by Lynée Ward

You are making a valuable contribution to children around the world. Without good options for education, many families would not be able to continue in the service for which they have been called. Thank you for your faithful investment in the lives of our students.

We also recognize that He is leading some of you to return to your home country this summer: some to take a furlough, some to become career workers overseas, and many to return to the careers you had before serving overseas. Are you excited? Are you dreading it? Are you looking forward to seeing family and friends and getting back to the life you knew?

What is it really like to return home after being overseas? I wondered (my memory is foggy about returning home 10 years ago), so I wrote some teachers who have returned home more recently to see what they found. Below are the questions I asked and a summary of the answers that were returned. Perhaps it will help you anticipate some of what you might face and help prepare you for the transition experiences ahead of you.

All respondents but one were North American. We would be very interested in hearing how the transition issues are the same and how they are different for those of you from different home countries. Please add your comments in the comment section below.

Positives

What positive things did you experience in returning to your home country?

The first thing many mentioned was being with family and friends. It was good to catch up on what they had missed while they were gone, and they enjoyed having the opportunity to share about their overseas experience.

One mentioned that talking about his experiences was a good way to introduce God to a non-believer. One or two also mentioned how nice it was to return to their home congregation and to a familiar style of worship. One really appreciated having modern conveniences again. She also came home feeling refreshed about teaching and was able to teach in the U.S. again. One enjoyed the privacy.

Difficulties

What was hard about returning to your home country?

Many said they felt strange, like they didn’t fit. One said, “Things were the same, I was different… No one really understood me.” For some it was hard to realize that life had gone on while they were away, and they didn’t necessarily fit in as well as they used to. While they enjoyed sharing their experiences from overseas, they also discovered there were a lot of people who really weren’t interested in hearing about those experiences.

Some missed the depth of relationships they had enjoyed overseas. One felt she had temporarily lost her sense of direction for her life. She knew what she was about in Africa, but back home she didn’t know what to do next. Life at home seemed “humdrum” to some after being overseas.

Life in their home country also seemed faster paced than life overseas, and it was difficult to find a balance between the two rather than getting caught up in the fast pace again. At least one person mentioned how overwhelming it was in the grocery store, “I found having to decide between 75 different cereals instead of 3 was very difficult.” General attitudes towards teachers [not well respected in the US] were also hard to adjust to for someone returning to the public schools.

The Unexpected

What did you experience that you did not expect, positive or negative?

Some mentioned how materialism was more obvious after being overseas. The growth of technology and its impact on society was another surprise. They noticed how many people in the U.S. are becoming more and more dependent on cell phones. What one considers wants, others consider needs. Recognizing that experience influences perspective, one teacher wrote, “We have learned to be gentle with people as to the matter of their standard of living as compared to where we’ve been and the repeated response, ‘Oh, we have those problems here, too.’ They have little basis to know the difference in degree for these things, so patience is in order.”

Some mentioned how easy it was to start relying on people instead of God to meet “the need to fit in.” One said, “Our experience overseas was so wonderful, beyond any expectations, that it was difficult to return home.”

Advice

What advice would you give to others returning home?

Many said to be prepared for a lot of changes and to expect things to be different and difficult. Things may not get back to normal right away (if ever). It is important to keep up your personal time with the Lord–He is the one who will help you through the transition. And keep in touch with friends you made overseas–they will understand what you are going through.

Additional Suggestions

  • Be careful not to talk only about your experience, but show interest in what has gone on in others’ lives as well.
  • Communicate frequently with people at home before you return, including your church.
  • Give yourself lots of grace–and give it to others, too.
  • Don’t be surprised if others are not as interested in world events as you are.
  • Be aware of your potential ‘wobbliness’ and be on guard against leaping too quickly into any long-term decisions and relationships.
  • Keep a sense of humor.
  • If at all possible, don’t stay long with family or friends. It’s stressful for your hosts to have a long-term guest and for you to be a guest when you are dealing with a lot of re-entry issues.

May the Lord help you finish well and make a good transition to wherever He leads you in the future.

Permission to copy, but not for commercial use.