Life after the Field

Returning home or leaving the field for any location requiring integration into societies and cultures that differ so much from where you've been is far from easy. Yet, the tendency is to assume that we will pick up where we left off and/or life will just be normal. But, it is typically far from "normal".

After moving so frequently, many of us lose our sense of "home" and, with it, our sense of identity."Normal" becomes an elusive concept, as does the notion of "home". After moving so frequently, many of us lose a sense of home and, with our notion of "home" goes our sense of "identity". Who am I?

Our diverse experiences and our acute skill at camouflaging ourselves and integrating into locations from Sweden to Afghanistan, and from Bulgaria to Indonesia, enable us to adapt to new environments with ease. But, understanding ourselves separate from our work in such unique, stimulating environments is a much more daunting task. When so much of our time has been spent acquainting ourselves with the cultures of somewhere and someone else, we don't have much time to reflect on our own roots or cultural "belonging". What's worse is that our home countries and cultures become "foreign" to us and we no longer relate to what once defined us.

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If you return to your home country or to any more privileged environment, it may be tough to comprehend how others (often including friends and family) can live so lavishly, after you've witnessed extreme poverty. You may find yourself questioning how others can comfortably live in excess, when you know that the "need" for such excess only further propels others into poverty, as the world's poor struggle to provide these "needs" for export to the world's wealthy.

You may even feel as isolated as you felt in the field, especially if your life experience differs from that of your peers.Or, you may feel equally as isolated as you felt in the field, especially if your life experience differs significantly from those of your peers outside the field. You may also miss the constant stimulation of working in an emergency context or of living in a culturally rich and linguistically challenging location compared to what you might now perceive as monotony back home.

If some of these thoughts resonate with you, please remember: You are normal! And, you are not alone.

Now, what can you do to help address these thoughts urging you to propel yourself back into the field? Even though you will likely ache to give in and return to the field, try to sit with those thoughts and emotions, recognize that they are normal, and learn how to integrate yourself back home. Treat it like a new location - full of unfamiliar surprises and cultural interest. Understand that it's no longer what you know best, and try to become a part of it. This does not mean accepting the aspects that you may not like. It does not mean doing anything with which you disagree. It just means allowing yourself to integrate in the same way you would allow yourself to become a part of any other (foreign) community.

As part of your integration, try to practice the same activities recommended "before you go" - focusing on yourself and your emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual needs in order to be an emotionally and physically strong person who is still smiling, despite the world's challenges!