Reentering the Atmosphere

DSCN8546Thailand. Pennsylvania. To some it may sound like Earth vs the Moon but to me they are both home.

Switching between the two homes will take some adjustment though. One home was normal for years and years with the language I could understand and familiar food and friends. And the other became a place I started to understand, found new comfort food, and where I made new, lasting friends. 

Advice on returning to your passport country suggests that after an unspecified amount of time in a new place, one goes through different stages of culture shock until you come to the place of a new ‘normal’. You’ve put down some roots and you can find your way around without feeling lost. But more than that the weird, alien things that made you scratch your head at first are now an assurance that all is right in your new world.

Now I still really want to get a picture of the guy driving his motorbike cart full of crispy arthropod snacks. Or even better the motorbike strapped full of a rack of brooms made from a local grass. But even though these make me smile, they are normal. The same as drivers sitting on the right side of the car or the sound of Thai being spoken all around.

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When I was home last summer, one of the first times I drove I found I had to concentrate pretty hard to figure out which side to drive on in the parking lot. Unlike the road with the lines and markers to remind me, the parking lot was like a wide open maze that freaked me out a little. Mostly I was uncomfortable with the thought that I might be on the wrong side and I might just think I was on the wrong side.

And that is what the book I was reading talked about. When returning to the place that is your “home” or passport country, it can be very unnerving because you have to readjust to things that should be normal. Or you might feel unconfident about fitting back in because your ‘normal’ has changed dramatically but being back also feels normal. It all can be confusing, unexpectedly stressful and also hard for others to see or understand.

I’ve read about this, experienced in small ways last summer, and am anticipated a few ways that I will go through this in the coming months when I come home to Pennsylvania. I hope that writing this will help me to remember these things and also help my friends (if the read this) to be more understanding.

How can you help? Good question. When we talk you could help by telling me about things that might have changed while I’ve been away. I still remember you and things at home like they were 3 years ago when I left. Your kids were 3 years (or 1 depending on if I saw you enough last year) smaller. There was no round-a-bout across from the middle school (and round-a-bouts go left here).

And remember that I have to do things again that I haven’t in a long time: drive, pump gas, ignore all the conversations around me being spoken in English. Honestly I’m not sure what will help because I can schedule the moments when culture shock of coming home will hit me. But I do hope that just reading this will help you understand what I am feeling.


The book I’m reading is Before You Get ‘Home’: Preparing for Reentry” by Ronald L. Koteskey. 

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3 thoughts on “Reentering the Atmosphere

  1. Liz says:

    Thanks for sharing your heart, Mal. It will be tough, but it will be good, and we are all here to help you in any way we can, even if it’s just listening and being. I pray that your re-entry process is a gentle one.

  2. mel says:

    i was actually just talking with your mom about this the other week. her and i traveled to va together. did she tell you that? we had lots of good conversation. but anyhow…i know it will be hard!! but i hope we can all be here to help you adjust in whatever way you need! we are looking forward to having you around again! =)

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