“Going “home” was one of the most successful failures of my life.
Not that repatriation is a competition, but had it been the summer I moved back, I would have been a shoo-in for the win,” writes Jerry Jones of The Culture Blend , in Arriving Well*.
He had all the knowledge, being a cross cultural trainer and all, plus he had some amazing friends. I almost fell off my chair with emotion when he described the way they set up his apartment and met them at the airport. And I say ‘emotion’ as I’m not sure if I was laughing or crying. Talk about attention to detail- even the cat had a welcome sign. Everything was set up so they could have a smooth transition, and yet it was still hard.
““It’s hard to feel incompetent, isn’t it?” Yep. That’s the word. It echoed for a while. Maybe it still does.
I despised feeling incompetent, but at least in China it had been expected. One look at my face set the bar incredibly low and anything I did to surpass that was met with shock and high praise.”
So after I read Jerry Jones’ chapter in which he so competently explains his incompetence I went back and looked at the re entry post I wrote a few months ago;
I realised that 1-6 are basically all incompetence. (#7 is Loss)
So here I adapted the original and turned it into:
6 Types of Reverse Culture Shock Incompetence
1.You look like everyone else so drivers assume you will know how to cross the road; people in the supermarket expect you to be able to put a box of corn flakes in the
cart trolley and
the line up to pay for it. (The Cereal Aisle had to get a mention.)
You can’t do stuff people expect you to be capable of doing.
2. You've lived there before so you (think you) know how to do all those simple things. Like feed yourself and participate in conversations. Like buy and wear shoes after wearing
flip-flops thongs for many years. Like speak
You can’t do stuff you expect yourself to be capable of doing.
3. “Have you settled in yet?” It sounds like a perfectly reasonable question to ask but sometimes sounds like “You should feel settled now that you have been back for almost a year.”
You can’t be settled in like it seems people expect.
4. Every little thing takes so much more effort so you are extra tired. But the bed is too soft, there is no hugging pillow, and it’s so cold you need to use a blanket. Even sleeping needs to be relearned.
You don’t have the ability to sleep as much as you need.
5. In a new environment your hobbies and habits that kept you sane can’t happen.
You aren’t equipped to have fun and relax.
6.Feeling like your arms have been chopped off is such a huge part of your thought life but you don’t know how to communicate this to anyone.
Incompetence is going to be part of reentry, so get the tools- like Arriving Well. My favourite description of the book:
“The difficult but necessary topic of re-entry is approached so eloquently through five honest, raw, healing personal stories we are all certain to learn from. The co-editors/coaches neatly sum up the useful lessons learned from each story and ask the readers pertinent, reflective questions to help them through their own repatriation journeys. This is one book I will keep handy along with all my other favorite expatriate resources.“
Tina L. Quick, author of The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition and Survive and Thrive: The International Student’s Guide to Succeeding in the U.S. and founder of International Family Transitions.
*Brubaker, Cate. Arriving Well: Stories about identity,belonging, and rediscovering home after living abroad. Kindle Edition.