Aaron: Campus Crusade for Christ

Life on Fire

AaronAaron quit a lucrative career to move to France as a missionary with Campus Crusade for Christ. What was supposed to be a 1-year stint has turned into a 9-year career. After spending so much time in another culture, he has begun identifying more with French people, yet he still retains some of his American traditions and habits. As a result, he sometimes feels as if he doesn’t fit in anywhere.


“The only people I really feel the same with is other third culture people, people who have had that tension, that experience.”


Before moving to France, his organization gave him short-term training on what to expect. In this training, these identity changes Aaron is facing were explained through a metaphor.


This metaphor of Square Heads, Round Heads, and Stop-Sign Heads was told to Aaron as a way to explain the identity changes he would face after spending time in France. As he spent more time in France – adopting some of the culture, traditions, and norms – he noticed that his square head “got chopped off, rounded off a bit.”


“When U.S. folks would visit for the short-term program, I noticed, ‘Wow…Americans are really loud, etc…’ I began identifying more with French people. I didn’t want to associate myself with loud, embarrassing Americans.”


But there are certainly things he misses about living in America. Though he has changed, he still retains quite a bit of his American culture. Like the metaphor, he will never truly be a Round Head, or French, but yet he will never be 100% a Square Head again either.


Aaron, and other individuals who have experienced long-term, cross-cultural transitions, must find a balance in this new identity. Finding support from other sojourners can help.


Reverse culture shock, or reentry shock, is the term researchers ascribe to the crisis that results from these identity changes. The theory explains why transitions back home after a cross-cultural experience are often more difficult than the initial transition into the new culture. Expectations have a lot to do with it – sojourners expect the new culture to be different and, thus, pose challenges, but they don’t always expect the return home to present any difficulties. Ultimately, if sojourners admit that they have changed through their experience and that their families and friends have also changed, then they will be better able to anticipate and deal with any difficulties.