31 January 2016

The Five Stages of Home{less} Assignment

I know I told you a little while back that I'd return to more regular updates and even some posts catching you up on stories from the first half of 2015.

But I haven't done that.

And I'm only kind-of sorry about it.
Maiguida (the Hausa term for "husband") and I have been playing a little game called How Many Miles Can We Fly Before One of Us Breaks.

Just kidding.

Kind-of.  

The truth is, we're on Home Assignment.  You know, furlough.  

For those of you not familiar with Christianese lingo . . . it's like shore leave for the Navy . . . except we don't get to relax on tropical beaches.   Instead we spend the time catching donors up on what we've been doing with their generosity, fund raising for a multitude of things, and recruiting for my department and the hospital and SIM as a whole.

I have a new favorite Instagram hashtag:
#homeiswhereyourflightis
But being that we are an international couple, we have not only had to visit will-be-15-US-states-in-all-timezones-by-the-time-we're-done but also we've had to go back and forth to Europe and even once back to Niger!

We spent our entire first month of marriage completely jet-lagged!  And not just an hour here, and an hour there.  Instead it was a little craziness that went like this: fly west six times zones . . . stay for a week . . . go back east for a day . . . fly west a time zone for 3 days . . . fly another seven times zones east . . . rinse and repeat.

But the more we travel, the more we feel that neither of our passport-countries are "home".  Galmi is the closest we've got to "home" . . . but even there we are just long-term visitors.

The only sense I've been able to make of any of it is in terms of the stages of grief; coming to accept the loss of "normal" . . . the loss of "home".

So as I continue to process, and many of you interface with those of us who live and work in a culture that is not our own, I give to you:

The Deb.Berruti Five Stages of Home{less} Assignment*
*None of this is backed up by scientific evidence and is all a matter of the author's personal opinion.  This is a blog post, not a submission for a peer-reviewed journal . . . just keep that in mind when commenting or sharing  on social media . . . the author is no expert, just expressing "outloud" her process of feeling homeless in the country which issued her passport.

1.  Denial -- a euphoric state when the Cross-Cultural Worker (CCW) buckles in on the first leg out of the country of service.  The stress is palpable as it begins leaving the worker's body; his or her heart full of hope that rest is coming and rejuvenation is possible.  He or she naïvely believes that once (s)he is "home" (s)he will feel normal again.

During a long layover in somewhere not-as-exotic-as-it-sounds, like the Atatürk Havalimani International Airport, the CCW soaks in the colorful bliss of DutyFree and flips through a People studded with new stars and glamorous headliners she's never heard of (because her internet is too slow for YouTube).  The world is her oyster yet again . . . oblivious that her feet are the color of the Sahara and her outfit would be rejected by Goodwill.

What is important for a friend or loved one of the Cross-Cultural Worker who is experiencing the Denial Stage to accept is that this is typically the shortest phase and will be the easiest phase for you to understand.   Your CCW typically agrees with you that it was time to come "home".  He or she may want to "talk about it", but not nearly as little as you want to "listen about it" . . . and that's okay, because this phase will pass . . . quickly.


2. Anger -- this stage can begin as early as the second leg of the trip "home" or as late as a month or two after being stamped back into the Cross-Cultural Worker's passport country.  This phase is also know as Reverse Culture Shock.

It begins subtly . . . often a reaction of surprise that someone who shares the worker's accent has actually said that . . . or is actually wearing that . . . or is actually behaving like that.

Before long "surprise" has switched to "anger".

It is important to remember that Cross-Cultural Worker has missed a significant period of time in his or her country of origin.  That means all of the current trends and fashions have not been experienced.  It's possible that your most major nation news events have been reported where he or she serves, but most likely he or she is in the dark.  And, as hard as it is to imagine, there is no such thing as PumpkinSpice at your CCW's local café.

As the friend or loved one of the Cross-Cultural Worker who is experiencing the Anger Stage, it is necessary to not get offended when your CCW is vocal about what he or she interprets as the underbelly of your culture.  The shock will wear off . . . eventually.


3. Bargaining -- the Bargaining Stage will look and feel like "recruiting" to the loved ones of the Cross-Cultural Worker.  He or she will say and do (just about) anything to convince you to "Come on out and join us!"  Don't get me wrong . . . one of the important parts of returning for furlough is to recruit skilled colleagues to partner in the work that is happening abroad.  But that's not what is happening in the Bargaining Stage of Home{less} Assignment!

Bargaining, in this sense, is about avoiding the pain of the Chronic Goodbye.  It is an attempt at creating something "constant" or developing more areas of "normal" that can exist in all of the CCW's worlds.

What's important for the friend or loved one of the Cross-Cultural Worker who is in the midst of the Bargaining Stage to understand is that your CCW straddles (at least) two worlds.  He or she is in a constant state of transition which causes an emotional fatigue that doesn't go away when the jetlag ends.  Your CCW will begin associating with and seek out others who have shared in similar international experiences.  It is also possible that your CCW will demonstrate a strong connection with acquaintances who have had these common experiences and avoid extended periods of time with those formerly considered close.


4. Depression -- the Depression Stage looks different in every Cross-Cultural Worker.  For some, it involves a lot of tears; for others, withdrawal and isolation.  But without question, it is a lonely road, even if surrounded by those offering their love and support.

Elements such as TravelFatigue, multiple PublicSpeakingEngagements, talking too much about hard experiences, not talking enough about difficult situations, feeling that your-life-has-continued-without-me, and too-many-other-factors-to-list-here all contribute to the Depression Stage your CCW.

The important thing to know if you are a friend or loved one of the Cross-Cultural Worker who is in the Depression Stage, is that rest cannot be rushed.  Exhaustion needs time to heal.  And healing looks different for every CCW.  It's true, your life has continued--just as the CCW's has.  Want to help?  Think back to meaningful shared experiences you had with your CCW and offer to do those again . . . if that's not possible, send a text message or an email reminding him or her of that memory you cherish.


5. Acceptance -- the Acceptance Stage comes when your Cross-Cultural Worker comes to embrace the reality that the New Normal exists not just in the country of service, but also the one that issued his or her passport.  Fatigue will have subsided as new routines were temporarily formed and your CCW has eaten his/her fill of [whatever favorite food is not available in the country of service].

What is most important for the friend or loved one of the CCW to understand, this stage of Acceptance usually only begins a couple of days before it's time for your Cross-Cultural Worker to pack their suitcases again, bound for that foreign place you've begged them to leave for good, where another round of transition and adjustment lies in wait for their arrival. 

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