. Its been three years and I haven’t fully recovered. But we have worked through it as a family and are stronger now.
    we are planning to go out again and it is refreshing to happen upon this post. thanks for sharing.

  • Wonderful post, really helpful and supportive. I am moving back to the USA in a few weeks after living in Spain for over three years. I feel like my heart is being ripped out. Everything I have built here, friendships, business, my community, etc I am so sad to leave behind. It’s a difficult decision. I am mostly afraid of the reverse culture shock that I am ALREADY feeling. My feelings tend to come in waves. One minute I am so excited, the next I am crying my eyes out. I should re-read your post several times 🙂

  • Great post, it makes me feel that I am not alone. I am moving back to the states in a couple of weeks after living abroad for 7 years.
    I feel that I will be rebuilding my life and taking wife a to kids through the process…

  • Unexpectedly came across your blog. Thanks for this. I am preparing to repatriate to the States after living over 20 years in Egypt, and while I would like to think that I am emotionally prepared/strong enough, I also realize that the US is not the country that I left (last visit was 10-years ago to bury my father). Didn’t work in the ministry, rather, I was teaching the Egyptian Navy on former US Navy vessels for 10 years under the auspices of the US Aid program. Then owned a dive center for a while, worked with archaeological teams living in the Eastern Deserts studying Roman remains for a few years, and then building private yachts for non-Egyptian owners. Am 3 months away from coming “home” and have no living family, job, insurance, car or driver’s license, or home or apartment to go back too. Literally starting my life over again at the age of 55. So, have purchased a sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay (Retired US Navy here) and plan to live aboard my boat cruising the Bay for 6-months to a year until I acclimitize to my own country again. I know it won’t be easy for a while. My circle of ex-military buddies will certainly help along the journey (yeah, we saw and did stuff that nobody but us would understand or accept). You words just helped me compartmentalize certain aspects of what I will be facing upon my return. I Thank You for that…..

  • Thank you for this helpful article. I have experienced returning cultural shock a number of times now – from the Pacific Islands and from Africa. And I’ll soon be returning again from the Pacific Islands when my husband retires – at last. It has been a long journey in and out of other cultures but so very enriching. I identify with all you say and appreciate the concerns of returning missionaries still. I try to help where I can and offer a listening ear. God bless all who read your words and may it give them courage to face their return.

  • Seriously? Put your big girl panties on and quit being a wuss. Jeez. Could you have fit any more unstable emotionality into these paragraphs?

  • very helpful article. Thank you for the hard truth, I’m about to leave China after 5 years. unplanned departure and found myself crying about it the other day. Felt like something was being ripped from my heart. This separation and grieving is very real. Also began to panic about going home. Where will I fit in? These articles are helping me feel ‘normal’…its a process and its OK not to know all the answers about the next step. ..just keep going!

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