Re-Entry Reality: Seated at the Wrong Table

RR-InterviewIt’s Re-Entry Reality Monday! Each week leading up to our Re-Entry Reality event on March 12, I’ll post a re-entry podcast or blog interview. The goal of these interviews is to share a range of re-entry experiences.

Would you like to share your Re-Entry Reality? Contact me – I’d love to talk with you.

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I’m delighted to share Missy Gluckmann’s Re-Entry Reality today. Missy and her Melibee Global team have created a fantastic re-entry resource and are cooking up a bunch of other neat things. Missy is also a SPS faculty member.

 

Missy, tell us about your experience(s) abroad. Where did you go and what did you do?

It seems like ages ago, but my first trip abroad was to Greece back in the 80s.  I was fourteen and we visited our family in Athens and vacationed on some of the breathtaking islands.  It was quite a way to fall in love with traveling!

I participated in a Rotary exchange summer program in Nottingham, England during the summer after high school and recently reconnected with my host sister, Sarah, and another friend, Simon, after 26 years! I studied abroad in college for a semester (London, England) and visited Russia during spring break (Leningrad and Moscow.)

During my graduate school internship, I lived abroad in Lugano, Switzerland for six months and traveled throughout Europe on weekends (I know – a “very” American thing to do).  Between my work in higher education, human resource consulting and my personal love of travel, I’ve been to many other places including Egypt, Singapore, Venezuela, India, Brazil, Costa Rica and Ecuador.

Missy skyping with her long lost friend Simon from her Rotary Club exchange experience in Notthingham, England (2012)

Missy skyping with her long lost friend Simon from her Rotary Club exchange in England (2012)

 

When did the idea of re-entry get on your radar?

Re-entry was something I experienced for the first time at the age of fourteen when I returned from Greece.  No one in my hometown understood the experience and so I didn’t really bother trying to explain it after a few failed attempts.  I had similar experiences after returning from Nottingham and London.  No one talked about the “going home” part with me before I left England, so I didn’t know what I’d feel.

Reflecting back, my first awareness of there being an actual name for the feelings around returning home occurred when I was in graduate school. Back then we read about “reverse culture shock,” talked about the “W curve” and one of my classmates did her capstone on the subject.  I remember talking with her about how deeply impacted she was by the challenges of coming home, and it stuck with me.

What was your re-entry experience like?

My most profound re-entry reflection was the day I returned from living in Lugano, Switzerland.  My family picked me up at JFK airport in New York.  I remember thinking how incredibly filthy JFK seemed and how ugly the buildings all looked.  We stopped at a diner and had a bite to eat.  I felt completely lost – like I had been seated at the wrong table.  I didn’t know what anyone was talking about, there wasn’t a lot of sincere questioning about my return home, and the place seemed unbelievably loud.  I remember sitting in the booth thinking that the food was awful and that English might be the ugliest language  that I had ever heard!

I just returned from a visit to Ecuador and my re-entry experience was very different.  I was hyper-aware of what re-entry could look like – so I thought about it often prior to my departure from the US, while I was in Ecuador and before I came home.  My husband knows all about re-entry shock from my work at Melibee Global, so he knew to be thoughtful in his questioning from the minute he picked me up from the airport.  I had carefully considered what my re-entry “elevator speech” might sound like and have been practicing a few variations of it since my return home.

I have also reflected on how I observed, participated, grew and learned from the experience in Ecuador – and that created a need for action.  I made a list of how I would continue the learning while back at home.  Needless to say, this re-entry has been what I would describe as “perfectly imperfect.” No matter how much you plan, there are still hiccups and adjustments required when coming home.

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Overlooking the city of Quito from the Teleforico. (2012)

What do you know *now* about re-entry that you wish you’d known earlier?

I wish I knew how others were going to respond (or their lack of response) to my profound, transformational experiences.  Had I recognized how little the “average Joe” would be able to relate to it, I would have saved myself a lot of disappointment!

I also wish I knew how important it was to reflect, reflect again,  and again, and again – and to keep processing the experience in different ways – art, journaling, reading, conversations and actions that keep me close to the evolution that happens when you take the time to practice the fine art of reflection.

What tips do you have for others who are about to go through re-entry?

I would encourage others to be patient with the process.  Re-entry is not something to be conquered, nor it is a destination – it is very much a journey.  Carve out time to just “be” to meditate on your journey.  Seek out others who have been transformed by education and travel abroad.  Find a mentor to encourage you to push the learning forward. Then reflect some more, again and again and again!  Observe your own evolution – it can be fascinating!

This one is just for fun…if re-entry were a food what would it be? Why?

I have two answers:  Re-entry is like a taco.  It is colorful, spicy, with many different textures and layers. Then just when you think “I got this re-entry thing,” you pick that taco up and it cracks and falls apart all over the place. Inevitably, you end up washing some salsa and some queso blanco intended for your mouth out of your new shirt! Yup, that is what re-entry feels like – a big, juicy, messy, misunderstood, delicious taco!

My second answer is that reentry is like chopping onions.  It can be the hardest part of many recipes because it can make you cry and it can feel endless. But when you add it to the rest of your life’s recipe, you realize that if you let it simmer long enough, it changes into something sweet – that is – if you’re patient enough.

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Click here to participate in our free Re-Entry Reality virtual event on March 12!

 

About the Author: Cate Brubaker

Cate helps travelers, expats, teachers, and students relaunch themselves into their ideal global lives after being abroad at SmallPlanetStudio.com.

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