Part 2 – Re-entry: Reconstructing our lives

In Part I, we discussed how the development of an individual identity, a sense of belonging with one’s peers, and close personal relationships are normal developmental tasks faced by every young adult.

Why then did it knock me off my bearings?

It’s because we face these during the major life transition of re-entry. The cultural changes we face may include a loss of status, a sense of marginality, a loss of friends and perhaps family, and often a loss of purpose and meaning. And the novel ideas, values, people and customs we encounter upon re-entry create a tension between our host and home cultures.

Culture shock

They require a transformation of our approach to the world – a reconstruction of our lives, which emerges as an additional developmental task, one uncommon among our peers. This layering of stressors and life tasks can throw us off balance, and can magnify the anxiety we feel when exploring typical early-adult tasks.

The first couple of years upon return to the U.S., I felt a definite “culture shock.” I had been a blonde among Japanese and all of a sudden I was a blonde among other blondes who all looked like me and I felt lost in the crowd – I wished I looked different because I knew I was different. On the other hand, I also wanted to belong but found that there were many conversational topics that I knew nothing about… and also attitudes/customs that I was unfamiliar with… On one hand I felt “older & wiser” than my college peers, and on the other hand felt inexperienced in life as an American 18 – 20 year old. ~ Re-entered TCK, 31 years of age

It is very difficult to even begin to try to explain what a bicultural upbringing is really like and how it can tear at the very foundations of your life… The whole pace of life and values seemed to be totally reversed… I was neither American nor Indian and I felt like it, an outsider in both worlds… I wish I could explain my anguish to you, but I can’t on paper. ~Re-entered TCK, 28 years of age

During re-entry, most of us maneuver the external demands of our new worlds well. It’s the inner tensions related to our life reconstructions that take some time to work through. It’s wise to not be overly pre-occupied by these tensions; instead, compassionately allowing ourselves time to once more find our bearings. It takes time.

I don’t think people realize how different you are after living overseas. Another country becomes “home” and then you are thrown back int your real “home” and it isn’t really home anymore… After a while it became a lot easier and I finally felt like I belonged… I hardly ever talk about living overseas… ~Re-entered TCK, 20 years of age

When I came back [to my home country], I was very much like a naïve immigrant who thought the streets would be paved with gold; I had a very idealistic idea of what to expect… But when the shock of reality had worn off, …I pretty much accepted things which confronted me… yet to this day, I still feel a part from the world around me… I feel very lucky for having lived overseas and if I had to live my life over again, I wouldn’t want it to be any different than the way it has been. ~Re-entered TCK, 33 years of age

While having simultaneous life stressors can take a toll and leave us vulnerable, studies show that they also give us opportunities to build coping skills and personal strengths. Negative emotions can also be appropriate and helpful if they ground us in reality (e.g. loss of close friends and family) and move us forward to constructive action (e.g. seek out new friends).

It often has been a lonely road full of difficult decisions. But I feel I am a more creative individual than those around me because of it. Though I found it difficult to adjust to my new life in the States, I wouldn’t trade my years overseas for anything. I can see things from different perspectives, understand the world around me more and enjoy life a little more than those around me. ~Re-entered TCK, 22 years of age

The first couple of years, I had a hard time. I was lucky I found an interest to keep me going, setting goals, etc. I met nice people who were interested in the same things. ~Re-entered TCK, 23 years of age

I found that I questioned my sanity a few times because I felt about things differently. As soon as I was able to say to myself, “I just had a different experience and that is why I am different,” then I was able to feel comfortable with other people. ~Re-entered TCK, 22 years of age

What coping skills and personal strengths are/will be part of your life story based on your time abroad and/or re-entry experiences?

In Part 3, we’ll discuss what a life well-lived looks like, and how we might go about reconstructing it.

4 thoughts on “Part 2 – Re-entry: Reconstructing our lives

  1. Robynn: I’m saying “both-and” vs either-or. There are some early-adult developmental tasks that are the same for us and our home country peers, i.e. forming an identity, a sense of belonging, and close, meaningful relationships. And I believe there is value in connecting with this “sameness.” For an example of the value, see lauradcampbell’s response to my question about this in comments under Part 1.

    Then, on top of these typical developmental tasks, there’s an additional task that is unique – the life reconstruction. It is triggered by re-entry and not faced by most of our home-country peers. It involves making sense of our “new” re-entered world due to the collision of ideas, values, people and customs. For many of us, building ways to understand (and own) our new world is a strenuous process. (And this overlay can influence how we maneuver through and experience the “typical” developmental tasks.) And perhaps of most importance, we can gain personal strengths from this difficult experience (akin to post-traumatic growth). Someone posted a C.S. Lewis quote on Facebook today that gets to this: Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.

    Does that help clarify it? Thanks for asking – and I’m willing to try again if needed.



  2. Joy….so are you saying that what we go through is the same as our home country counter-parts but it’s different than what our home country counter-parts go through?
    Perhaps I’m confused (It wouldn’t be the first time!) but I feel like this post completely contradicts the previous post. What am I missing? Help me understand…
    Thanks for thinking so deeply on these issues. It really is significant material and I appreciate the work you’ve put into it.


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