Missy recently asked me to guest blog again for Melibee Global, specifically the impact of reverse culture shock and re-entry in the long term. A year ago I posted Finding the Heart of Home after being back in the United States for six months and freshly longing for mi familia and the embracing presence of my Otavaleño volcanoes, Imbabura and Cotacachi.
During the last year, my mind lurked in the shadows, acting as a voyeur while pieces of me merged and stuttered back into “home”. Even as the abruptness faded slightly, I continued living in a transitory nature, with the majority of my belongings remaining in storage and the job I accepted temporary. I think subliminally I was ready to hop on a plane back to America del Sur at any moment. Denial and hope are peculiar bedfellows.
Upon some self-indulgent reflection, I see how sinking back into the familiarity of my community of 17 years and continued presence on my graduate institute campus for work created an exaggerated disparity in the re-entry experience. I knew what life was like and the expectation it would be the same sat in my brain ready to beguile me. Perhaps if I returned to a place less known to me, strange would simply be strange and I could more successfully thwart that assumption. Instead, I wrestled with contrast for many months as the prickly process of re-entry abated and routine tried to cozy up.
At a year and a half out, I can’t quite remember when a haze settled over once visceral smells and sounds; when I became content enough to have a Facebook relationship with my Ecuadorian siblings instead of calling; when I stopped dreaming in Spanish at least weekly, or when my sense of homesickness diminished as a deep heartbreak does. That rhythmic humming it becomes, an almost comforting background noise until something reminds you. Astonished you forgot to think about it, the longing revisits, but each time more ephemeral and soft.
Strictly speaking, I’ve moved through the final stage of re-entry: readjustment. But like any significant experience in one’s life we “…incorporate them into [our] character and personality and respond to all subsequent experience from the perspective of the new self” (Craig Storti- Coming Home). Despite our attempts sometimes, we humans do not live without influence. It is precisely these profound occasions that hijack our beings and eternally impact us.
While most days I get lost in what is the new normal, I still catch myself realizing my dreams in Spanish have almost vanished along with a few, less-use words. I find myself living vicariously through friends and colleagues who have returned or now live there. With bittersweet eyes I read their blogs, peek at their photos, and then revisit mine. I wonder how my students are doing and how much they’ve grown. I make sure to send my birthday wishes to my siblings on Facebook and pass on saludos to my host parents. I think about the pie shop on the Plaza de Ponchos or my many adventures in Quito as an article pops up on the Huff Post or my Google Alert. I see everything I’m missing and missing out on.
As details dull with each month, I’ve noticed the way I mark my new context and the passing of time with the remembrance of holidays. Halloween when I came back half-way through my time in Quichinche to attend my best friend’s wedding ― the freak snow storm that welcomed me; the strangeness of dipping into my old world only to return ten days later. Thanksgiving and no turkey. My birthday and the winter coat my family had made (which I wear nearly every day). Christmas when I decided to make my first turkey ever…in Ecuador. New Year’s Eve and its vibrant, cross-dressing and doll-filled extravaganza. Each holiday marks a memory of what I did and what I’m doing. Where I was and where I am. Where I want to be and where I’m not.
Home is an ever unfolding and complex notion to me anyway, but even more so now; even still. Since my last post, I have moved away from my most permanent sense of community as an adult to a new state and a new (amazing) job. I am starting over and re-creating home. Again. But I don’t see them as replacing one another. Rather, I’m stringing together small, sparkling jewels that each capture a part of me in them; something tangible to connect my heart and the people and places where I left a piece of it behind. But that’s it really; that’s the point and simultaneous challenge. To believe they aren’t merely left behind or abandoned (nor that I’m forgotten), but exist permanently within and carried always.
“Home wasn’t a… place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” ― Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye
About the Author: Heidi Bohn holds an M.A. in International Education from SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont where her slight obsession with re-entry and reverse culture shock began. She completed her thesis capstone project on those very topics, examining relevant theoretical foundations and building a reentry curriculum for long-term volunteers with the Tandana Foundation in Ecuador. When not crusading on behalf of re-entry everywhere or traveling for work, she can be found running, writing, dancing, and daydreaming in the hills of New England. She is currently one Happy International Educator as the Assistant Director of University Relations and Marketing at CISabroad in Northampton, MA.
Note from Melibee: Still processing re-entry? I often am too. Be sure to check out our re-entry tool, Beyond Abroad: Innovative Re-Entry Exercises.