Re-entry = hell.  No, living hell.

The first 3 weeks I was back from Shanghai, I had a ball. Nothing could have bothered me. I was home and was I ever home. I was home with a vengeance. Family, Mexican food, barbecues, wine, Whole Foods Market, sunshine, driving, radio, cats, our house, garden, friends, bocce ball, hiking, unlimited dance opportunities. I was having a ball. I was living the hell out of life, out of the life I used to know but it was even better. It tasted so delicious, the sky was so blue, the music was so good, I missed these people so much.

Until a time, then I was not happy anymore. Then it pained me to be here. In Lafayette, California, America. What was I doing here? I was struggling with staying motivated. I was fighting with not wanting to get out of bed. Why bother? Where is the Mahjong game? Where are my friends the Heart to Heart volunteers and the next bus trip? Where is the subway ride, the amusing trip to the vegetable market, the party, the cocktails, dinner? What is next for us?

I couldn’t find my place. I just couldn’t find myself. Most friends here don’t understand why I was unhappy. Why would I be? What could possibly be better about living in China? They take it personally: Why isn’t she happy to be back?

Regarding this re-entry shock, I once studied the subject at length after moving home from Argentina after living there for two years in 2001. I was also extremely maladjusted but perhaps even worse. I bought some books at Barnes & Noble as it turns out that repatriation blues is a recognized phenomenon and there are books and web sites about it. I recall reading Robin Pascoe’s book called Homeward Bound : A Spouse’s Guide to Repatriation. What I recall is that while it helped me know that other people feel this way as well when they moved home, there isn’t a whole lot to do about it and it just goes away eventually. I decided to order the book and take a look at what it was all about again.

What I also recall after 21 months in Argentina, is feeling like Americans were less hospitable. If I entered someone’s house, why hadn’t they offered me a coffee in less than 5 minutes? Why do people go out to dinner at 6pm? In Argentina we often ate at 10:00 or even later. So you might be thinking, that’s great but why is it better in China? What could possibly be better about living in China versus living in California? That is a lot more complicated to explain. It was probably the big-city vibe and wonderful friends. There was always a party or somewhere to go. There was someone new who had just arrived and to show around. There were our favorite restaurants, a card game and mahjong.

So I am lovingly giving myself the space to readjust. I am making myself as busy as possible so I can fill my day with meaningful classes and reconnections with old friends. I am spending time with my daughters and my mother. I am working on being present and being in the now. When I falter and you are wondering where Danielle is: She is back in Shanghai, wandering the lanes on her bike, buying some cheesy knickknacks, smelling something distasteful, bargaining for strawberries, frowning at the chicken feet, judging the small child peeing in a garbage can. She is laughing at her friends’ jokes. She is lit up and happy. She is dressing up to go to lunch with her friends. She is rushing not to miss the ferry on her bike. She is taking a long walk with her friends in a sculpture park. She is snuggling with Buster, her orange and white cat. She is looking out the window at her awesome view of Shanghai. She’s in China.

19 Responses

  1. Awww, Danielle, I can understand this. I’ve never lived in China, but I’ve lived in Central America and I can understand. It’s different here. Community feels different in other places. It’s a real readjustment. I hope it smooths out for you but in a way I also hope you can bring much of your community feeling to your life here. oxox

    1. Yes I like that perspective the most — Bring the community feeling here. Start making reservations at Chinese restaurants and fancy hotel brunch buffets for 12 and invite people! What a great suggestion and I thank you. xoxo

  2. I feel out-of-sorts even when visiting Oregon or Florida, then coming home. Home is always more difficult, of course. Your description of re-entry with a vengeance, then withdrawing to a sort of peaceful acceptance and joyful reality–understanding that you can’t be HERE and THERE at the same time–is, I feel, the best piece you have written. Congrats! And love.

    1. You can also try this natural remedy: look at pictures of potatoes while spraying vodka at yourself (espcially the mouth).

      Oh, come on. I’m just joking. 😉

  3. It seems to me that when people live in different places, even if it is just a weekend home, the heart is always torn. One wants to be wherever they are not. I love your idea from Susan, about bringing a bigger, better sense of community here. Hopefully that will help. But there will always be a piece of yourself, your heart in China. XO

  4. Hi Danielle, It is often said that the biggest culture shock is going back. You see through different eyes, you have changed but things there have not. Definitely good to keep in touch with people from Shanghai and find people back there who have had similar experiences overseas. All the best, Jane x

    1. Thanks Jane. It just helps to write out my feelings as well. Glad to connect with some of you through this medium and Facebook. Makes our world a little smaller, right? Miss you! xo

  5. Danielle,
    Thanks for sharing this interesting perspective of “coming home”. A honest read that took me to a different world to catch a glance of a wonderful experience you have left behind. I have no words of wisdom to share only acknowlegment of your loss. Sending love. Anita

    1. That’s so kind to write! I also have a strong sense of not wanting to complain or whine, you know? Some people have real problems. Mine is temporary and I will be happy again. One thing is the Nia here is off the hook. Yay dancing. xo

  6. Hola Danielle!
    Maybe you need more Mexican food… I’ll cook for you anytime.
    Get suraunded by friends, old and new, and better if they all are from different countries!!
    and just keep dancing… ?

  7. Danielle
    Thank you for your observation. I’v now lived in the Country of California since November of 2007, My Parents and Sister Tess and youngest Brother Chris lived in Byron Walnut Orchard, CA for 15 years and I visited 2-3 times a year to work on the orchard and party in SF. I was able to return to Seattle every 3 months at first now I can’t spare the cost of fling to Seattle to visit friends and family. I’m critical of California driver, California corporate Prison systems, BART, California Greed, and lack of rain or snow.
    I now realize This is my Home and I can’t go Home because I am home. in September I got to spend 4 days with my cousin in PORTLAND OR She asked me to go to a movie with her called “Inside-Out” a Picer movie. The little Girl had moved from the East to Seattle and now was going to runaway back home to enjoy her former life. I was thinking Oh this is a kids movie not me, by the end of the Movie I completely identified with the girl on every level. I now understand I can’t live between Seattle and California. The SF Bay Area is my home I still love the Pacific North West but my Home is SF East Bay as I get on my bike and ride off into the Dark night with headlight flashing and red tailight. Robb Kingzy poet, musician, lighting my way forward.

  8. Your explanation is truly helpful in understanding the phenomenon. It reminds me of living with a (diabetic, 3rd year medical student) woman many years ago who was profoundly depressed after getting the flu. Her physician explained that it was a common phenomenon, had an unknown biochemical basis, and it helped her enormously to know it was the aftermath of the flu, not some hidden psychological pain she couldn’t get a handle on. Love, N

    1. Thinking of you and hoping you are adjusting to life back in California. Thank you for sharing your feelings. It is a huge adjustment! With lots of time and caring friends and family, perhaps the loss of your life in China will be filled with joy and love and great memories to share until once again you are able to have another adventure in China. Hugs! Karen

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