Lost at Home

(by Nicole)
I’m currently three weeks into my four-month long home assignment, so it seems like a good time to address the phenomenon of reverse culture shock while it’s fresh. Let’s take a brief look at where I’ve just come from:  I love the community living in Kibuye; we live together as a team with common purpose. I am constantly surrounded by people who know me and love me well, whom I have been intentionally doing life with for the last two years. We’ve had countless shared experiences and built a team culture that this blog can only provide glimpses of.

This is not the first time I’ve been back to the US since I arrived in Kibuye. In fact, I’ve been back twice in the last two years for special events. These visits were both very brief and didn’t require me to really enter back in to the culture. This time feels altogether different. I have four months. That’s enough time to get involved, to build routines, to invest. I didn’t expect to feel differently though, so the culture shock I’ve experienced really snuck up on me. I’ve felt a sense of social anxiety that I’ve never experienced before. I’ve found myself in tears even on my way to join my friends at bible study. My body has decided to find new ways to react to stress so I’ve found that I now start to get hot and sweat when I’m nervous (thanks for that, self). I’ve also noticed my hands shaking but, that could be because of the excessive amounts of coffee I’ve been consuming to fight the lethargy I’ve been feeling. I’ve never been good at dealing with large amounts of unstructured time; I like to have a plan and stick to it, yet here I am with four months of time and minimal structure other than my already scheduled speaking engagements. (This particular tension has eased a bit as I’ve gotten involved in a bible study, scheduled French tutoring, and added a few other regular commitments to my schedule – but initially it was a major cause of stress.) It’s just in the last few days that I’ve realized I’m enjoying driving again. I still feel isolated and lonely when I spend more than a couple of hours at home. I don’t like having to schedule time with people more than a week in advance, and then having to travel to see them. I miss walking out my front door and going to my neighbor’s house to have tea and talk about our days. In Kibuye I see the same people every day and they know pretty much everything happening with my life (I’m an extrovert and a verbal processor so the people around me tend to know just about everything about me.) I don’t like having to recount the last year to people instead of just the last few hours.

Even as I write and think back to how intensely I was feeling these emotions a week ago, I realize they are slowly fading away. I’m slowly finding my way back into American culture and have some great friends who listen and seek to understand what I’ve experienced. I’m thankful for the paradox of emotions I’m feeling because it means I am at home in both places. Even as I wrestle with the negative impact of reverse culture shock, I am elated to have the next few months to spend with family and friends and to invest in my home church which has invested so much in me. I praise God that in this season I have two places to call home. 

Kibuye, Burundi

Poughkeepsie, New York

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