To Enter or to Reenter: That is the Question

Recently I read a couple of blog posts written by an adult third culture kid about expats and reentry, and TCKs and entry. I thought the differentiation she made was very telling and made perfect sense to me. When you consider reentry, it means returning somewhere you’ve already been and that you can consider as home. For an expat who left his/her home country for a ‘mission’ elsewhere, coming back to their home base is indeed reentry. For a third culture kid however, moving to their passport country is not necessarily a reentry. They may have never lived in their passport country or only lived there as a child, or perhaps don’t return to the exact same location in that country. Some aspects of settling back in may be the same for reentry and entry, but the TCK often goes through more struggles to adapt.

Ever since I moved back to my passport country as an adult I’ve been struggling with the notion of entry versus reentry. When you’re living in a foreign country, people know you’re not from there so it’s acceptable to be confused, to grieve, to be lost, not know local customs etc… When we return to our passport country we can suddenly find ourselves feeling like ‘hidden immigrants’. We sound like others here, we’re technically “from” here, but really we’re not. But how do you explain that to non-TCKs? It doesn’t make any sense to most of them. How can we feel and act like foreigners in our “home” country? It sometimes feels like we have to hide our confusion, our grief and our disorientation. We might even feel like something is wrong with us for having such a hard time adapting when we’ve had to adjust to far more difficult situations. As third culture kids, we pride ourselves on our resilience and adaptability, but suddenly we’re struggling to find our way. That can be because we view this move like others might see it – as a reentry – when really it’s another new entry. If we consider it a reentry, then it’s no wonder we question why it seems so much tougher than other moves we’ve done.

Little by little I’ve been figuring out the difference between entry vs. reentry and understanding why it’s taking me so long to adapt here. Even now, 3 years later there are still days when I feel as lost as when we first arrived. Those blog posts I mentioned have helped me realize that there is nothing wrong with that and I am not alone in my struggle. These years of reentry have made me grow the most as an adult third culture kid. I’ve experienced a very different kind of move and adaptation from what I was used to. Some parts were easier than other moves – no new language to learn, no first day at school…But many things are much harder because I am “supposed” to know them and it is assumed that I do. We’re not afforded the luxury of patience and understanding that foreigners would receive. Sometimes it can be very difficult to navigate this complicated situation and find common ground with people here. Communicating with others here has definitely been a learning process and I’m still figuring it out, 3 years later.

Despite these struggles, however, there have been many good moments and there is a lot that I love here. Growing up all over the world taught me many things, but one of the most important lessons I learned is to enjoy every moment and make the best of every situation. And that’s what I’m doing. Although not every day is easy, not every day is a struggle either. And every year has been better than the one before. Every year I find new strength and new joys, which teach me more about myself. This past year I have felt the most at peace with myself since moving here, and the most in tune to what makes me happy here. That in itself tells me I’m on the right track to figuring out my entry.

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16 thoughts on “To Enter or to Reenter: That is the Question

  1. I don’t know if “like” is the right sentiment here but this is a beautifully written post. It sounds like a complicated and ongoing process, the one of entry, and I am heartened for you to get the impression that the two of you negotiating the process together is a source of strength and a shared foundation for the next steps ahead. The intricacies of life in one’s passport country are something so many of us take for granted – myself included – and I hope the weeks, months ahead continue to bring you peace and opportunities to celebrate and learn more about where life has led you.

    “Bloom where you’re planted” is an easy phrase to toss about but the reality of enacting that life has its hurdles, expected and the opposite … thank you for sharing your perspective on entry/reentry and all of the facets of the process.

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    1. Thank you for this comment, Cortney. It was really good to read for so many reasons. It feels great knowing that what I’m writing is understood in the manner I hope it will be (if that makes sense?). And it’s amazing to read such a wonderful comment, that motivates and inspires me to write more. This was an important post for me and it took me a little while to express these thoughts, so your comment was especially welcome on this post. These past years have definitely been a big learning curve, but then every experience and every move is. There were just different expectations this time around and I think that’s the unexpected challenge. But despite the hard days, I appreciate everything I am learning – about life, myself and us as a couple. Having someone to face the challenges with every day makes all the difference and only strengthens our relationship.

      “Bloom where you’re planted” is a great expression, even if it’s not always easy to do. Despite our nomadic lifestyle, I think TCKs still do that – we just learn to put down more flexible roots that might need to re-root themselves in a different soil every now and again… 😉

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  2. Love this post. And you can probably imagine, it really resonates with me. Even now, all these years later, I have those moments. What is remarkable is the sense of home I get whenever I land on ‘foreign’ soil, it doesn’t necessarily matter where. And it has to do with what you describe “…But many things are much harder because I am “supposed” to know them and it is assumed that I do. We’re not afforded the luxury of patience and understanding that foreigners would receive. Sometimes it can be very difficult to navigate this complicated situation and find common ground with people here…” It’s so hard to reconcile this. So thank you so much – I’m going to reblog this tomorrow with your permission??

