My Re-entry Story: Stormy Sweitzer

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Stormy Sweitzer is a consultant, everyday explorer, and co-author, with her husband/collaborator Will Swanepoel, of the YA environmental spy thriller The Drowning Shark. You can learn about the book at SierraRouge.com and read more of Stormy’s writing at StormySweitzer.com.

Hi Stormy! So, where were you abroad and what did you do there?

The first time I went abroad, I was 11 years old. My school teacher grandmother took me on a trip with her to Eastern Europe before the fall of communism. It sparked a bug in me that led me to study abroad my junior year of high school. I went to Barquisimeto, Venezuela. My life there was opposite to the one I had in the States. In Utah, I had two brothers, lived in a rural farming community, and mostly wore t-shirts, cut-offs and sneakers. In Venezuela, I had four host sisters, went to a private school in a large city, and, each weekend, got dressed up in semi-formal attire and makeup to attend fancy parties.

Coming back to Utah was challenging, to say the least. I made it my mission to leave again as soon as possible. Four years later, I spent my junior year of college in Finland and Northern Russia doing research on the cultural re-emergence of a Finno-Ugric people called the Vepsians. Shortly after graduation, I joined the Peace Corps and worked as an NGO Development Consultant in the Republic of Moldova, another former Soviet Republic.

It was at my going away party for this last adventure that I met a man from South Africa. We married and settled back in my home state of Utah.

When did the idea of re-entry get on your radar?

To be honest, I never knew there was a name for the process of figuring out who you have become and what life will be like upon returning to your home country. All I know is that coming home from Venezuela to my senior year of high school was one of the most difficult things I ever did. The next two re-entries were easier.

I actually learned the word re-entry when I was introduced to Small Planet Studio. As I read Cate’s re-entry story, all I could do was nod my head in total recognition – her experience mirrored my own in many ways.

What does “living a global life” look like for you at this stage in your life?

These days, I live a global life in a number of different ways:

My husband/writing partner Will and I write young adult fiction that is based in other countries and which often incorporates experiences from our own travels. We have been actively working towards spending several weeks a year outside of the US working remotely.

I occasionally consult with organizations internationally on women’s leadership development.

And, when I’m home in the States, I lead tours of ethnic food markets in Salt Lake City, UT, introducing people to the foods, ingredients, and resources they didn’t know existed in our community or have been too intimidated to try. It turns out that, for many of my participants, visiting these markets is a gateway to kitchen curiosity and to comfort with the unknown.

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What are some challenges you’ve faced in creating and living a global life?

For a long time, I equated living a global life with living and working abroad. But, this was a very limiting way to look at things, especially when I was based in my home country with only two weeks of vacation a year. I learned to appreciate the many ways that my local community offers opportunities for global living – from access to a variety of world restaurants, foreign films, and world heritage festivals to citizen diplomacy and volunteer opportunities with international visitors, cultural groups and refugee organizations.

Another challenge my husband and I both faced was figuring out how to streamline our lives and configure our careers to be better able to travel. His work with a state agency offers some flexibility for remote working. I have a career of diverse and flexible work as a leadership consultant, part-time career coach at a local university and writer. This took some interesting conversations, tradeoffs, technology arrangements and then demonstrating to clients and employers that they would have similar access to us as if we were here. It’s been well worth it, though.

reverse culture shock after abroad
Riding the Ho Chi Minh Highway in Vietnam.

What tips do you have for others who are about to go through re-entry?

  1. You do not need to live internationally in order to have a global life. There are many, many ways to weave global activities, foods, relationships into your life wherever you choose to live, and to employ your international perspective, experiences, and skills in whatever you choose to do in your career.
  2. Life is full of multiple possibilities, and, it’s OK to pursue the one you least expect. Honestly, I had no intention of returning to Utah when I joined the Peace Corps nearly 20 years ago. I even thought I’d use that experience as a way to continue working in the former Soviet Union. Instead, I changed my career path based on what I learned as a volunteer, married the man I’d met at my going-away party, and wound up back home again in the mountains of Utah with 2 dogs, a house, and a career that involved me in my local community. And I loved it!
  3. The effects of re-entry may not show up for many years. On the verge of turning 40, and after spending a dozen years back in Utah, I had several experiences (loss of my pets, shutting down a business, family concerns) that triggered a great deal of grief and feelings of not-knowing. These experiences made me question the direction I’d chosen for my life. It was interesting to realize how much of who I am was defined by those early international experiences and dreams and how not changing how I saw myself was causing all sorts of problems. Basically, I had to update my personal operating system to see who I have become since and create a new path forward. Redefinition has been very helpful.
  4. Don’t regret the path not taken; it takes up energy better spent planning your next steps. Once I stopped worrying about what I hadn’t done and started fully acknowledging the amazing things I had been able to do since being home, I was able to consider my next steps very intentionally. It has led to some interesting new work opportunities and the decision to write a series of books with my husband that incorporates our love of travel, adventure, and social good. When we travel, we now travel with a purpose.

Thanks for sharing your story and tips, Stormy! 

Want to connect with other fabulous global adventures finding their next global adventure? Join us in our Re-Entry Relaunchers Unite Facebook group!

About the Author: Cate Brubaker

Cate Brubaker, PhD is the author of the Re-Entry Roadmap creative workbook and founder of SmallPlanetStudio.com. A former expat and current part-time nomad, Cate has worked in international education for 20 years.

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