15 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself Before Moving Back to the USA

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Today I'm posting some amazing advice from Suzanne, one of your fellow blog readers. She and her husband have worked overseas and successfully transitioned back to life in America - something I hope we can do, too! When she sent me this list of tips on surviving the transition back home, I knew it was too good to keep to myself. There will be another post coming soon with the rest of her advice. For now, read on, and connect with Suzanne over on Twitter! - whitney

My husband and I spent almost a decade in the Balkans.

When we returned home, we were surprised to find that we had more culture shock upon our return than during our time overseas.

For one thing, in our mind, things were as we left them 10 years before. We found ourselves at a loss at how to order a simple cup of coffee at Starbucks ("just a small cup of coffee, please!"). We were overwhelmed at the choices of cereal, and everything else for that matter. We held hands and tried to stick to the list while in the local Mega Stuff-Mart.


One of our favorite moments is when my husband deposited me at a bench with our mega-mound of duffle bags while he secured our rental car. When he returned he found me mesmerized by a gleaming shiny clean city bus.

I was in awe!

He said, “Oh honey, you’ve been gone too long.”

It was just so clean!

Even the tires were shiny. No belching black fumes pouring out either!

Below are a few things I would have told myself when we moved back to the USA if I could have.

Not sure I would have listened. But here it is anyway. I hope it helps you. I realize everyone’s experiences are so different. But maybe you can glean a few ideas from it.

Ultimately, after time abroad in any country, you are changed.

You appreciate things in a new way (like a shiny clean city bus), and you aren’t so excited about other things. Just remember that it is part of God’s design for you. Each of us has a different path to walk on in life. Some of your dearest friends and family may be on a path that never takes them far from home.

Either way, we are all called to live by faith and to glorify God with who we are and what He has given us.

15 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself 

Before Moving Back to the USA

1. Savor your last days in the country you are in.

Sometimes in the business of preparing for departure and looking forward to what you have missed at home, you don’t take time to enjoy where you are. One day, you will miss these days.

2. Make sure you take time to properly say goodbye.

Make a list of those you want to spend time with and do it. Don’t forget to include those folks you may not know so well but you do see upon occasion (ie. the waitress at the café who always wants to hold your baby).

3. Take a break before heading home.

I have never done this…but if I could have I made myself done this, I would. In an ideal world, take a mini-vacation a few weeks before you plan to leave. This will help you not be dog tired and totally spent when you arrive.

4. Be prepared for PTSD moments.

Not to make light of those who have PTSD from truly tragic experiences, but living in a culture/environment so different from your own can create these feelings when you return. They seem to rise up in weird moments….

  • When I was taking a shower at home I remember hurrying up just in case the water ran out!
  • When blow-drying my hair or cooking a casserole, I remember thinking I sure hope the power doesn’t go out.
  • When my normally mild-mannered diplomatic husband began to flash his lights and honk his horn at a (distracted) woman driving a station wagon with 2 kids and said, “You would NEVER survive overseas!!!!” (This resulted from a decade of intense defensive driving). We laugh about it now, but at the time he had those some stressors of high blood pressure, gripping the steering wheel and being prepared for crazy drivers just like he as back overseas.

Just looking at this photo makes me feel overwhelmed! (whitney)

5. Beware of “Stuff-Mart”

At first we felt like we needed so many things. We also had a decade of buying something on the spot if you saw it because you may never see it again. This is not the case at home.

Learn to make a list and to just say no!

6. Rent- don’t buy

I would recommend this for a couple of years, because the chances are great that you will get the desire to go overseas again. If you have a mortgage this becomes a very tough decision.

7. Look to God for refreshing

Every time we came home, we really wanted a low key vacation at the beach to just stare off into the sunset and let the waves wash over us. This never has happened.

One time when Henry arrived one day before our daughter was born, and I had moved accommodations the week before. I remember wishing we could take a beach vacation as a time of refreshing. I really felt impressed that

“times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord.”

Spend that time with God and He will refresh you even if the circumstances may feel everything but peaceful.

8. Love on family

Make memories with your loved ones back home. Spend the quality time with those you love.

9. Wherever you are, be all there

I love this quote by Jim Elliot. We have tried to do this wherever we are. Somehow this is easy to do overseas in a foreign land and harder to do at home. But the same things apply…learn the language, get a local paper, get involved, make friends, and plant something.

10. Have technology-free days

We had the biggest shock because while we were gone, everyone in America became addicted to technology. It was not that way when we left. When we returned home, people held their devices like an addict holds a pack of cigarettes. They had trouble not looking at it when you were with them.

This is still something we fight ourselves and are making an effort not to get sucked in. One idea is to have at least one day (Sunday is good), when you do not use any tech devices.

11. Things can seem petty

Resist the urge to compare your home in the USA to where you came from. I can remember returning home from Myanmar and our church was raising money for new seats. Each seat cost as much as a bicycle in Myanmar that the pastors used to reach the villages and share the Gospel. I felt ill at first. I really had to take this to the Lord and get a peace about it. It is not like comparing apples to apples.

12. A word for husbands

As head of the house try to relax about finances and jobs and houses and cars….etc. Be sure to take a break between posts and enjoy the moment. There will be plenty of time to focus on those things in the days ahead. Take a purposeful time off. Trust God for his provision.

13. Write a journal of remembrance

As you remember, post those amazing ways that you saw God while abroad. Write down those funny moments that really don’t make sense to anyone who wasn’t there. This is a good way to “defrag.”

14. Debrief

Spend time with those who have been overseas and have made the change. Most folks have no idea how to relate to your experiences unless they have been in a similar situation.

15. Make a mini-photo book as a way to share

I would suggest making a small photo book with 30-50 pictures that tell your story in a manageable way. Otherwise it can be overwhelming to most folks.

Suzanne, thanks so much for sharing your wise advice!

If you've spent time overseas, what are some ways you prepared for a healthy transition? Is there anything you regret doing or not doing? Please share in the comments! And don't forget to sign up for the monthly newsletter, coming out next week!

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