Reverse culture shock, or re-entry, is simply a common reaction to returning home from abroad. It is an emotional and psychological stage of re-adjustment, similar to your initial adjustment to living abroad.
If I have to answer one more question about why I have my nose pierced, I think I’ll have to have to head to the nearest bar.
There ISN’T a bar in this town!
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My Aunt Glee is robust, rotund, and jolly. She and Uncle Will have thirteen children, and 78 great-grandchildren. When she sits down in a house full of her Mennonite prodigy, there are 203 of them.
Zero divorce rate; 100% percent retention to the Mennonite faith.
And then there’s me: the little black sheep.
I grew up in a small town, where my kinfolk were 100% Mennonite, a sect not unlike the Amish in Harrison Ford’s “The Witness.” My father was a deacon, and then the minister of our church. My grandparents and mom attended a one-room schoolhouse, and life revolved around church. I am one of the few of my 25 cousins to have a college education. Unlike some Mennonites, our house had a car, electricity, and running water. But, we had no TV and absolutely no alcohol on the premises. We weren’t permitted to attend movies, wear jewelry, pierce our ears, or go to dances. My mom stayed at home and cooked homemade meals, and the food on our table came from our garden. Even the root beer and the clothes we wore were homemade.
I left home over 20 years ago to attend college, and when I tell my friends of my background, they are shocked and look at me in pity. But, in many ways, my childhood was idyllic. Minus TV, my sister and I made our own fun, constructing Lincoln Log villages, creating songs, and reading books- all Christian, of course. Though I often felt different from the others in my school, especially when my mom dropped me off in her plain clothes and everyone stared, I wouldn’t change much about my childhood.
However, coming home for me is more of a culture shock than moving overseas. My aunts and uncles dress in plain clothes, like the Amish, so when I show up at family reunions, I am often the Entertainment of the Year, with my stories from abroad and the various foreign boyfriends that I’ve toted along for the ride. They’re curious, and they love to hear my stories of riding elephants and flying in airplanes and eating strange food. Last year, having forgotten to remove my nose ring, my cousins were duly impressed. I try to censor what I say, like refraining from a phrase I use daily “Oh, my God!!!” since this would deeply offend them. (One of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shall not use the Lord’s name in vain.”)
My 74-year-old Aunt Dee (my grandfather’s younger sister) called me today. Since she got my Christmas card and letter, she wanted to thank me. She tells me how she loves her Bible study, how her 15 grandchildren are home schooled, and how much she’s praying for me. She suggests a few religious books I might enjoy, and gives me the titles. Sweet Aunt Dee, who prays for me. I’ll take all the prayers I can get, but hold off on the books. She tells me, “We all need each other, don’t we?”
My mom shares with me a letter from Aunt Dee’s sister, Aunt Glee: the one with 203 descendents. In her perfect, cursive penmanship on stationary printed with a Bible verse on top she writes:
… If it’s love that makes them grow little “W.A.” gets plenty of that, with 6 above him in age he gets plenty love. Some times this great-grandma gets concerned. They drag him around like a rag doll, sometimes I tell them watch his back or put your hand back of his head. They go so fast when they carry him. I’m afraid his little head will get banged or they will drop him.
I can just picture W.A.’s brothers and sisters treating their younger brother more like a doll, than a human being. He’s a toy, and better entertainment than Play Station. But then again, they don’t even know what Play Stations IS!
What strikes me most when I’m home is the overwhelming care and concern that members of the Mennonite community have for others, both in and out of their church. Sure, it can all get a bit too much, especially when this same “care and concern” develops into gossip and judgment. (There’s a reason I left, mind you! If you want to be a ballerina or a painter or an artist or a pilot or writer of non-religious books, there’s not a place for you here.) But underneath the prayer veils and aprons and black stockings of my aunts, and the plain suits and hats of my uncles, and the black cars of my cousins, there’s a strong sense of commitment to community. Everyone helps everyone out in time of need- in sickness and in health. They help to build each other’s barns, cook each other’s food, raise each other’s children, and heal each other’s wounds.
I’ve spent years running away from my roots.
Only lately have I grown to appreciate the tender, good parts of my heritage.