Re-immersion

I’ve been back for almost two months now.  It is so hard to believe that much time has gone by since I was last in Asia.  I don’t need to tell you in 2 or 3 succinct sentences about how my time in Hong Kong really was wonderful and challenging and growing and scary and all of those other things.  You’ve been reading (hopefully), and so I don’t have to express to you that of course I am going to miss many aspects of living overseas.  It really was an incredible, life-changing experience that I would not trade for anything.  At the same time, I am glad to be home.  Whatever and wherever home is.  Before leaving Hong Kong, I had prepared myself for the inevitable reverse culture shock that would certainly befall me upon landing back in America.  I had been through it before, and I know how incredibly difficult that can be.

When I was 16, I took my first major overseas trip, the first without either of my parents.  I spent 3 weeks in Uganda, Africa on a mission trip.  I absolutely fell in love with everything about my time there.  The culture, the food, the people, the land, the music.  I didn’t want to leave.  In my heart, that was home.  In a concrete room without running water or electricity; where we were threatened once by an elephant stampede and drank warm milk directly from the goat – I was home.  Coming back to America everything seemed so….grand.  Overdone.  Trite.  To top it off, our church was in the midst of a very serious leadership change that was devastating to many people, and the man who had been our leader in Africa suddenly left without even saying goodbye.  That left our little rag-tag Africa group confused and without any leadership for dealing with reverse culture shock.  So we each learned to manage on our own.  I went through a period where I was angry.  I found so many things about my home culture to hate, having seen such immense poverty.  The wastefulness I found common in my own life shocked me, remembering how everything was a well-used resource in Uganda.  For a long time, it was painful to be in America, and it was hard to call it home.  But eventually, I re-immersed myself, and found things to love again.  I became a part of my own culture once again.  Changed.  Redefined. 

So, I expected a bit of this same kind of shock upon returning from Hong Kong.  After all, I had only be in Uganda for 3 weeks, how much worse would it be after 15 months abroad!?  Imagine my confusion when that reverse culture shock never hit.  I kept waiting, expecting it to happen.  Almost willing it to come, so I could just get it over with and move on with my life. I was waiting in limbo for a transition that just wouldn’t come.  I started to become a little worried, and almost disappointed, that it never came.  In Atlanta, I listened to my fellow Minterns talk about the difficulties of being home, of the frustrations of not being understood by their families.  I empathetically watched them shed tears over feeling displaced in their own culture, of being torn between two homes.  I had been there.  And though it didn’t happen this time, it doesn’t mean I don’t know that pain.  As I began to realize that perhaps RCS wasn’t going to hit, I started to be thankful.  A smooth transition (if there is such a thing) is a blessing.  Who knows why I didn’t experience many of the same emotions as before.  One can only speculate. 

I did however, learn something very important.  I can be in more than one place at once.  In Hong Kong, I was in my element – work wise.  With all the traveling, rallying, photography and relationships built.  That job was one that will be the measuring stick for all other jobs I ever have.  But at the same time, I was out of my element in that I was away from those I loved most.  While I created new and beautiful relationships in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, my heart was back here.  And for that reason, I couldn’t wait to get home.  Now that I am here, surrounded by family and friends who mean the world to me, I do find myself missing the work environment I left in Hong Kong.  I yearn to be productive and active, to be working for an organization that is making a difference.  A part of my heart is still there.  And that is okay, I left it there on purpose. 

My dear friend Abby talked about being afraid of losing “the voices in my head.”  The beautiful voices that belonged to the beautiful people she connected with so strongly in Grenada.  And Alycia reminded us that “the voices don’t leave us, they just become a part of a bigger and louder chorus.”

So to the voices in Uganda, in Hong Kong, in Kentucky, in Florida and for those I will begin to connect with in Seattle, begin your beautiful harmonies.  Sing loud, so I may not forget.  Sing strong, so as to be heard.  Sing together, so that the strands of my life may continue to become an ever changing sound of pure beauty.

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