Sometime after Thanksgiving 1984, after almost 3 years of living in Boulder, CO, we left for home (Read 6 Ways We Were Welcomed to the USA.) Four kids under the age of 10 were loaded in the back of a blue Subaru station wagon with most of our possessions in the cartop carrier. We were driving 2,865 miles back to our house, our family, our home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We stayed a night or two in Houston, crossed the border to Mexico, stayed in a few hotels along the way and made it to Mexico City by Christmas. We spent an unforgettable Christmas with Honduran friends, had the best flan I can ever remember tasting. But… I could barely speak any Spanish! I remember trying to pay attention to all the Spanish signs and billboards along the road to prepare myself for what was to come in my new life back “home.” After Mexico City, we spent a few nights in Guatemala City and crossed the border to Honduras on December 31st, 1984, welcoming the new year at my grandmother´s house on the Honduran North Coast. I clearly remember: being eaten alive by mosquitoes. the lights and noise of the fireworks and the burning of the Año Viejo.
Two days later and a short five hour drive, we entered into our home town, the capital city of Honduras. What was awaiting us upon our return was not as pleasant or exciting as moving to Boulder, Colorado. Here is an account of a Honduran family, moving back to their home country and experiencing what is often called, Re-entry Stress or Reverse-Culture Shock.
What is Reverse-Culture Shock?
Reverse culture shock is an emotional and psychological stage of re-adjustment similar to the adjustments a person initially experiences when living away from family and friends (Academic Exchange). It happens when people who have adapted well to their host culture return to their passport or home culture thinking it will be easy to readjust, when the opposite is most likely to happen (Re-entry pg. 78).
We came home in the height of the Cold War. The United States government had been funding a counter revolutionary Nicaraguan army, the Contras, equipping and training them on Honduran soil. We had left a nice, well-taken-care-of home, with rose bushes in the front yard. My father had left the management of our home to a friend who had rented it out to some Nicaraguan revolutionaries. When we returned, the roses and grass were gone. Closet drawers where found in the yard. The house had not been taken care of and the country we had left was never really the same.
What are the Signs?
It took a longer time for us to re-adapt to our home culture than it did to adapt to our host culture in Colorado. What were the signs that we, as a family, were experiencing re-entry stress?
- We had False Expectations: We thought we would fit right in. We were natives… born and raised. But we had changed and so had our house, our friends, our church, our family. We were promptly registered into a bilingual school at the start of the second semester. At school my older sister, in the 6th grade, remembers being made fun of by her classmates for wearing red nail polish and braiding her hair. Apparently, Punky Brewster style had not yet come to our country in full force, at least not in the 6th grade class. And I… flunked 3rd grade Spanish! Why was I even surprised?
- We Felt “out of place”: Along with false expectations, people who return “home” can feel quite lost. We had to re-learn a few things. But something that really threw us off was our church. Before moving to Colorado, we worshiped at a conservative congregation, one of the first Evangelical denominations to have planted churches in a primarily Roman Catholic country. But upon our return, the minister we had known had left; the congregation was different. We felt lost. Where would we go? The 80’s was also a time when there was explosive growth of the Evangelical church in Central America. Many American missionaries had come to Central America to plant churches and were quite successful. There were more options; but more options also meant more confusion, more church shopping, and church hopping. I don’t think we ever really found just the right place for us.
- We Felt lonely: Our friends had moved on and made new friends. We had left our new friends in the United States. Now we had to make new friends again. Life had not remained still. But maybe, in a sense, our life and friendships at home had been put on pause only in the screen of our memory.
- Reacting to Materialism/Poverty: It can be quite difficult for a Westerner from a developed country to return to their passport country after living in a third, under-developed or developing nation. The luxury, the abundance of toys,
clothes, cars, food, and the waste can cause quite a bit of shock and take quite some time to get used to. But it was opposite for us. We loathed the trash on the streets. We looked down on people throwing their soft drink cans or disposable plates from the windows of taxis and buses. And due to the presence of the Contras in our previously safe city, crime had increased. My mom grew very afraid of being robbed. We didn’t feel safe anymore.
The fences around the houses in our neighborhood were transformed into walls, muros. Our short, white picket fence, backed by sweet-smelling roses which my mom had so carefully planted long before we moved to Colorado, became a tall and imposing wall. We had finally re-entered.
Can you identify with any of these signs? What is your story?
“He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:17-22