Practical Ways You Can Help a Returnee

People want to know all about your experiences abroad but if a person has been away for a significant amount of time, some might find it hard to talk about it and others may want to scream it from the rooftops. When I returned from Ethiopia, people wanted to know how things went, but how could I sum up two years worth of experiences in a few sentences? I yearned to tell my stories to a captivating audience. How can people who have been abroad help those that want to know more but don’t know how to broach the subject?

Hopefully, these will help.

  • Don’t expect everything to be exactly the same
    Returning home “should” feel comfortable for RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers). But in reality, it might not. Because we may not even realize how much we’ve changed on the inside, Returned Volunteers may feel conflicted or confused even when things are familiar. We will be seeing our former life from a different vantage point, good and/or bad. We just went through a life changing experience and we are still trying to figure it out. Don’t bombard us with questions like “what’s next,” or “how was it” because you might just make us cry.
  • Support us by showing interest
    Whether you see it or not, we’ll be processing the experiences we’ve had in Peace Corps for a long time coming. It’s a huge part of our lives that we don’t want to forget or minimize. If you do want to hear about our experiences, it can help to carve out a time and space to really talk. But we don’t have to sit down and hash it all out at once. Ask genuine questions that you’re curious about, as you think of them. Or, just hang around and our stories will come out naturally in conversations. However it happens, we’ll definitely appreciate your interest.        
  • Please try to ask specific questions  but be patient
    It’s basically impossible to answer the question, “How was it?” This is as good as you’re going to get: “There were some really awesome parts, but honestly, there were some really awful parts. Most days were something in between.” Could you sum up the last two years of your life on the spot? Again, if there’s something in particular that you’re truly curious about, ask. (What kind of resources do the teachers have access to in Ethiopia? What are the most common meals people eat? What was your house like?) If you don’t know where to start, ask to see a few of our videos – they’re a short and sweet way to share an overview of our experiences with you.
  • Include us, but be patient
    Yes, we’ve lived apart from each other for two years, so we’re no longer in the habit of hanging out. Most of us have probably forgotten how to socialize, but we’re more comfortable approaching strangers. We just spent two years in a country that made us feel like we were living in a fishbowl. Everything was scrutinized, observed and judged. Please just sit with us in silence with a nice glass of wine sometimes. And true, we may not be around on a regular or permanent basis even after we return. But we could sure use some friends to make home feel like home again! We’re leaving a highly relational culture and re-entering into a very independent one. Let’s reconnect!

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