This week we’re welcoming Rachel to Rocky Re-entry as she shares her re-entry story…
It took six months for the honeymoon to be over. By that point, I’d figured out where to grocery shop and where to buy clothing cheaply. I’d ridden public transportation and used the post office. A school had been chosen for the kids. I still hadn’t found a hairdresser, but had begun to dress like the locals. I’d found a few restaurants that I liked, but was missing food from back home. I’d even begun to understand the local dialect.
Oh, and I live in Baltimore, Maryland. As in the USA—my passport country. Yes, I’m talking about re-entry. As an adult TCK, I’d done this re-entry thing twice before (9th grade and first year of college), and apparently I have a lot of “baggage” to unpack. I don’t mean suitcases.
When we first arrived back, my internal stream-of-consciousness monologue went something like this:“Oh my goodness, bathrooms are CLEAN. Even in the gas station. And coffee anywhere, anytime! Even decaf! The sky is so blue it hurts. Wow, gas is expensive. But CHEESE! I can save big on cheese! Why do cucumbers look like they’re on steroids? Oh…. Oh my heavens—Target! Why do I feel the urge to tell everyone I see that I just arrived back from China? Water fountains, everywhere. Is that car stopping for me? Can I cross? Wow—he is stopping for me! Thank you, sir! Wow, I am so special. My life is so cool.”
Six months in, things were feeling a little less shiny. From my previous re-entry experiences, I remembered the feelings: loneliness in spite of new friends (no shared history), no one interested in hearing my stories, the dizzy feeling the American pace of life gives me—like I’m standing beside a running treadmill and attempting to jump on. And also not wanting to jump on at all. And then there’s the whole Christian subculture thing. (Another post, another time.)
Re-entry as an adult was a whole new thing though. I’d shed the well-defined roles in which I’d done life in China for seven years, and now found myself feeling rather undressed. If I wasn’t a missions team member or a homeschooling mom, who was I? My “wardrobe” was a lot smaller, more limited, in China, but here I was up to my ears in possibilities. It was exciting and slightly scary to realize that this could be a good time to re-evaluate, to take a risk, to move in a new direction.
Another “novelty” about re-entering as an adult is navigating all it takes to get back “on the grid” in this country—driver’s licenses and car registration, bank accounts, health insurance, finding doctors and specialists, researching schools, even signing up for grocery store VIP cards, for crying out loud. The struggle is real. And it resulted in many tears.
So, six months in, my internal monologue went something more like this: “If I have to fill out one more medical questionnaire/tax form/insurance application/school application/bank account application/VIP shopper card application/etc., I’m going to SCREAM. Will she be my friend? How do I do this friend-making thing here? I never used to shop, except for groceries. Why am I buying things all the time now? Why are people so busy? Why don’t people drop by for a visit? Should we buy a house? How long will we be here? I refuse to sign my kid up for more than one activity. We will not be sucked into the system. I’m beginning to hate my car—I hardly ever walk anywhere anymore. I can’t take Christian radio. I miss my friends. Wow, I’m so easily ignored. My life is not that special.”
So where am I now, more than two years later? Phase 3-ish, I suppose, which means I’ve endured the whiplash of the first two extremes—honeymoon and pity-party—and am currently in “humble pie” mode. See, for a long time I could only see myself at the center. It was all about how I was feeling, how I was navigating, how much I wanted others to listen to me, to my stories. I think that’s natural, given the immense number of re-entry stress points. We have so many needs when we get back, so many new things to learn, while feeling as clueless about some aspects of life as immigrants do.
When I woke up one day and realized that life was actually feeling a little bit settled, new relationships were gaining a bit of traction, and routines had been established, I was able to begin to pull my eyes off of my navel and look around a bit. I realized that everyone around me has struggles too. Maybe I could begin to give a little more; maybe I could listen better or find small ways to be of help. “Humble pie” phase also means that I pay more attention to learning about the issues and complexities of this time and place—the deeper cultural and historical context of this city, just as I would do while living as an ex-pat overseas.
The inner monologue now sounds more like this: “I’ve been a complaining moron. My new friend has her own struggles right now; maybe I’d better be a better listener. Have been walking more—feeling less isolated. Two different friends dropped by— momentum…. We’re too busy—we’ve sold out to the Man. I still miss my friends, but maybe I’m building something new here. I’m learning so much about how structural racism operates in this country. What could I do to help fight specific injustices I see here? Wow, I have a lot to learn from my new friends/church family about loving and serving in behind-the-scenes, not-so-adventurous ways. But I still miss my electric scooter, and speaking Chinese, and Thai beaches in January. And I still can’t take Christian radio.”
In which phase of re-entry do you find yourself—honeymoon, pity-party, or humble pie?