By Kim Frolander, Vineyard Missions Blogger
Coming home from a missions trip on a mountain-top “high” can be an exhilarating experience. Even more surprising can be the depressing aftermath, an unexpected crash back into normal life in your own culture. From science to experience, we discuss the varying symptoms of “normal” re-entry, what to watch for, how to prepare yourself and your team to ease into the transition, and how you can help friends returning from the field make their adjustments to living in a new normal.
Part 2: Re-Entry is More Than Jet-Lag
As discussed in part 1 of this series, jet-lag is all the physical symptoms that diminish a few days after re-establishing a circadian rhythm that matches the sun’s schedule in your physical location and catching up on those zzz’s you missed with all the travel and late-night ministry. But “re-entry” is more emotional (of the soul) rather than physical, even when sometimes you might experience physical evidence of what is going on inside.
A good rule of thumb is that symptoms of re-entry can last up to twice as long as a person was away. So if you went on a 10-day trip, don’t get worried about taking too long to readjust unless your symptoms last more than 3 weeks after your return. If you’ve gone away for a year, it can take up to two years upon returning to your primary culture for you to feel normal in your own skin again.
Potential symptoms of the perfectly normal experience of re-entry:
- Snapping at people (especially at your family)
- General malaise
- Sadness or depression
- Sarcasm (more than usual)
- Indecisiveness or difficulty making decisions
- Crying at the drop of a hat
- Feeling cranky for no particular reason
- Difficulty identifying emotions
- Lowered ability to “roll with the punches” of life’s daily mini-changes
- Disillusionment with your own culture’s negative aspects (pre-departure training helps)
- Comparing of cultures, food, people, ministry style, or effectiveness
- Daydreaming about your memories—good or bad—or just “zoning out”
- Tiredness that is not just in your body, but sits in your soul
- Judging your own culture as lacking faith, or anything else for that matter
- Disappointment that you don’t see the miracles at home that you saw on the field
- Missing the comradery you had with your team
- Missing the time you soaked in God’s presence and His Word away from the cares of everyday life
- Reluctance to let go of good times abroad and live where you are in the present
- Looking for that dopamine rush experienced every day in a culture where everything is new and you are always learning, assessing, adjusting, and trying new things
- Social media let-down. Let’s be real, you’re posting those new experiences on social media and all your friends are liking them, and so impressed with your “super cool life” and when you come home, you may have more photos to post or videos that were too large to upload from the slow hotel wifi, but now you’re back to the mundane on-line life: posting funny cat videos, plates of food creations, or sharing the odd, daring political hot potato meme.
- New Year’s Day Syndrom: You may experience feelings similar to a New Year’s resolution that things are going to be different when you come home, you’re going to pray more, incorporate more Bible reading time into your mornings, start a new small group, or start up a healing team ministry. Resolutions are good, and upon returning home from such a spectacular, life-changing, and perspective-altering trip is a good time to make some permanent changes you want to see in your life—a re-boot if you will! Some of those things will stick. Some will not.
That is a lot of symptoms! You may experience all of them or very few of them.
If you go often, you might come to expect a certain rhythm in re-entering your primary culture. But just because you think you know what to expect, that doesn’t mean it will be the same every time. Occasionally a trip will slap you in the face once you’re home. Or you may be doing well getting back into the swing of things at work and church and then—boom!—10 days later, you start feeling the re-entry emotions and irritability when you snap at a staff member over a gum wrapper. (Yep, a real-life example!)
Part three of this re-entry blog entry will offer some insight on how and why re-entry experiences vary in the way they show up on any given trip home. Hint, it could be due to your stress-load.
Going With the Return in Mind: Re-Entry Resource Guide
- Part 1: Jet-Lag
- Part 2: Re-Entry is More Than Jet-Lag
- Part 3: What Contributes to a Rough Re-Entry?
- Part 4: Processing Changes at Home
- Part 5: Practices that contribute to a positive re-entry
- Part 6: The Short-Term Missionary Re-Entry Experience
- Part 7: The Long-Term Missionary Re-Entry Experience
Kim Frolander started attending Inverness Vineyard Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1994. She spent two years as a volunteer/missionary in Jerusalem, Israel, and upon coming home, she trained with Bubba Justice and led missions at IVC for 3.5 years. Now she uses her experience and degrees in research and writing, (formally known as English and History) for curating resources for Vineyard Missions. She has authored eight books and recently founded a non-profit ministry, the Ruth Israel Initiative.