The Transition Bridge: Moving From One Culture To Another

Abbie's Bridge
Artist: Abigail Smith


The transition bridge is a metaphor that has greatly helped our family understand our re-entry back into American lifeIt has given us perspective on where we are right now. It has allowed us to give each other grace. And helped us pace ourselves as we slowly cross the bridge. For those who have lived in another country or have loved ones who have lived in another country for extended period of time, understanding this bridge is extremely helpful. The Transition Bridge has five stages that you must cross to get to the other side; here they are:

  1. Settled –  All is comfortable and familiar. Routines are established. Roles are defined. Relationships are intertwined with others. You feel like you belong. Life is predictable. Cultural clues in daily life are known and accepted. Your feet are planted on solid ground.
  2. Unsettling – You’ve stepped out onto the swinging bridge with fear and excitement. Routines are broken. Roles are quickly changing. Loose ends are everywhere. Goodbyes are never-ending. You and your family express stress in exaggerated ways. Little things about the culture that didn’t bother you start to bother you again like they did in the beginning. You feel like you are in the waiting area at the airport for months.
  3. Chaos! –  You’re in the middle of the swinging, suspended bridge without sure-footing. You’re confused, unstable and scared. You’re totally dependent upon others. You have no idea who you are anymore. You feel invisible and misunderstood. You don’t know where you are going. You blow all problems out of proportion. One day you are overcome with joy. The next day you are in a panic about your future. Chaos usually begins right before the move and lasts several months after.
  4. Re-settling – You’re not swinging so much. You’re coming out of the fog a little. You begin to start new routines and rhythms. You begin to process what you just went through. Though you begin to dream again, you also grieve the losses. You feel like you are walking through a dark valley and may enter depression. You begin to make new friends. You try out tentative roles. You rediscover God’s call on your life.  For many this is the longest part of the bridge. It can last 1-3 years.
  5. Settled – You’re back on solid ground. You’ve found the new normal. You’re content with your new routines and schedules. You have new eyes: you’ve become much more aware of yourself and other cultures. You’ve learned to embrace the good, bad, and ugly of American culture. You’ve incorporated into your new lifestyle several wonderful things from your former culture. You’re better equipped to endure the hardships, relate to strangers, and live life as a pilgrim on his way to his true home. The sign that you have left the bridge is when you have a new job, a new home, and a new community.

When we first arrived back in the States in April 2014, we were definitely in the Chaos stage. It was exhilarating, scary, and confusing all at the same time. We are presently in the Re-settling stage, eager to get settled again. All we need now is a job, a house, and a new community! In a future post, I’ll share several things I wished I would have known before stepping out onto the bridge.

When we were at the debriefing center last April (DAR), our counselor asked our group (missionaries from all over the world) to collectively describe each stage of the bridge. Here’s is what we came up with…

IMG_0600 (Large) - Version 2
Photo Credit: Susan Canida

Here is Adeline’s artistic depiction of the Transition Bridge…

Adeline's Bridge


If you’re on the bridge right now, I’d love to know where you are. Also, if you’ve ever crossed this bridge, I’d love to know your experience and the things you learned.


2 thoughts on “The Transition Bridge: Moving From One Culture To Another

  1. I’ve learned to just relax. I stayed with a friend in Brazil for two weeks and was extremely dependent on her, becoming very stressed with the idea of leaving her and not having a friend/translator/guide/adventurer.
    Then I left.
    And I did fine.
    Most people swim in sink or swim situations, with only their fear of drowning holding them back.

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