This week we have the joy of hearing from Elizabeth Cassada on the topic of coming home. Elizabeth lived in Italy for two years and because of her experiences she has some wonderful insights that I am excited to share with you today.
So you will know Elizabeth a little better she has a Bachelor’s degree in art and a Master’s degree in Counseling. She has a passion for art and helping people people who are hurting. Reading, writing and painting are a few of her favorite things and it is her lifelong goal to see as much of the world as she possibly can!
Everyone expects moving to a new country to be difficult. Not everyone expects returning "home" to be just as challenging.
Traversing oceans and being smacked in the face by culture shock and being surrounded by people who don't understand you (both because you don't speak their language and because your experiences have given you a worldview and mindset that differ from theirs) are all rough.
But traversing oceans and being smacked by reverse culture shock and being surrounded by people who don't completely understand you (because your experiences, perspective and worldview are no longer the same as theirs) is also rough.
I left Italy on December 19 and it's one of the hardest things I've ever done. The past two years in Europe were both the greatest challenge and the deepest joy of my life so far.
I beat myself up constantly in the beginning and thought I could never learn Italian. I was paralyzed by fear of failing. I've been hurt by people and had my heart broken by the brokenness of others (and that of myself). I experienced the pain and ache of grief and loss. Losing a loved one has always been one of my greatest fears, and that happened a few months ago. So it's been a tough two years.
But oh. Have these past two years been breathtakingly beautiful as well. I never expected to see so many amazing places or experience so many new things or become friends with so many wonderful people. It has truly been a joy.
So much so that I felt such a heaviness during my last week in Italy. I started stressing about not being able to fit my life back into the three suitcases I came with....How did I have so much stuff?? How was it possible to give so many things away for the last couple of weeks and still have overweight bags and run out of room for everything?? I also started stressing about saying goodbye well. These people had come to mean the world to me and I didn't want to leave without spending time with them and showing them how much I loved them. And because I loved them so much, that constant stream of goodbyes during the last few days just about ripped me apart.
But somehow I managed not to cry through any of it. Not sure if that's healthy.
And I had the most perfect last night in Rome...a night that reminded me of my very first night in Rome...wandering from monument to monument, piazza to famous piazza, just taking in the beauty of my city...the city that had stolen my heart...with people I had grown to love. And of course, there was amazing Italian food and gelato!
Then at 5:30 a.m. on December 19, two brilliant Brits picked me and my bulging suitcases up from my apartment, helped me sort through the contents of my suitcases sprawled all over the airport floor (because one was overweight and the check-in attendant didn't take pity on me), bought me my last cappuccino and cornetto, and waved goodbye as I started the long journey back to America for the first time in two years.
After a layover in London, watching Inside Out in Italian on the plane, and telling the British stewardess "Grazie" and realizing that was weird and wrong and I should probably be careful not to do that in the future, I finally wheeled my luggage trolley through customs and into the open arms of my family and one of my best friends from college holding a "Welcome Home" poster. And then I had my first all-American meal in 24 months: Cracker Barrel.
Since then, for better or for worse, I've dived in head-first, knowing I would be starting graduate school exactly one month after landing back in the U.S. So in the past two weeks, I bought a car, got car insurance, got a new cell phone and a cell plan, and have been to the dentist and several doctor appointments. Oh yeah, and Christmas and New Year's parties and a trip to Atlanta thrown in there somewhere too.
I'm thankful for the busy-ness that helps me not to dwell on missing Rome. But there has also been down time to think and process and consider the reality of reverse culture shock (the struggle is real). I had read a lot about reverse culture shock and talked about it a lot with people who had lived overseas...but I guess nothing quite prepares you for an experience until you actually experience it.
A friend recently sent me some helpful information about returning to your home culture. Here's what it said about re-entry and some of the ways the difficulty of the transition can manifest itself:
What causes re-entry time to be difficult for some?Generally it’s because you have changed or are changing in attitudes and values, and are coming back to an environment that has not changed in the same way. The deeper these attitude and value changes are in you, the more likely it is that the transition period will be unsettling. Points of dissonance that you may experience include:
-Unexpected tiredness, confusion and sometimes discouragement
-An awareness of habits or behaviors that were second nature before leaving, but seem meaningless or disturbing once home
-Adjusting role changes, either defined or undefined, that lead to an unsettled feeling
-A change of responsibilities, a change of pace
-An unexpected adjustment period leading to frustration or anxiety
-A sense of loneliness and a need for a close friend to listen
-An inability to express or share the experience and resulting changes
-A reaction to North America affluence/ lifestyle/ wealth
-Disillusionment with the abundance in the North American church and seeming lack of concern for the world
I have experienced all of these things with varying levels of intensity. It's comforting to know that these reactions are normal! Another thing this document said was that you could be an Assimilator (someone who easily fits back into the home culture and quickly forgets the way the experience in the host culture has changed them), an Alienator (someone who becomes very frustrated, pessimistic and critical about their home culture), or an Integrator (someone who is " able to identify the changes they have undergone or are still experiencing and don’t demand immediate closure on them. They desire to see their short-term cross-cultural immersion have a lasting impact on their lives and the lives of others. This means they will wrestle with how to integrate the things they saw, learned, and questioned into creative alternative choices.")
I'm hoping and praying I'll be the latter.
Someone explained it to me this way a few months before I left Italy and this example really stuck with me: Imagine you have two balls of Playdough, one blue and one yellow. The blue culture is your home culture, the one you left behind. The yellow is your host culture, the new one you're moving into. So you start out pure blue. But little by little, you start to take on some of the properties of the yellow culture. Of course, you cannot actually change your color from blue to yellow, even though you might want to. Rather, you become a mixture of the blue and yellow cultures. You go green. Then you go "home." Everyone around you is still blue. But you've changed. There's a little yellow in you now. And you can't take the yellow out (you've mixed Playdough before...once you squish two colors together, there's no going back). So you're just different. You're no longer blue, but you didn't turn yellow either.
I guess I need to find some green people who get me ;)
So there you have it...some of my jumbled thoughts and feelings about returning "home"...and how weird it feels to no longer really feel at home at home...
I'm weird. I'm different. I've changed. But that's okay. Times of transition are hard. But that's okay.
So here's to being thankful for the great adventure of the last two years and looking forward to the next one, whatever He has in store.
To read more from Elizabeth, click here.