I know that a lot of my readers are actual voyagers themselves, so guys, feel free to chime in advice and opinions on this post!
The rest of you…this is for y’all. Some pointers from a traveler about how to interact with us when we return “home”.
1. Sometimes home doesn’t feel like home anymore. You know the old saying, “Home is where the heart is?” Especially for those crazy kids who go spend months in some other country, making friends and memories, “helping” people, learning a lot about themselves and the world…it is inevitable that they leave part of their heart behind. Traveling can both make one appreciate home and also make one realize that home doesn’t have to be confined to a specific house or town. It is simply important that you realize this could be the case for your traveler, at least for a little while.
2. Ask the right questions. If you do not want to know anything of value about the person’s trip or the ways in which they were impacted, ask one of these questions: “How was your trip?”, “How was your time?”, “How was [insert country here]?”, or simply, “How was it?”. Folks, telling someone how three of the most amazing, crazy, scary, life-changing months of my life were in as short and uninteresting of an answer as that question is harder than you think! if you really want to know something about their experience, ask something more along the lines of, “What are a few of the things about the culture you will miss the most?” or “What is one new thing you learned about yourself?” or “What was your favorite new food you tried?” or “What was one of the scariest experiences you had?” or “Were there any aspects of the culture that were hard for you to adjust to?”. Even just asking what they did on their last night in the country is special, as many times that night was memorable.
3. If you have time and interest to listen to stories, make it obvious. After my first several-month stint overseas, it became clear to me very quickly once I returned home that very few people had the time or interest in hearing about my trip. And I simply don’t blame them. Readers, we travelers know that you often have very little context for what we are telling you about and that makes it hard for you to truly appreciate what we are telling you. But, if in the interest of supporting your traveler you want to spend an hour or two browsing through their pictures, hearing stories, and asking questions, tell them and make an actual plan for it. There is nothing worse than having people say, “I want to hear all about your trip!” and finding out that means they will dedicate five minutes to you after church to hear a little snapshot. If you want to hear “all about” your traveler’s trip, take them out to coffee.
4. Understand reverse culture shock. When someone returns home, any number of things can happen:
-shock at changes that have occurred at home
-frustration that nothing has changed at home
-discomfort with adjusting back to such a comfortable lifestyle
-irritation that no one else seems to appreciate how comfortable their lives are
-loneliness (no one understands what their experience meant to them and there is no one to share the memories with)
etc. etc. etc. (Google it if you want more info)
If your traveler seems to display any of the above symptoms of reverse culture shock, don’t worry! These things will pass with time.
5. Don’t let them forget. Sooner rather than later your traveler may start saying things like, “That whole experience seems like a dream…” or “It almost seems like it didn’t happen!” As they readjust back into life at home they may start to forget either about their experience OR forget the importance of their experience. Especially if your traveler engaged in some time of humanitarian or ministry outreach, be open to asking them questions for months to years after they return about the ways they changed or what they learned.
6. Lastly, be patient. Sometimes travelers themselves have no filter for when they have blabbered on too long about things that will only ever be important to them. Accept my apology on behalf of all of us…we just want you to know how amazing the world is so that you will want to go discover it, too!