It’s been a year since Emily and I left Grenoble France and returned to our native California. There have been a lot of ups and downs in this process of repatriation. It has been wonderful regularly seeing family; there is no substitute for proximity. Reverse culture shock is no joke.
We returned a year ago, but I never came “home” to the place I once knew. I came back changed and I came back to a changed California. Three years had passed, and though we had been back to visit, some of the changes were too subtle to notice during these short returns. It’s a bit like the uncanny valley if you are familiar with the term. There are idioms and pop-culture references we have had to catch up on. Our home culture did not pause while we were away.
Reverse culture shock is a strange experience. I have felt like an outsider in my home. I remember being surprised with how big the cars and the roads are here. My Honda accord would be a big car in France, and it is dwarfed by some of the trucks and SUV’s driving around our ten lane freeways. Also, there is always music playing. Everywhere. I remember feeling very unsettled when there was pop music blasting at the grocery store. Why is there music while I’m buying food? The worst is at restaurants. It is sometimes impossible to have a conversation because the music is not just present but drowning out all other sound. As Americans, are we so afraid of boredom or awkward silence? But as we have been back, these acute moments of culture shock have mostly subsided (a few weeks ago I did find myself confused why the store only sold 10-gallon trash bags instead of 30-liter ones).
I love being close to family and our friends here; we have missed seeing so many wonderful people. It has been wonderful to catch up on important relationships in our lives. I love where we live now, but my heart still longs for Grenoble. After 990 days of living in Grenoble, we had established our home, for the most part, in this city. We had our routines, our habits, and our favorite shops and cafés. We knew how to get around town and take care of various tasks. We loved living in Grenoble so much, and this beautiful city, capital of the French Alps, will forever have a special place in our hearts. I miss being surrounded by mountains. I miss our friends. I miss walking down the street to my favorite boulangerie and buying fresh pastries and bread. I miss being surrounded by people speaking French and the opportunity to be immersed in a new culture, though it was exhausting to be an outsider. Most of all, the opportunity to work and learn from Mark, Dalene, and so many others there, has changed me for the better. I will never stop missing these friends and our time together in the alps.
We left one home for another and returned to the first with my sense of home divided between these two locales. I don’t know if I can be fully at home in either place now. The answer is not simply move back to France (we are not), because I would miss my family, friends, and my home in California. But I am also not fully content to be here either. At first, this sense of wandering between homes left me feeling lost. I have come to accept it as my new norm, a part of processing and my life building upon our time in Grenoble. This realization has helped me accept the desire to only be where God has us for that time. So I am learning to be content with feeling like native and a foreigner, and being excited and sad to be in California and away from Grenoble. And I rejoice to live where God has for us.
To our friends and family, near and far, we love you. Our lives are richer because you are a part of it. I hope that you too will be content to follow God wherever He leads you.