Blog EntriesCross-cultural

The Ache


Last month our good friend and ChinaSource contributor Amy Young launched her new book, Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service. She told us a bit about the book and why she wrote it and then said she would love to hear your transition stories. To encourage people to share their experiences she offered to send a copy of her book to the person submitting the best blog on transitions. We put it out on our Facebook page and through Twitter. The following blog is the winner!

Joyce Stauffer lived and worked in various cities in China for over 30 years. She returned to her roots in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania just over a year ago. She juggles various responsibilities and jobs as she continues to adjust to life in the USA. And she blogs at joycestauffer.com

If you are saying to yourself, "Hey, I didn't know there was a book giveaway going on!" then go "like" our Facebook page and start following us on Twitter. You'll learn all kinds of interesting things. And next time, you might get the free book!  The ChinaSource Team  

The strong feeling of denial that came from within surprised me. Someone had just commented that after reading my recent e-letter it sounded like I was adjusting well to American life again and feeling much more settled. I had already completed a full year back in the USA, so surely I had this American life figured out once more. But the emotions within me screamed out, “No, I am not happily settled or content! This does not feel like my home and I don’t feel like I belong here—yet!”

And I still miss China. Thirty years of my life were overseas among Chinese—in a vastly different world; how could anyone assume that I would feel totally settled back to life here after only one year?

Yet I know it may appear that I have settled. And perhaps black and white words may hide the true feelings in my heart.

Certainly this is one aspect of re-entry I’m still working through. I may look like I have it together, and by God’s grace and strength, many aspects of my American life have been figured out.

  • I have an apartment and a car.
  • I have a part-time job and have joined a small local church.
  • I can enter Walmart and local grocery stores without feeling sick or on the verge of tears with all the choices before me.
  • I can drive to familiar places without having to think through how and where to drive or park.
  • Paying bills, doing business at post offices and banks, and lining up medical checkups aren’t so intimidating.
  • Stress levels have lowered as I have figured out what attire or manners are appropriate in various situations, or what questions to ask or answer in setting up appointments, or even ordering a sub.

I have found out that people who have lived here all their lives don’t have everything figured out—things like retirement, insurance, and food.  In many ways I have learned or re-learned this culture as I had to while living in China. I have put to use the tools of culture acquisition learned over the decades.

But there is another part of me that is not settled at all. That one aspect I’m still working through. Something deep inside of me. And I can’t quite explain it.

God had been leading me back to my passport country for some time and I’m so thankful that I had time to get ready: talking with supporters and family and my organization, reading all kinds of materials about re-entry and transition, saying good-byes to places and friends, finishing up work, slowly getting rid of things and so on.

 I also knew that transition would be hard and long. I read about it. I heard others share about it. I was prepared. I knew grief and tiredness would all be a part of the process too.

But I suppose I didn’t know exactly how hard it would be. Or how long it would take. Or even how unique the emotions and experiences are to each person who goes through it.

And perhaps that’s what’s deep down inside—a realization that no one else gets it. No one else really understands the ache. The ache that comes from missing Chinese friends, meals, laughter, tears, traveling, living, surviving, and even thriving in a totally different culture than what I grew up in. Memories that spring alive with a glimpse of a photo, a Chinese text on the phone, a smell of fresh ginger or rice cooking, Asian faces or Chinese words.

I’m wondering if that unexplained ache will ever go away. Maybe it’ll just lessen or come and go.

Perhaps others do understand the feeling if they’ve gone through the transition themselves. Yet it is still different. Because we’re unique, the events and memories that stir the aching are uniquely our own—perhaps to share with others, and perhaps not— perhaps known only to God.

Something that stirs up the ache within me that is perhaps absurd, yet unique, is the sound of a plane. Specifically the sound of the engines cutting back. Let me explain.

Apparently I now live under the flight path of jets heading to a major city. I doubt if any of my neighbors even hear it. The sound is not loud and not even often or every day, but at times I hear the distinct sound of engines cutting back as a plane descends. And when I hear it there is an ache—flashbacks to sitting on jets as they descended into Beijing after hours and hours of travel, or flying back to the USA. The sound is forever linked to my adopted country. A sound that produces an ache that perhaps is uniquely my own. Will it go away? I don’t know.

The bottom line? The emotions connected with transition of re-entry or even leaving for the first time, will be uniquely our own. Because of that uniqueness, the transition time can be very lonely. But in those aching, lonely moments we can be assured that our God who made us and wired us, mentally and emotionally, understands it all. And some day when we are finally home with him, the ache will truly be gone. But ‘til then—I believe it will remain.

Joyce Stauffer

Joyce Stauffer lived and worked in various cities in China for over 30 years. She returned to her roots in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania just over a year ago. She juggles various responsibilities and jobs as she continues to adjust to life in the USA. And she blogs at joycestauffer.com.  View Full Bio