It’s been a year since we left Japan. There is so much I could say about our adjustment to life in the US. Overall it’s been a fairly positive experience. We are thankful for God’s provision of an absolutely amazing job for my husband as an IT business analyst. Our daughter is thriving here and we are making friends with people from many different countries. In the same day, I am able to speak Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish and German – so cool.
I think that I appreciate things here so much more deeply than the average American. I revel in having a lot of space and a big backyard for our daughter. I really enjoy having a dishwasher again, runs to Trader Joe’s and Costco still make me giddy, and I love the overall openness and friendliness of folks here.
After we left Japan we moved to Arlington, Texas. Before Texas here I had not lived in the US since 2008. While living in Nagoya, I met my husband in 2009 and we moved to Germany for a few years after we got married. After that we moved to Ishinomaki, Japan and lived there for almost three years. It has been a long while since I have lived a “normal” American life.
So, a year later, here are some of my thoughts about what has been difficult, painful, stressful and embarrassing about adjusting to life after having served as a missionary overseas.
Feeling like Frodo. How did Frodo manage to return to the Shire after saving the world from destruction? Like him, you’ve had this amazing experience. Your life is changed. Your eyes are opened. You were attacked spiritually unlike never before. You have a greater understanding of the spiritual needs of unreached people groups. You learned another language. You worked alongside your teammates and cried together, prayed together, and worked through conflict. But your family and friends, while excited for your adventures, cannot and will not be able to understand. It is a delicate balance between eagerly “sharing about my time in Japan” and knowing they really aren’t going to get it 100%. And it’s okay that they can’t or won’t. Don’t expect them to be able to do so.
That’s the American church? Blechh! Many times we’ve experienced disappointment regarding what our “church” experience would look like after we returned. I suppose I thought I would come back to the US (“the land of milk and honey”) and plug right into a church, have lots of friends, fellowship with believers, enjoy good Bible teaching in English again, etc. Well, even though we are living in the Bible belt it has been so hard to find a home church. It’s also been awkward to be back in church. It’s hard not to judge, especially seeing how spoiled American Christians seem to be and how expensive the buildings are. Also, seeing many churches who lack a focus on missions can be depressing.
Adjusting to being a “regular” person again. I really hate that there is a temptation as a missionary to think of yourself as a “very special person.” As a missionary, when you share a status update on Facebook or a blog post, you may start to expect that everyone is watching and cares about your every move. People were following what you were doing…or so you thought. It can be hard to adjust to no longer being the center of anyone’s attention. Not even your ex-mission board. There are no more newsletters about what you are doing for God. No more anything. If your identity was wrapped up in being able to call yourself a missionary, coming back will be even harder.
Talking excessively about your time overseas. I recently met an older couple who had just left the missionary field in Kenya. I was shocked at how many times they said things like, “In Kenya we…” or “When we were living in Kenya…” “Oh, just like in Kenya!” I was thinking to myself, “Oh my word, is that how we sound to people when we talk about Japan?” Most people have no clue about life in Japan and are not able to relate at all in any shape or form to our experiences.
Wondering if we’ll ever fit in here again. Yes, I do feel like a freak sometimes. It can be super awkward. I have been profoundly changed by my experiences in Japan and it can make it hard for me to make friends here with people who have never lived overseas. Japan was such a huge part of my life and I naturally want my friends to love Japan, too. But hardly anyone here gives a rip about Japan, no more so than any other country. It can be isolating and sad, but it is reality. I often fail to show a high level of interest in other countries, so I cannot expect others to be naturally interested in Japan or want to hear about our experiences.
Other random struggles:
Gravitating towards Japanese people living in the US. They get us. They don’t think we’re weird. And we can speak Japanese with them.
Feeling homesick for Japan. I hated not being in Japan during cherry blossom season and missing the coverage of the Kumamoto earthquakes.
Feeling lost, confused, even deeply depressed.
Constantly comparing life in the US to life in Japan with my husband. We have said the phrases, “This would never happen in Japan?” and “Can you imagine doing this in Japan?!” a gazillion times.
Going from “sacrificing everything for Jesus and going to Japan” to just being a regular person.
Feeling a little jealous of those who are still in Japan and doing amazing work.
Feeling guilty that you’re not a missionary anymore.
Feeling guilty for sometimes enjoying that you’re not in Japan anymore.
Feel free to chime in with comments or thoughts. I’ll try to write a follow-up post later.