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Friday, July 26, 2013

Landing Apollo: Making a Smooth Transition from the Mission Field to Home

I almost missed my flight. Almost. My ticket said I had to be at Gate G, and I was barely making it through gates A and B with only ten to fifteen minutes left before my flight boarded. After minutes of frantic running and wheezing, I safely got onto the plane. The layover from Suvarnabhumi Airport to the pristine Incheon to Tyson-McGhee was easy and seamless. And, at the conclusion of my destination I felt happy to be back, but things didn't feel the same. One of my initial thoughts on 
the drive back was how green everything was compared to the concrete jungle that is Bangkok. A flood of thoughts came streaming through my mind and I lost it. How was it that the place I called home for 20+ years felt so foreign to me in that moment?

It's been almost two months since I've arrived home. I feel like the transition's been fairly successful, but then I also feel like there are still some re-adjustments that haven't come full circle yet. I'm not an expert on this subject, but I do know what the re-entry experience is like. So, I've come up with some tips that will hopefully help make your transition a lot smoother.

1. Talk About It

I still struggle with this one, which I find to be dangerous. I say this because, let's say one day you go to Walmart and for the life of you cannot understand why the bagels you want have to be in the refrigerated section. Not only that, but you don't like how there are also two different types of Soymilk in two different areas, the self-check out never works, you hate the way people park their cars...the list goes on. In short, if you don't talk to a few trusted people about what you're going through, there's a chance you'll overreact to things that don't bother other people around you because the small dissimilarities have built up and you haven't had a chance to vent and process.

2. It Takes Time

The re-entry process is a process and it doesn't happen overnight. I was in an urban area with many foreigners so I didn't think that my re-entry experience would be that bad, and it hasn't been for the most part, but because I invested in my environment and adapted there are new traits that are unique to Thailand and to my mission assignment that they will remain parts of me forever. It also takes time to heal wounds and let go of problems that you faced. I encountered a whole slew of them (but I also promised myself to leave on a good note) and I would say that I'm still in the healing process. Don't beat yourself up over this one.

3. Eliminate Expectations

Before you left to serve abroad, you were probably told not to have expectations. The same is true  when you come back. It's not just the newness of a place that messes us up, but also how we expect things to bend to our wants and standards.

4. Set Goals, Make A Plan

One of my biggest fears before leaving Thailand was that I would backslide in my growth. I had gone through so many changes, and I knew that at home things would feel familiar again and there would be fewer situations to challenge me. Thankfully (or maybe not) I am a person who likes to have a plan. I like certainty, I don't like to leave room for doubt. To avoid being completely sucked into lazy summer mode, I mapped out some goals and objectives. I started tutoring a refugee mother. I took up a samba dance program with my sister. I even learned a few Chinese words. My heart is set on returning overseas for good, but I know I'll have to be a certified teacher before I do that. So, I set a long-term goal to return to school next fall.

5. Don't Despair

The information I've posted here are mere guidelines. Your experience might be radically different from mine, and you might not agree with everything I've written. But, when you find that life isn't turning out the way you planned, don't give up. I know it's hard. I've been there. As someone once told me, "You're not the first, and you won't be the last," and there is always a way out.