As a lover of psychology, counseling, and spirituality, I’ve heard, read and discussed so much about going through transitions in life. The joys, the challenges, the pains, the stress – so many differing experiences and emotions. Working in career development much of my focus has been on supporting individuals going through career-related transitions, be that transitioning from college to work, from job to job, from career to career, from motherhood to the workforce, and from the workforce to retirement. Those can be very tough transitions, and they are the ones I’m most familiar and in some ways most comfortable with.
Through my experiences in the last year, I’ve become aware of a new kind of transition that has been very, very trying. Cultural transitions. Culture shock. Reverse culture shock. Reverse, reverse culture shock. J Ok, I’m getting a little carried away here, but in all seriousness I underestimated the energy drain it would be to walk through these huge shifts. I realized one way I could support myself in transitioning to being back in Vietnam for Year 2 would be to reflect and share on my experience.
A year ago when we first arrived in Vietnam, it was as if I was on transition overload. I got married, moved out of my Seattle residence, quit my job, and moved to another country all within 6 weeks. Phew! Every time I tried to reflect on all that was happening, there was a sense of it being so much at one time that I couldn’t really process it very thoroughly or deeply. While that is still true on some level, my more recent transitions really grabbed by attention…
On August 1st Kevin and I returned back to the US – we landed in Seattle and the very first thing we did was head the Bureau of Licensing. Ugh! What a way to return – hours on end of running here and there trying to get “re-oriented” back to life in the US – one that involves vehicle registrations and insurance, driver’s licenses, and oh ya, cars that actually run. Couple that with arrival to our home in Olympia where all of my furniture from my Seattle apartment is stacked up in our bedroom. I look out the window to see a boat that’s not running along with huge, plastic flotation stations, tubes, kayaks, paddleboards. STUFF!!! SO MUCH STUFF! I felt immediately overwhelmed. Then we are hosting friends and family for weekends at a time. So much to balance alongside trying to be connected to my partner. We had finally found our routine in Vietnam, and the life we created there, and now we are suddenly in another world again…
By the time I’d spend a month in Washington and a month in Indiana with my family, I was feeling very well-adjusted once again to “life in the US.” In fact I was very present to how much more comfortable I am in the US – comfortable on a physical level. It was the first time I’d realized how one of the biggest differences in my experience of living in the US versus Vietnam is the ability to protect myself from the elements – the elements meaning the humidity, the heat, the cold, the rain, the mosquitos, the cock roaches, the aunts and the rats. I also felt so thankful for the gift of meaningful, nuanced, reflective conversations with friends and former colleagues. I felt held in the love, support and grace from my dear family members – in short an emotional comfort that is the stability of family and long-time friends. With our departure back to Vietnam for Year 2 inching ever closer, I felt a sense of hesitation and trepidation. I was unsure of what to do with those feelings, and even more unsure of if and/or how to share them with others.
The transition back to Vietnam was even more challenging than I could have imagined. The task of setting up our new office and residence was so much more tiring and time-consuming than we had planned. Finding a new routine with my partner, energized by my stated desire of being the best colleague ever, was more difficult than I would have liked. Onboarding our new volunteers was a much more involved, complicated process than I could have known. And then the biggest, unexpected challenge of all were the record floods that happened on our 5th day being back in Dong Hoi. At first it was the safety of myself and those in my immediate surroundings that I was most concerned and consumed by. Everything was suddenly out-of-control – we were stuck at a friend’s apartment where we quickly ran out of food. Streets were cleared of cars and motorbikes because of rising, rushing waters. The large transformer right next to the 2nd story apartment where we were waiting seemed extra dangerous given the amount of water and lightening that surrounded us. After hours of 9 hours of waiting, we finally decided to dredge home. Most of our things were ok, however, it was then that it occurred to us that the rest of our province was probably in total devastation. We thought about the lives that could very well be lost, and how much we wished everyone knew how to stay safe during flooding including knowing how to swim. Our thoughts and worries quickly shifted from ourselves to our community.
I feel exhausted writing about it, and even more so, I feel so sad for the families of over 20 people who lost loved ones in the flood. Having made trips out to three separate districts to provide rice, noodles, money and emotional support to the victims of this devastating storm, I feel so much more present to one of my original desires for this time – that is to share the worries of the local people. Tears streamed down my face and that of our group as we heard stories from the families who lost their children. Witness their grief was heart breaking.
These incredible losses caused by the storm have been a huge part of this leg of transitioning. It was brand new for me as we didn’t experience any large storms in our first year here. It has left me with a sense of deep gratitude for my own health and safety, a profound sadness for our community, and an even stronger desire to grow our survival swimming and water safety programs as quickly and effectively as possible. And it has certainly added a physical and emotional burden into getting reoriented to this beautiful place.
What transitions have been most challenging for you? What tools have helped you to navigate them? What transitions may be nearing for you? How might you lean into your self-care practices and supportive relationships through these times? May we each be given the strength and grace to move through each and every transition just one step at a time.