Near the end of my two years of teaching in China, Volunteers in Asia (the organization that had hosted me) sent me materials about reverse culture shock. I was so excited about going home that I hadn’t thought about problems I might experience upon re-entry. In some ways, returning to “normal” life as pandemic restrictions ease will be a bit like returning home from a foreign land, and we might smooth the transition by taking time to consider the impact of the last year and anticipate what might come.
We can expect the transition to have emotional and practical consequences in our lives. In fact, there could be a permanent shift in our culture, especially among children and young adults. The good news is that normalization won’t happen as suddenly as the shut-down did, and we will have time to contemplate, make choices, and adapt.
After all the events of the past twelve months, we have changed and others have too. I read an article by a journalist about a recent plane trip. He said it was worse than he had imagined: the recorded CDC warnings at the airport, the anxious, measuring glances and the silence among those waiting to board. Worst of all was the fellow passenger who refused to let him sit in his assigned seat, leading to a vehement argument. We’ve had a year of seeing each other as potentially dangerous, assessing those we meet, and avoiding being near each other. I even catch myself socially distancing my car when parking or waiting at a light!
Here are some queries to help us assess the past year and ponder our future:
- How have you changed? How have you been affected by the COVID-19 shut-down, economic downturn, race riots, wildfires, political turmoil, and attack on the Capitol Building? How have these events changed you, your perceptions, and your values?
- How have these events changed your relationships with others? How has the shut-down affected your relationship with those near and dear to you? How has Covid affected your family? Have you disengaged from some people? If so, who and why, and what, if anything, do you want to do about that? Do you look at strangers in the same way you used to, or do you see them as potential disease vectors or political enemies?
- What are some ways your life has changed? How do you feel about your job or other duties and tasks of life? How do you feel about your home?
- Do you foresee changes in your willingness to take on new tasks? Will you take on more than you can handle or perhaps be loath to accept new responsibilities?
- What are you looking forward to resuming from your pre-Covid life?
- There will probably be problems trying to relaunch our lives. What are you afraid might happen?
People will have been affected differently by these experiences and will adjust to the new normal at different rates and to varying degrees.
- How will you deal with people who are more cautious or less cautious than you?
- During the shut-down, it has been much easier to decline socializing than it will be as restrictions are lifted. There’s a potential for judging others or feeling rejected, pressured, or misunderstood. How will you forestall such outcomes?
When I was in China, I appreciated the simplicity of my life. I owned less, flitted about less, and everything revolved around a single main focus. I resolved to keep some of that when I returned to the States, but can you guess how long that lasted? I was quickly sucked into the vortex of Silicon Valley.
- What are some attitudes and practices that you want to keep when the restrictions are lifted? How are you going to hold on to them if the people and culture surrounding you jettison them in favor of more busyness and consumerism?
When crises occur, there is a chiaroscuro effect, as if things are hit with a spotlight – some are brightly highlighted, others retreat into the shadows. What stands out about:
- Ourselves as a society and culture over the last year — race, distribution of wealth and responsibility, access to health care, and the design of our government?
- Global interdependence?
The question: As we pick up our former lives again, are there ways we can help steer our culture, our government, and our world towards equality, community, safety, and integrity?
When I came back from China, I had a much easier re-entry than most of my VIA cohort. A lot of them had trouble finding a job and a place to live, but the biggest issue was being surrounded by Americans who didn’t understand or value what the VIA volunteers had done. However, for me “way opened,” as Quakers would say. Before I came home, I was offered the position of resident and caretaker of the San Jose Friends Meeting property, so I had an inexpensive place to live. Within two weeks, I had stumbled into a job as a teacher’s aide for an ESL program. But what made the most difference, what I had that the majority of the returning volunteers didn’t, was people who valued my experience, respected me for it, and wanted to know more about it. Many of the people I was returning to in the U.S. had had similar experiences and understood what I was going through. My Meeting, family, and the people at my job were all highly supportive, so I breezed through re-entry with relative ease.
We can support each other through this time of adjustment. We need to keep talking about it and listening to one other. We need to be tender towards each other and watch for signs that someone may be having difficulty with the transition. We need to be aware that young people and children may have long-lasting reactions to these events, and be ready to listen to and help them without judgement. We need to be aware that this is a very plastic moment in our culture, and take steps to move it in the direction of love and humanity. With Light, focus, and mindfulness, re-entry is an opportunity to make lasting changes for the better in ourselves and our world.
Edie Uber, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.