Life is full of ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes.’ Our relational contexts are constantly changing. While we leave some behind, we fumble our way into new ones. A change in college, workplace or neighborhood of residence begins a journey into new relationships. We function well in that new context believing ourselves to be relational geniuses, but then A COLLEGE or FAMILY REUNION occurs!
Why is that reunion so awkward for everyone? In some ways it appears as though nothing has changed – the old jokes return, the stereotypes, and the certain relational cliques all reconstruct instantaneously. On the other hand, many things have changed – and I’m not just talking about that new belly roll or bald spot – people have literally grown up, experienced the challenges and joys of life. This should be a stimulating and exciting environment. Often it is not.
Re-entering back into relationships after years of being away is an acquired skill. Some are better at it than others. The greater the length of time passed in another environment, the tougher it is to reintegrate back into former contexts.
Nothing illustrates this better than someone who has lived for an extended period of time in another country, as a missionary.
When one re-enters from living for an extended time in a cross-cultural community, the challenge of meaningful engagement with the new/old culture and its community presents significant hazards.
1. Alienation – the tendency to isolate ourselves from others.
- We use excuses like:
- “They will not understand me”
- “It is easier to not attempt to explain myself”
- “People appear so shallow in relationship, why risk exposing deep heart issues”
- “I don’t think I can trust people like I did in the ‘foreign’ culture I learned to love”
- “No one takes time to listen, why should I?”
Sometimes home cultures do not seem to represent the depth of relationships we were used to. Re-building relationships back home is harder than it might appear.
A changed or broadened worldview is no excuse to alienate ourselves.
PROBLEM: this is anti-integration, the exact opposite to relationship building.
SOLUTION: re-discover a healthy dose of curiosity, in everything and everyone.
2. Condemnation – the tendency to view everything wrong with our home culture, to compare it to the culture we just left…and get judgmental.
- We feel ‘under-welcomed’ back home.
- We speak down at the ‘rich.’
- We preach against individualism, or apathy, or every evil imaginable.
Little things like the weather or sports allegiances become issues of debate and contention.
Our cynicism pushes others away, making relationships strained.
Our condemnation leads us to a sense of entitlement…we become a special case.
PROBLEM: pretty obvious isn’t it?
SOLUTION: re-envision potential for transformation in everything and everyone.
3. Become an expert – the tendency to lord our knowledge and experience over others.
We may be seasoned travelers or have lived abroad, but this does not necessarily make us cultural geniuses.
- We throw out memorized stats on politics and history when no one asks.
- We use butchered phrases to draw attention to our amazing linguistic skill.
- With every hamburger or plate of spaghetti comes a story on how amazingly flavorful or unique food used to be.
- We often dress in clothing from the country we left, snubbing our nose at local fashion.
PROBLEM: Inherent arrogance. Inability to listen.
SOLUTION: Wait patiently for appropriate moments to use your expertise and experience.
4. Denial of Reality – the tendency to relive past experience over and over again
- We ask “who am I now?” What is my true identity?
- We constantly attempt to recreate the past
- We read and reread our personal journals
- We take no delight in normal routines of life.
- We feel guilty for forgetting names or allowing memories to fade.
PROBLEM: Inability to embrace reality. Depression is a real danger right around the corner
SOLUTION: We MUST champion the causes of injustice or oppression in the country we were graced to live. Get the issues ‘on the radar’ of your friends and family. God gave you an experience for a reason. Use it – don’t waste it.
However, a good listening ear, thoughtful integration and patience go a long way to win back favor of old relationships and re-enter back after being away for a long season.
What dangers have you overcome through the process of homecoming re-entry?