Re-entry Reality: A Chronic Malaise
It’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.
Today’s Re-Reality interview is with Kate Kirk, an international recruiter for a bilingual school in Honduras and an intern for Melibee Global. In the past she has worked in international education and student services in the U.S. and Honduras. She is a lifelong learner, enjoying elective studies in global education, ethics, music, and philosophy.
She’s @WanderingSinger on Twitter.
Kate, tell us a little about where you went abroad and what you did there.
I first traveled abroad when I was 14. My dad was teaching on a study abroad program in Paris, so I visited him with the rest of my family, traveling to a few hot spots in Italy as well. During my undergraduate work, I participated in the same study abroad program, studying film in Paris. During my junior year, I did an exchange in Hungary for a semester, where I really got to meet a wonderful group of Erasmus and local students, and study amazing topics, many of which weren’t offered in English.
During my grad work I did a summer program in Italy, where I performed in operas and concerts. I ended up doing my thesis fieldwork in Ghana, studying drumming and dance, and how ethics are passed through these forms. Last semester I worked as an instructor at a bilingual school in Honduras, where I taught various subjects to second and third graders, many of whom were just learning English.
I’ve been very fortunate to have had these experiences, and find studying, living, and working abroad to be some of the most rewarding and humbling experiences one can have!
When did the idea of re-entry get on your radar?
Surprisingly, I went through several study abroad experiences without ever hearing of re-entry. I actually only heard the word used a couple of years ago when I decided to take some professional development courses in the field. That being said, I was definitely aware that I was having some sort of reverse culture shock or existential crisis each time I returned.
What was your re-entry experience like?
As I’m sure it is for many, each re-entry experience seemed to vary according factors like how immersed I was in the culture, if the particular trip was with other Americans, and what kind of situation I was returning home to (school, work, unemployment, family reunion, etc.).
My first experience with re-entry was the hardest. I returned home to start my first year of high school. Not only was I having to adapt to a new school and find new friends, I also had my first pangs of re-entry. The combination felt me feeling isolated, with no one to relate to.
Since that initial experience, I tend to have mixed feelings whenever I return home from studying or working abroad. I’m excited about seeing my family and friends, but also quite fearful of the impending return of my chronic malaise, and the struggle with identity that I expect to follow. Though I still tend to get these re-entry symptoms, I’ve learned to manage them a lot better.
What do you know *now* about re-entry that you wish you’d known earlier?
I wish I would’ve learned sooner how to manage my re-entry melancholy. Though friends and family want to show their interest in your experiences, they can’t necessarily relate. To amplify the problem, if you continue talking about your experiences abroad, others might interpret it as self-indulgent gloating.
While some might say that we as conscious beings simply like to talk about ourselves, I think that in reality we actually need to. We need to talk about our experiences, our changing sense of self, and how we feel about it. By expressing these ideas in some form, we engage in self-reflection and become capable of managing re-entry.
Now, whenever I return home, I consciously take time to truly process the experience. I talk to friends or relatives who have studied abroad, as to not alienate others.
What tips do you have for others who are about to go through re-entry?
Reach out to friends or teachers who have travelled or studied abroad. Having someone with whom to relate lessens your sense of isolation and offers the possibility of gaining advice from other more experienced globe-trotters. Going to a counselor can also help you hash out your feelings and sense of changing identity.
I also benefited greatly from writing down my thoughts and staying in touch with friends I met abroad. Finally, it’s important to take the time necessary for personal reflection. I know it’s hard to justify it, especially given how fast-paced our lives are in the U.S., but this personal time is necessary.
And… just for fun…if re-entry were a food what would it be? Why?
Due to its obscurity, this food requires a bit of an explanation. Leeches are a native Honduran fruit that look like some small, spherical object from another planet. Its shell has long, spiny protrusions all over and, when ripe has a neon red-orange appearance. Upon peeling its alien exterior, a cream-colored fruit, with the texture like the inside of a grape, is revealed.
Leeches are like re-entry in that they are tricky. If you get them before or after they ripen, they taste bitter. But if chosen thoughtfully, you’ll enjoy a sweet, delicious fruit, much like spoils of personal growth that an engaged re-entry process yields. Re-entry can be bitter and unpalatable, and personal growth and insight evasive, but when choose your approach thoughtfully, its rewards can be sweet and deeply rewarding.
Click here to participate in our free Re-Entry Reality virtual event on March 12!