Thursday, October 29, 2009

Adjusting, Re-entering, Resuming Life

They have overtaken our campus. They’re back. They come back with stories to fill a book or two. They return with hearts in two different places, painfully far away. They come with new eyes.
Along with a smattering of new faces; transfers, freshman, and ESL students, come the student missionaries who took a year out of their lives to serve others.
Thirty students braved a new country, new people, and new experiences while we were all in school. They missed their families at Christmas, they celebrated birthdays alone, and they wondered uncountable times, Why am I doing here?
While we were building snow men, making late-night Taco Bell trips, playing intramurals, and dressing up for banquets, they weren’t. While we spent time with friends and family, they didn’t. While we kept up on the news, the latest celebrity gossip, and political news, they couldn’t. Now last year’s student missionaries return to Union college. Where have they been? What did they see? How are they different? These are all good questions. You should ask them.
When I returned as a student missionary from Cambodia, it was difficult to be back at Union. Life in the States continued full-force while I was overseas. My friends moved on. People tried to remember where I was, but had a hard time remembering. “Oh, you were in Africa, right?” No.
Landing back in the States was hard because it felt as if no one really cared where I had been or what I had been through. Everyone was content with their lives. They didn’t seem to care about life outside their little bubble, their Facebook page, or their social scene. I was frustrated. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what had just happened and why no one cared.
Now that I am on the other side, I see: We can never know what happened to the SMs last year. There is no way that as a friend or an acquaintance of an ex-SM you can predict everything they’ll need from you. Try asking.
Good questions to ask an SM:
-How was _________(insert country)? Then sit there and listen. Don’t say, “Oh cool,” and walk away. They are used to people who want one word answers. Instead, surprise them and take an interest.
-What was the coolest thing that happened while you were gone?
-What was the hardest part about living overseas?
These are all good places to start. Essentially, reaching out to SMs can be summed this way: Take an interest.
Now for those of you who have just returned and are trying to find your place in a seemingly foreign place, take heart, hang in there. Reach out for other students who took a year off last year or have even traveled at all. You’ll find that you connect in more ways than you imagined. People who have been outside the U.S. just “get” what you’re going through. Swap stories. Gush. Spill. Whatever you need, just don’t disappear.
Have patience with the rest of us who are struggling to understand where you’ve been. It’s not that we don’t care, but we get comfortable. We do. It’s so easy to forget that there is a big world out there. We need you to remind us.
Yes, we need you. It’s a wonderful cycle really: travelers out, travelers in, students leave Union and they come back again. We learn, remember, stretch, and grow, together.

(The Clocktower, September 2009)