Art of the BriCK, Singapore | Naomi Hattaway

I am a triangle.

and other thoughts on repatriation

Naomi Hattaway
Sep 27, 2013 · 5 min read

I’ve been talking an awful lot to people who know what it’s like to repatriate.

I’ve also been completely hiding that part of my life from people who don’t know what it’s like to repatriate.

It’s kind of like. Um. It’s similar to, huh. Maybe you could liken it to ….

You know, I can’t think of a similar situation, experience.

It’s a secret that isn’t a secret.

It’s a piece of my life that I keep to myself unless I know the person I’m sharing it with will understand.

My mom hasn’t repatriated yet from Kenya, but she does reintroduce herself to American culture on a somewhat regular basis, which kind of counts, plus she actively seeks out support relating to the topics of living overseas.

What I’m about to share with you is one of the illustrations that were shared at a retreat she recently went to. If you can let it sit with you a bit, it’s pretty powerful!

I might even suggest that you read it through a couple of times to absorb the concept. I’ll be honest that when my mom first shared it with me, I was almost defiant in wanting to really understand its meaning. Pretty powerful stuff!

Mom recently attended a De-Brief and Renewal Retreat by Missionary Training International for missionaries living overseas. The following is my adaptation (including my basic Sharpie drawings) of an illustration that was shared at that retreat. My mom found it to be a helpful tool for me as I flailed my way through repatriation and the reality that we are forever changed from our experience of living abroad.

* * *

Imagine a place called Circle Country. Everyone who lives inside of its borders are Circle Citizens. The Circle Country has very specific culture, holidays, celebrations, food preferences, a language that is unique to them as well as music, education and political categories.

Let’s also talk about Square Society. Everyone who lives inside of its borders are Square Settlers. The Square Society also has the culture, holidays, celebrations, food preferences (and on and on) as the Circle Country, but they are completely different.

One day, a Circle Citizen got on a plane and flew to Square Society. That Circle landed squarely (pun intended) in the middle of the Square Settlers and their Square Culture.

Circle Citizen now lives in the midst of Square Settlers, and he or she may adapt to a degree, but will never become a truly Square Settler. At the same time, this Circle Citizen will also start to lose a bit of his/her Circle culture.

The normal circle things start to blend together with the new square culture. The major holidays in Circle Country might dissipate a bit to allow for the celebration of Square festivals.

Favorite comfort foods that remind her of Circle Country give way to the acceptance of new Square foods. The Circle culture never quite gives way to the new Square norms and at the same time doesn’t go away completely either.

He or she slowly — and seemingly unconsciously — evolves into something completely different. The transformation to a Triangle Tenant begins. Being a Triangle means you have some of your original Circle culture mixed with some of your newly adopted Square culture.

You are no longer 100% Circle, but you’ll never again be 100% Square. You are left — almost hanging — somewhere in the middle.

Now, imagine that after some time, this Triangle Tenant hops on yet another plane and returns to Circle Country. This Triangle doesn’t revert to the previous Circle status just because he has landed home. This Triangle remains forever a Triangle.

I will always be a Triangle.

As I find myself back in Circle Country, the good ole’ US of A, so far, I’ve found that I am mostly surrounded by Circles. Folks who haven’t ventured too far out of the Circle boundaries.

I still don’t quite know where I fit in. My “pointy parts” don’t blend in so well with the smooth edges of the circles. My time amongst squares leaves me with memories that will stay forever, yet there are pieces of that culture that I am thankful to not have as part of my own.

The description of the leading photo by Nathan Sawaya, The Art of the Brick

Interestingly enough, there is a fourth shape that enters this discussion. If a child (in their developmental years such as our two youngest were), follows his or her parents from Circle Country to Square Society, he or she will become — not a Triangle Tenant, like the adult parent, but a Star. They will be a Star with multiple points of reference when considering where they are from, what they believe in, what foods they like, and how they see the world.

They will always be Stars.

What do you think? Does this help to put into real terms what it’s like to enter and re-enter different cultures?

I’m happy to be a Triangle and all shapes are welcome at the playground, but it’s nice to have some solid ways to view the process of culture adaptation and what it does to a human being.

Repatriation … after the shipment is unpacked.

No one wants to talk about repatriation, but the reality is, it’s hard. An exercise in discovering helpful words of wisdom and encouraging stories.

    Naomi Hattaway

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    Saying my piece at | Building a community at | Helping families “find home” at

    Repatriation … after the shipment is unpacked.

    No one wants to talk about repatriation, but the reality is, it’s hard. An exercise in discovering helpful words of wisdom and encouraging stories.

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