1. Pretend you're SCUBA diving.
You know how SCUBA divers have to surface very slowly and take decompression stops on the way back up? Do that. Take lots of decompression stops. Surface slowly. Or you'll get the bends. Otherwise known as a teary meltdown in the middle of Target when faced with too many options for cold medicine. Hypothetically speaking.
There are so many friends to see and family meals to have, but really, just pause. Breathe. Do something slow and normal and un-jarring to the system with your husband and/or children who are also on this back-and-forth adventure with you. Sitting and watching TV works. Take time off from social engagements. Plan to regroup often between shopping and hamburger dinners out. (Because this is mostly what we do in the States.)
The concept of stopping really hit us during our last visit home at one of those overstimulating/catch-up with everyone/family and friends picnics. A relative who also happens to be a European expat living in the United States said, "Listen, we'd love to have you guys over to catch-up, but we're not going to. Relax with your children instead." Ohdeargodthankyou. It's wonderful being with old friends, but take decompression stops on the way back to reality.
|Slowly coming up for air.|
2. You'll never really be a local again.
For some people this is a very big deal. You've felt like a stick-out, sore thumb, foreigner for a long time now. You've looked forward to going back home where you fit in and belong. But sometimes that doesn't happen. Once a 15-year-old expat, Indian kid told me, "In Congo everybody knows I'm a foreigner so I can't get a bargain. Then I go back to India, and look at me! They know I don't live there either. There's no where on this planet I'm charged local price."
I took this as a very deep and profound statement from a Third Culture Kid on the cultural complexities of his unique identity. I think he literally meant that he (or his parents more likely) couldn't get cheap video games. Either way, there may be an adjustment period before fitting in again. See Tip 1, above. Or it may never happen.
3. There are no good questions.
Lots of people will ask questions. I don't know if any of them ever lead to an honest answer. I have no idea what kind of question could. I've thought about this a lot. Even I, living this life, have zero ideas for inspiring someone to talk authentically about their experience abroad. So how was Serbia? Was it cold? Wasn't there a war there at one time or another? This is the extent of my ability to ask good questions after someone has returned.
A few visits home ago, Adam returned from one of those quick after church chit-chats and said, "Wow, that person asked some great questions. I had to really think about my answers." Really!? What were they!? What did they ask!? I was excited to be close to the holy grail of the perfect question. He couldn't remember. 5 minutes after his amazing conversation. Awesome.
Honestly, I only remember one question we've ever been asked. It's a clear winner. Adam and I arrived in Portland late one night and hopped in a cab to get to our hotel. The cab driver was unbelievably friendly and obviously, completely stoned. It was a long ride. It came up in conversation that we lived in the Congo. There was a long pause. Then he shouted, "Holy f***ing shit. You live in the Congo!? What's the craziest f***ing thing you've ever seen?" His enthusiasm overwhelmed us. We had no idea what to say to keep from disappointing him. (See Tip 4 below.) We fumbled. I don't know what we said. We probably made something up. But he didn't care. When we got to our hotel he gave us a deal on cab fare and offered us pot because he was so excited we lived in the f***ing Congo. For sure, the best response we've ever received.
by Horia Varlan
4. There are no good answers.
To use Congo as an example, here's how it usually goes when I answer questions:
Question: So how's Congo?
Bad answer: Oh it's great, we really like it. (I mean wait, it's not great. It's the poorest country and rape capital of the world. I shouldn't mislead this person.)
Worse answer: Well, it's not really that great. I mean it's great for us, but bad for locals. It's a really bad place, but we like it. (What am I saying?! That is the worst answer ever. Just stop talking.)
Question: Have you seen an Okapi?
Bad answer: No, but I wish.
Question: Have you visited Goma?
Bad answer: No, it would be great to go.
Question: How about malaria? Ever had malaria?
Bad answer: No, sorry. Gosh I'm really striking out here...
Insightful question: Wait. Do you actually live in the Congo? Because it seems like you know nothing and have seen nothing.
It works best to prepare a statement of 20 words or less that entertains the question-asker, authentically describes your experience and is something you can repeat with interest over and over again. Good luck.
P.S. Be sure to keep it short. At the end of the day. Nobody really cares. Really or truly cares.
5. You might not be different. Your socks might not be knocked off.
Recently a great friend, who I've never actually met in real life, returned with her family from living abroad. Someone asked:
How are you different? Are you different now?
This is actually an awesome question. (Scratch Tip 3.) And she has a really great answer. (Scratch Tip 4. See, I told you I don't actually know anything.) She writes all about it here.
The bottom line is that you might not be different. You might not be changed. You might not be newly inspired to take care of stray kittens. This doesn't mean your experience was pointless.
When I thought about it, I don't think I'm much different either. I feel like I'm just more of an authentic version of myself. Then I read the rest of her post. Gosh darnit! That's her answer too. So here I am, still struggling to find my authentic yet interesting answer. The problem is, the longer I do this, the less I know. Wait. Maybe that's my most authentic answer. Yeah, I'll go with that.
|Stealing Mama Minutia's thoughts and photos. Seriously, check out the post.|
Dear readers: Please help! What tips do you have for this bizarre adjustment?
And in case you missed it: 5 Tips Part I: Before you go. 5 Tips Part II: After you get there.