Processing Challenges....an interview with Katie.
This past week I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my closest friends about her experience overseas and returning to America. We all have our unique stories to share, and I am excited to share hers with you today. This interview was of course recorded over a shared meal and included much laughter! Katie has some great insight into some of the struggles of returning and how to process through those challenges and feelings of guilt. I hope this conversation is able to help each of us understand one another better and take time to ask questions. So let us begin!
What was life like before going overseas?
I went to Liberty University and as I was finishing my degree in Intercultural Studies, moved home. After finishing at Liberty, I decided to start earning a degree in Intercultural Studies at Southeastern, but quickly realized that school was not the right move for me just yet. During this time, the Father was moving in my heart to go overseas. My family was close and had a strong relationship. Unfortunately, friendships were hard because everyone was in different stages of life. Some were married and others were married with kids, so they couldn't really understand my desire to move. However, the few friends that did understand my desire, were extremely helpful in encouraging me to pursue the move. Finally, the time was right for me to go.
What region of the world did you live in and what was it like trying to fit into the culture?
I lived the Central Asia, Middle East region for one year as a Language Intern and student. When I got there it felt like the perfect fit of what I wanted to be doing. The Father is good to put his children where they will fit best! While there I had many difficult experiences. At one point it was too dangerous to continue in one country alone, so I had to move to another. There were also other cultural issues that I came in contact with as well. For instance, since I was a single woman, living with other single women, it was assumed that my family did not have a close relationship with me and that I was a "loose" woman. Now of course, none of things were true, but based on that culture, people perceived me in this way. To them, women do not leave the family until they are married, so my way of life confused them. This even led to one of my friends never coming into my home. It's already difficult enough to be living in another country, let alone to be mis-perceived by many.
Tell me about trying to make friends in the new culture...
Meeting new people posed many challenges and I had to figure out how to build friendships with the people around me. After trying to build friendships at the places I frequently visited, I realized that method wasn't quite working. So, I went back to the drawing board and realized that I could try to befriend my language teachers. Once building some friendships with my teachers, we would go grocery shopping with them and then attempt to learn the traditional foods (though recipes were never written down!). Hospitality was part of the culture there, so I was often invited into their homes to share a meal. Seriously, food is the best thing to draw people together!
What was your favorite cultural tradition/festival?
I love Christmas, so when I moved I was sad to think that Christmas would not be celebrated since I was in a muslim context. To my surprise, they celebrated Christmas! There would even be special cookies and desserts available around that time of year. I was able to use this time as a way to tell people the Good New.
Tell me about adjusting to being home...
Unfortunately, about 11 months into living overseas, the situation was not ideal and I, along with my supervisors, decided that it would be best for me to go home early rather than staying. I experienced a lot of guilt for returning early, as if I wasn't as good as the others who had stayed on the field. The feeling of failure was very present. The adjustment period can be described as a whirlwind in many cases. Family relationships were strained because of other issues and I wasn't sure how to deal with it all. Cultural differences really made adjustment difficult too. After getting a new job, I realized that it felt weird to look men in the eye. For so long I had not been able to do so, but I was finally back in America where I had the freedom to. Yet it felt weird. I had so many questions...Why had the Father brought me home early? Was I really being as helpful as I was when I was in Central Asia? It wasn't until 2 years after returning that I was finally able to really process most of what happened.
How did people receive you when you came back to America?
My dad was one of the most helpful people in this transition period. He was a steady person to count on. In addition to my dad, two of my friends, who were actually serving overseas at the time, were also really helpful in helping me process through everything that had happened. They were able to be a support system, even from several countries away. The best support was when someone would just sit, ask questions and listen. Even better was when my friends didn't let me feel hopeless. They continued to point me to hope. I was also able to meet with a professor at Southeastern to talk through some of the struggles which was one of the most helpful things in adjusting. His questions helped me process and understand that I didn't have to feel guilty for coming home.
On the flip side, talking To people about my time overseas was sometimes hard. Talking about my time overseas was strained. People who had traveled were easier to connect with, but those who did not have the overseas experience were difficult to communicate with. There was so much that happened while overseas, it was hard to sum it up in 3 minutes. People expected me to just fit right back into the rhythms of "normal" life and leave my "trip" behind. But that isn't realistic. When you live overseas, you have a whole different life, so coming back to America almost seems like a confusing dream. People had changed, I had changed...it's just different.
Tell me about processing through guilt?
Two of my friends were extremely helpful during this season of life. They helped me to see that the Father's hand and guidance was upon my whole situation. I wasn't alone. Both in America and overseas I could be used. The Father still had a plan for me, even though I came home early. It is so easy to compare yourself to others who do stay on the field for the entire time without big issues. But the Father has a different plan for each of us and for me, it meant returning home early. The Father was preparing me for something else that was about to happen.
How do you deal with the feeling of "not doing much" for the Father?
When I returned, my family was going through a crisis of sorts. This period of time helped me see that my family also needed to me to help. My eyes were opened to needs of my family, and how people in America also needed to be loved on. It truly is an important realization that you don't have to be overseas to be helpful. People who don't have a low income, still need the Father. I learned That Wherever I am at, He can use me. He won't love me more or less depending on where I'm at. I had always admired my parents, but then realized they struggle too. Their faith isn't perfect. Finding out that her mom had fallen into addiction and that my dad didn't know what to do, shook my faith. But my time overseas had really strengthened my faith and prepared me for coming home. Then my mom received help and I praise the Father she has been healed and has an incredible testimony now!!
If you could go back and talk to the Katie who was just starting to process, what would you tell her?
Don't feel guilty. Don't compare situations. There is a different plan for everyone and no two people are the same! Have patience with yourself. It's okay to process and take time. It's okay to not be okay, be patient. Have grace with yourself because you really are going through a big change! Also, no matter how hard and bad things can be and seem, it will get better!
What are some good questions to ask someone who is returning from overseas?
1. What was one of the most challenging things living overseas?
2. What was one of the biggest joys living overseas?
3. How did you make friends while you were overseas?
4. What were some of your favorite things to do with friends, and how can we implement some of your favorite things here?
I hope you have enjoyed getting to know Katie a little better! I think her answers are helpful for any of us who have returned or are about to return to our home culture! Make sure to ask your friends questions or give yourself time to reflect upon all the amazing things that have happened. Above are a few questions to ask one another so we can begin "bridging the gap" little by little. Katie said that even after being back for 4 years, it has been helpful discussing this with me and remembering her time over there. So even if you begin asking your friends questions years after they return, it can be helpful! Don't be afraid to ask, you might be amazed at what you learn.