Making the Transition
As a member of the U.S. Foreign Service, you have probably adjusted to life in countries around the world and pride yourself on your adaptation skills. Now you face a Washington, DC assignment. Many people neglect to prepare for this stage of cross-cultural living. You have changed, perhaps in ways you don't even realize. Meanwhile, "home" has changed as well.
Research shows that re-entry culture shock is often worse than what you experienced when moving overseas. Prepare just as you did for your previous transitions.
Allow time to say goodbye to your overseas life, and recognize that you may go through the equivalent of a grieving process. Acknowledge that you may hold misconceptions, such as the following:
- Things work better back home
- Services are more efficient
- Everything will be clean
- Nothing has really changed
- Personal relationships can be resumed easily
- I can cope in my own culture without a problem
The process of transitioning can be a long and arduous task. The stress of moving in and of itself can leave one exhausted and frustrated. Below are some pointers to aid in dealing with reverse culture shock:
- Good diet
- Sense of humor
- Share your feelings
- Realize that culture shock is normal and beneficial
- Connect with others in D.C.-based organizations that support the foreign affairs community
- Treat yourself to some of the experiences you enjoyed about your Post
- Try to avoid compounding problems by not dealing with important issues
- Find mentors who have successfully readapted
- Use coping strategies you developed overseas
Other useful strategies include:
- Make it a priority to ask about and re-learn U.S. culture. What is new and trendy? What has changed?
- Examine your personal culture, now probably a mixture from different places. What habits and attitudes have you picked up? How are you different than when you left the U.S.?
- Pull out all of your stress management, coping, and cultural learning strategies. Expect ups and downs, even when you think you have adjusted. Remember that the "re-entry" process can take a year or more.
Transition for Children and Teens
Children and teens have their own set of unique challenges when moving to the United States some for the first time.
- The Overseas Briefing Center publishes an activity book, Where in the World Are You Going? (PDF), to help children ages four to nine prepare for overseas moves. Through the use of pictures, children learn the process for moving to a new place and saying good-bye to their present home.
- The Overseas Briefing Center has a children's corner with books such as Hello! Good-bye!, Of Many Lands: Journal of a Traveling Childhood, and I Felt Like I was from another Planet. Complete list of childrens books available in the OBC.
- Bouncing Back: Transition and Re-Entry Planning for the Parents of Foreign Service Youth, from the Family Liaison Office, addresses issues teens and older children may have as a result of transitioning to the United States, such as dealing with loneliness and coping with the differences in schools or social situations. Complete list of teen books available in the OBC.
- The Foreign Service Youth Foundation exists in part to assist Foreign Service youth with re-entry to the United States (usually the greater Washington, DC area) through a series of social gatherings, workshops, and contests. FSYF organizes a welcome-back picnic for Foreign Service families ever September and an Away Day for new returnees every fall. FSYF has social groups for every age as well as Listservs for parents. Their newsletter Here, There, and Everywhere, is sent by email monthly and is posted on their website. FSYF organizes annual essay, art, and community service contests as well as a scholarship program. It sponsors an annual teen re-entry workshop that delves into the Third Culture Kid experience and considers life in the United States from the perspective of a teenage global nomad. It also connects FS kids and teens with their DC-based peers, who are an important source of friendship and support during the challenging re-entry period. For more information about third culture kids and resources to help them adjust, please click here.
Transition Center Training
The Transition Center can provide constructive advice and help for those returning to the United States. The Transition Center Training Division (TC/T) offers several courses to help with the transition of moving and reentry:
- Realities of Foreign Service Life (MQ 803)
- Portable Careers: Employment Options (MQ706)
- Employment Tools for Foreign Service Life (MQ704)
- Transition to Washington for Foreign-Born Spouses (MQ302)
The courses are offered during the day Monday through Friday and selected Saturdays. Some of them are offered free of charge for Department of State employees, their family members, as well as members of other government agencies.
If returning to Washington for a tour, consider enrolling in the two-day Mid-Career Retirement Planning Seminar, offered by the Career Transition Center (TC/CTC).