Living the overseas dream
I admit it. I really wasn’t all that afraid to pack my entire life, my family’s lives, and all our memories, into 28 suitcases. There was a great excitement that accompanied our 30 hour flight to Southern Asia. In so many ways, I felt like I was coming home. A dream held tenderly in my heart since the age of nine, this business of living overseas was all I had ever wanted.
Little did I know how much there was to actually fear in our new home, in our daily rhythms. Forget the pressing issue of culture shock or culture stress, which is more appropriate of a term, anyway. There were events that occurred one after the other that shook our very foundation at its core. And the shaking continued for quite some time.
A nightmarish dream
Within the first six months, our neighbor was murdered right outside our house… right under my babies’ bedroom window as they lay fast asleep. I was the only one who heard the gunshots, jumping out of bed and realizing my peace had gone right out that same window. For weeks, I read the newspapers, and in bewilderment, could no longer recognize the home I was growing to love.
Then there was the earthquake. For a girl from the mountains of Tennessee, this was a major ordeal. I will never forget watching our bedroom door open and close, open and close, or the feeling of the furniture swaying back and forth. At the forefront of my mind was the fact that Gary and Joelle were not with Mel and me; they were at school. It took months for me to walk anywhere without the nagging feeling that my feet were shifting underneath me. They say that after an earthquake, the ground never feels secure again. They were right.
And then there was the time, in the midst of murders, earthquakes, and local political anarchy, that I couldn’t catch my breath. Literally. I was rushed to the local hospital and admitted to the cardiac unit. You haven’t lived until you’ve spent the night in an overcrowded hospital as the only foreigner who is also expected to pay a tip for each type of what can I say, let’s call it “service”.
Returning to solid ground
Eventually, I found my footing (it didn’t shake any longer), and life rushed on at a new normal rate for my family. In fact, it is still rushing on. In just a few short weeks, we will find ourselves on the other side of a really large ocean. Again. And this is what really scares me.
Going back to America
‘Obamacare’. ‘Twerking’. Gay marriage and equality debates. Newtown, Connecticut. The Boston Marathon. On and on it goes. As I have watched each of these events unfold; as I have listened with tears in my eyes and in my throat to the heartbreak, to the outcry, to the insecurity and instability that each of these has wrought, I feel a little more lost.
I left America in 2011 as an American. I came to Asia as a foreigner. Now, I am somewhere in between, not fully one or the other.
Why I am scared to go home
I’m scared to go back to America for two actual reasons.
For one, America is not the same. My kids will be in public school where it is no longer a myth that classrooms full of first grade angels can be pillaged in the most unthinkable of ways.
It is no longer a myth in America that many Christians are more concerned with their “rights” (which usually consist of carrying a gun, choosing their own health plan, and possibly seeing a tight ship run at border control) than they are about actual substantial problems, like unreached people groups, sex trafficking and kidnapping (think Nigeria), political violence, and something as trivial as having enough clean water and healthy food to make it through another day. I don’t even know how I will react to/interact with/process this new level of craziness in my home country. I have already issued the warning to Mel: “muzzle my mouth. You will need to muzzle my mouth!”
As to reason number two, I am no longer the same. Southern Asia has taken up lasting residence in my American-shaped heart. A people of a different color, of a different tongue, of a different way of life have become my brother and my sister, my mother and my father, my son and my daughter. They have taken me in and loved me as their own. They have taken my family in and given us memories, given us relationships, given us value and immense support. Southern Asia has become my home, and I her most grateful dweller.
So many changes
Wedding bells have rung; baby carriages are full. There will be hugs and introductions and lots of welcome celebrations for the new life that began while we were away from America. But hearses have also driven down the road; eyes have leaked constantly for the one who is no more on this sacred ground. There will be large empty spaces and vacant Thanksgiving tables and fewer Christmas stockings since the last time we sat down to our traditions and our thoughts in America. Two grandparents, a lifelong best friend, a pastor and mentor… their absence has changed us forever, and in a few short weeks, we will encounter the new rhythm of life in America without them.
I’m sorting, packing, purging feverishly these days. In the midst of that, I will take my fear and my suitcases and prepare for the ride. America, here I come!
By Jillian Rogers
A lover of coffee, chocolate, & deep conversation, Jillian traded in her blue jeans for shalwar kameezes and has learned the art of eating rice with her fingers.
She serves as a community relief and development strategist alongside her husband, Mel, and their two small children in Southern Asia. Together they direct Akhi’s Place, a rescue home for young girls born into brothels.
Great article. I’m doing the same thing but without the family. I’ve been living in Japan since 1999. I raised one son and now it’s time for me to head home. Yeah. Divorce.
I’m pretty nervous about moving back, as you were. I’ll move back next year, so I still have some time to prepare for it. I’m making videos of the whole experience and I have website to document the whole experience and get comments from others. I’d love to hear from fellow expats moving back to America. I’m also planning to live in a van when I get back and just travel around in order to have time to acclimate myself again and find work. Oh, here’s the website mikexpat.com. And of course my YouTube channel is mikexpat.
Hope things are going well for you. I’d love to know if it all worked out.
It’s intersting that you hadn’t mentioned police brutality when you mentioned the horrors of going back home. A little perspective on how different the American reality is for Americans who don’t have the same fears because they don’t live the same threats.
We’ve been in Singapore for 4 years and are now leaving. I’m so glad we are not going back to the UK, where we are from. We are actually heading to New York. I’m very excited but after reading this I’m now pretty nervous. Maybe we should be staying here.
Please remember that this is one person’s perspective 🙂 I’m sure you will have a wonderful time in New York (very jealous!).
Repatriation is very difficult and most companies do not help employees and their families with the process. I always recommend trying to find international groups so that you will find like minded people to share your experiences. Expats returning to North America might be interested in joining FAUSA.org it is a virtual network of expats sharing experiences.
Thank you for the link – a very useful resource for expats.
Repatriation is always hard, especially when you have moved away and are viewing it through a media lens. The focus is always on extremes rather than the day to day challenges, victories, people and kindnesses. As a UK expat in the US, I struggle to come to terms with the lack of gun control, the volume of stuff (our previous assignment was Kenya,so we went from simplicity to excess in a 14 hour flight!) and the reliance on cars, so it’s easy to lose sight of the joys; the climate, the community and the access to services which are locking in so many places. Every time I move, my cultural perspective and core values shift a little, so my needs when I go home change. Other repats will tell you that it’s no different to any other international transition, and while in theory it should be easy because things are familiar, in practice, much of that familiarity has gone, and you will go through the same adaptation process. And yet again, be stronger and wiser for it.
Thank you for your wise words. I do agree on the ‘media lens’ comment. So rarely are good news stories heard that it’s easy to assume life is grim according to the national news information we read.
Really interesting article. We repatriated to the UK almost 12 months ago after 12 years in Hong Kong where we raised two children. Leaving your home country is hard, going back is harder.
I’ve heard that it’s harder to repatriate. I wonder if returning is more difficult or easier if you were pleased to leave your home country? Just pondering!