Same Same But Different: Confessions of a Returning Short Termer

It's hard to believe time has gone by so quickly. It has, though. Tonight I'll board a plane to America after six months away. It's not what people may think returning to one's passport country is like. It's certainly not what I wish it were like.

This is confession number one: It's actually really hard to leave.

The pastor I work with says it's hard to leave your home to go to the mission field, but it's even harder to leave the field. He's right. The reasons are uncountable. Literally uncountable. Though I can verbally list some of the reasons leaving is hard (I'll miss people, places, classrooms, ministries, language, and more), many more tiny details of daily living in Cambodia are now subconsciously etched into my mind and my heart. I can't count them because I'm not even aware of some of them. Like Easter eggs hidden too well and not found till months later, parts of me which have changed - ranging from mannerisms to worldview - will remain hidden until revealed by experiences in the States. Because of this, the season of re-entry won't when jet lag does; in fact, I have no idea when it will end.


This leads me to confession number two: I am terrified.

Mostly I'm terrified because I have this tendency to, you know, want to be in control. To know what's going to happen in the future. To have a five year plan or a one year plan or okay, I'd even go with a one month plan at this point!! I handed over the keys to my room in Cambodia, and I have no permanent address in the U.S. I'm thankful I can stay with my parents, but it's not my home. I'm not sure where home will be next. This is a season of trust, and though in my better moments I can fully rest in trusting God, much of the time I'm terrified.

Those are pretty expected things to be terrified of, but perhaps confession number four isn't as obvious: I'm scared I'm not going to know how to relate to those back in America.

The Cambodians have a saying: "same same, but different." It means something like "similar but not the same" or as one of my friends used to say, "It's exactly the same as that...except not!" I'm still Allison. I'm the same daughter, friend, sister, and nurse who left six months ago...except not. I am same same, but different. I've been gone a long time. Six months may not seem long, but people back home have been growing in their ways, and I've been growing in my way, and for the most part those ways haven't intersected. I'm scared my friendships aren't going to be the same as I remember them. Or maybe I'm afraid they will be the same. I know I've changed in the past few months, but I'm not sure how yet. I'm not sure who I am in the context of America, which means I'm not sure anymore how I relate to Americans. I may need some time before I'm ready to talk about Cambodia so I can sort my thoughts out.

I'm still excited to meet up with old friends, yet right now even this is overwhelming because confession number five is: I don't know how to respond when others want to help me through this season. I'm not sure how others can help me process my experiences, and to some extent I'm not sure I want others to try to help me. Discussing half a year's life experiences over a cup of coffee seems diminutive, like trying to force a grown woman into a toddler's onesie. There's just too much there. It'll be an experimental time as I find what activities and conversations do and don't help with the transition.

It's humbling I don't know what I'm doing in this season of life and I'm not even sure how others can help. I do know a few things I'll need, though. I'll need people to be patient with me as I figure out how to do life in America again. I'll need time and space to grieve what I've left behind. As much as coffee and lunch dates intimidate me, I'll still need community. I'll need people to walk through this re-entry process with me. And I'll for sure need prayer. I'll need to walk with Jesus. Like Penny for Desmond in LOST, He's my constant in times of chaos, confusion, and changes in culture, time zones, jobs, homes, languages, and pretty much everything else.

These are some of my confessions. I am same same, but different. I know others probably are, too. A lot of life has passed for everyone. If you're in the States, maybe we can get lunch, coffee, maybe a snow cone - and let's throw Chickfila in there too - and slowly, over time, together process who we are now. Both same same, but both different.

And let's make sure to get extra Chickfila sauce in case I end up overseas again any time soon. Because I'm counting on its deliciousness being exactly same same, not different!


Further resources for understanding reentry: 

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