A Letter of Advice on Reverse Culture Shock

Dear Soon-To-Be-Shocked,

Please be aware that if you immerse yourself in your host culture as you should, you will inevitably experience reverse culture shock upon your return to America. Though you will be mostly excited to be reunited with family and friends, re-entry can be a time of mixed emotions. While you must encounter the shockers on a case-by-case basis, there are some things you can do to prepare yourself and make your transition as smooth as possible.

  • Safeguard your personal time with the Lord and family devotions. On furlough, you may run from church to church and feel spiritual support you missed on the field, but you personally need God’s power and presence in your life.
  • Train your children in basic manners US manners and customs which, surprisingly enough, can be forgotten easily. My “maam’s” and “sirs” were instilled at a young age. Knowing this would be expected by some Stateside, I taught my children this habit before our return. It is helpful to set a specific time to “practice being American.” Teach table manners, know the pledge, etc. Be balanced. Help your children know how to fit into both worlds.
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  • Realize that your children may have a difficult time expressing themselves and that their frustrations will come out in surprising ways.  My thirteen year old burst into tears in the middle of packing for a trip after only being in the States for a few days. As busy as I was, I had to drop everything to talk her through it. I let her know I understood that she felt unsettled, that it was okay to feel this way, and that it would get better. Younger children may become overly shy, irritable, or just not like themselves. In most cases, they will be excited to see grandparents and experience things they can’t do on the field. However, when facing difficult moments, please be patient with them. Give them an extra heap of love and grace as they adjust.
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  • Explain to your children that one place is not better than the other; they just have different ways of looking at things. Point out differences in a nonjudgmental way so your children will learn to accept when things are different.
  • Be flexible. We learn to be flexible on the field, but when we come to the States, we expect everything to work out just as planned. When traveling and in so many different situations, we must work hard to adapt and have a good attitude.
  • Work at not letting special treatment go to your head.  Appreciate everything, but expect nothing. Let the children help write thank you notes. Keep a grateful heart.
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  • Give each family member a special “job” as you report back to churches. Even just handing out prayers cards or setting up the display table can make young children feel confident and at ease in various churches.
  • Make sure your children know how to answer basic questions about the country you serve in as well as any other questions you notice they get repeatedly. In some fields, children do not get as many direct questions as they do in churches in the States, so they may have a hard time responding. If you notice certain questions are difficult for your children to answer, discuss how they might respond in the future. For instance, we have discussed that it’s okay NOT to have a favorite country to live in when people ask where we prefer.  We can still give respectful responses such as, “There are good things about both places.”  People are being very kind and showing an interest so we should not be offended or rude.
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  • Realize that even if you plan to stay on the field until you die, your children may not. Prepare them as they grow up for this possibility and try to give them ties to other Americans as well. Skype their grandparents. Let them have pen pals. Try to help them feel connected to your home church. I have realized this need since one of my children said, “Mom, I don’t know if I want to go to America. I don’t really have any friends there.”  I am blessed with children who love the field, but I must help them be ready to transition as necessary. Find out when your children start high school what is necessary for university in the States. If they have special talents or interests, help them develop them so that they can succeed. Teach them to take care of their own basic needs and make decisions so that they are prepared to possibly live on another continent away from Dad and Mom.
    21604_10205527309518175_3913221921912691823_nFinally, my sister in Christ and ministry, don’t be afraid to ask for help! There are many who have walked this road before you and have experienced the special grace He gives in these shocking times we must help our families maneuver. Lean on that grace. Let it carry you. You don’t know how much you will need it.-Stateside and Shocked
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