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    1. Your comment means a lot to me, Marilyn, so thank you very much! When a reader tells me something I’ve written resonates with them, it’s one of my favorite comments. When it’s someone who writes the way you do, and who expresses these experiences/emotions the way you do, it means even more. It’s true that being somewhere foreign can feel far less daunting at times than being in your passport country… Like I mentioned in my comment to Cortney, expectations were so different for this move and that’s what proves so challenging. But the experiences are all worth it because they truly make us grow and learn. Despite the hard days, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The comments and support for this post are particularly appreciated because this topic is very close to my heart, so thanks so much for reblogging this.

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  3. Reblogged this on Communicating.Across.Boundaries and commented:
    Readers – I miss you! I’ll be back tomorrow but for now I wanted to send you over to Next Stop: Musings from a Third Culture Kid. Dounia is a reader of Communicating Across Boundaries and it has been a joy to get to know her a bit through blogging and connecting in the comment section. She’s done a great job here on speaking to her journey of Entering. Enjoy this post called To Enter or Reenter: That is the Questions.

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  4. When I was a kid we used to sing, “I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger…” It had a big impact on my worldview and helped me not feel so unrooted in the location and culture changes; since my home isn’t on this planet, it’s natural not to feel comfortable all the time.

    I expected culture shock when I returned to the US at age 17. My friends who expected great things upon their return after high school had a much rougher adjustment. Now I’m 54 and have lived most of the years since 1977 in the US, but there are still things here that feel foreign to me. And it’s fine.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, I really appreciate it! I think my parents and siblings are what helped us feel more rooted, since that was the one constant in all the moves. Despite all the changes, we never felt unrooted or unstable. I definitely expected culture shock when I returned to the US at age 25 – but even with what I expected, there were still unexpected aspects! But then again, that’s the case with any move and in any country, I think. And I’m guessing that wherever I end up in the world, even in my passport country, there will always be things that feel foreign, like you said…Just part of the TCK territory, I guess 🙂 Thanks again for your comment and I hope to hear from you again!

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  5. I never even thought to make it like another entry instead of a re-entry. That’s such a small but important distinction! Ha! I was walking with my friend Amber and she is not a TCK but she’s raising two of them (her kids lived in Taiwan for ten, USA for one and now in S. Korea on their second year) so she understands my own TCK moments well. We were talking about how difficult things are when you do fall into that hidden immigrant category. I said ‘sometimes I don’t think I’m a real TCK, I must not be one…I sometimes feel fake….’ And she just burst out laughing. (The laughing didn’t hurt my feelings). She said ‘How many of your developmental years did you grow up outside your passport country?’ And then I was like ‘ummmm, all of them?’ Then we both dissolved in to laughing ! So even at 30, talking about re entry vs entry, and TCKness, I don’t know what to do with myself !!!

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    1. Thanks very much for your great comment – I love when other TCKs share their thoughts and stories! It’s only very recently that it dawned on me that perhaps it was another entry rather than a reentry. Reading the blog posts I mentioned definitely helped me reach that conclusion, but I think the realization slowly came about over these past 3 years living back here. If this can reassure you at all: we’re almost the same age, and I still don’t know what to do with myself as an ATCK and how to figure out all this TCK stuff! 🙂 These past few years have been a great learning experience, but I feel like I always discover new things about my TCK background and how it’s shaped so many things about me. Hopefully that makes sense! Thanks again for your comment and taking the time to read my post – I hope to hear from you again!

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  6. Dounia, I would like to cite this blog entry in an article I’m getting ready to publish on measuring TCKs & Intercultural Sensitivity. Looks like, in American Psychological Association style, it’s going to be hard to cite without an author name. For now I will use “Dounia”. If you are comfortable giving me your last name, would you email me at millerdebra35@gmail.com?

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  7. I think your viewing repatriation as an entry rather than a complete re-entry is so helpful, Dounia, thank you! The subtle shift in mindset lets us know to expect some confusion, feeling apart or a bit out of things, on top of the losses we might be mourning. It also reminds us how complicated ANY move can be – you’re usually completely uprooted, and have to begin again to build a new life. There are so many facets to feeling situated in a new place/life, we just have to keep going, being kind to ourselves and others along the way.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment – I really appreciate that you stopped by and I’m happy that my post could be of any help! Reading blog posts from other TCKs (especially the ones I linked to) has helped me very much throughout this process. It made a difference to view it as another entry for me, and it suddenly made it easier to accept the challenges that came along with it. I completely agree with you that any move is complicated, and it is very important to keep going and being kind to ourselves and others. It’s been quite a learning experience these past 3 years, and I know I’m still not done learning, adapting and settling in! I wish you the best of luck with your repatriation and I look forward to reading more of your blog!

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  8. This is a terrific post which is very relevant to me and my family as we have just returned after several years in Asia. For my teenage daughter I think it is re-entry – just. But for my 10 year-old who can barely remember anything of the UK of his birth, I think it is definitely ‘entry’. Your post helps us to ponder these distinctions and help our children to adjust accordingly.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment – I really appreciate it and I’m so happy it could help during this time of transition for you and your family. Entries and re-entries can be a difficult time, but ultimately they help us grow and learn. These past years have definitely been a time of learning for me, which has led to posts like these! I wish you and your family the very best during this transition, and I hope that everyone’s entry/reentry goes smoothly.

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