Emigrating twice and coping with reverse cultural shock

Episode Description

Dorit Sasson, the author of two memoirs entitled Accidental soldier, and Sand and Steel, shared her incredible journey as an emigrant who moved to Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces. Though Dorit’s father is an Israeli, Dorit was raised in a hugely different environment from Israel, the US. Dorit’s desperation to move out of the US got reinforced by her will to escape from her mom – who, at that time, negatively contributed to Dorit’s inner maturity as a teenager.

Despite the fears presented upon her by her mom, Dorit was persistent in pursuing a volunteer spot in the Israel Defence Forces. We all might portray living in Israel as scary because of how the media present, but for Dorit, living in Israel and interacting with her fellow Jewish people made her feel alive, passionate and safe. Everything was a blast compared to her life abroad.

While leaving the US was her escape as a teenager, Dorit had to escape again from Israel after eighteen years due to the economic mindset of the country – keep their citizens poor. Now, building a new life was the US is the start of Dorit’s reverse culture shock experience. The attachment she created within the eighteen years of living in a country like Israel did not quickly fade and forever lives in her heart.

Things we mentioned in the episode

About Dorit

Dorit Sasson is the award-winning author of Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces and the newly released Sand and Steel: A Memoir of Longing and Finding Home. She’s a highly skilled and certified SEO consultant, copywriter, and trainer/speaker and she works with Pittsburgh-based companies, small businesses, and non-profits to increase online visibility with leads and conversions.

“Your fears are always a part of you, but the Israeli society is such a strong culture; they have a very strong “looking out for each other” mentality. And that really was actually a saving grace for me.”

Get in touch with Dorit


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Episode Transcript

Dorit 0:02

You know, you're feeling emotionally displaced. You feel like there's a longing that you can't describe. You feel like you're not really connected, that you're not you don't feel a sense of belonging. Everything is very foreign. Everything is very kind of fuzzy. You don't quite fit in. You're feeling like you kind of landed on a new planet, and you're not sure what this planet is.

Daniel De Biasi 0:30

Hi, everyone, and welcome to episode number 51 of the Emigrant's Life Podcast. I'm Daniel De Biasi. And as you probably know, our mission here at Emigrant's Life is to help you move abroad. We share stories of people who left their country to give themselves and their family a better life. But I know things don't always go the way you want. You might not be able to stay or you might decide to return home.Whatever the reason will be, it's important to know that some people when they're going back to their country, they suffer from a condition called reverse culture shock. It's similar to the cultural shock you might experience when you move into a new country, but it's more pronounced and it's harder to overcome. This is what my guest this week, Dorit, experienced when she moved back to the US after 18 years of leaving Israel. Dorit left the US to join the Israeli Defense Force when she was only 16 years old. She is now a public speaker and the author of two memoirs - Accidental Soldier, where she wrote about their experience in Israel, and the latest Sand and Steel, where she covers the challenges of moving back to the US and dealing with reverse culture shock. Before moving to my conversation with Dorit, make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to your podcast so you won't miss any episode. And if you enjoy the show, it would be great if you could leave us a review on Apple podcasts or Podchaser. One more thing, before we start, we're going to give away a copy of Sand and Steel to one of you listeners. So make sure to stick until the end to find out how to win one. And now without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Dorit. Hi, Dorit, thanks for being on the show.

Dorit 2:01

It's so great to have be on the show. It's so great that you have me here. Thank you.

Daniel De Biasi 2:05

It's my pleasure. I'm so grateful that you're here and share your story. Mostly because we're touching on a topic that I wasn't even familiar with it, which is reversal cultural shock, which is the cultural shock that people have more as like, as some people have when they're moving back to their country, which is kind of unfamiliar, I didn't even know and probably many of the listeners don't know that exists. But before moving to this topic and talk about this topic, specifically, I want to start with your story. Because you are originally from the US and currently living in the US. But for a long time you were in Israel. Why did you decide to leave the US to move to Israel?

Dorit 2:56

I've led a very unconventional life if you haven't noticed by now. And I've lived in two different continents. So the backstory of the decision behind why don't go to Israel. It's a very serious situation right when your mother is really on top of you and you don't want to be around her, typical 18, 19 year old. Let me get away from you. Let me escape you. But the real reason was, she was very fearful of Israel at the time, and I wanted my emotional independence. I was studying at a major that I wasn't happy with. I was spending a lot of money on college just trying to get my degree. And it wasn't really something I enjoyed doing and I wasn't passionate about. So the summer before I had volunteered on a kibbutz which is a communal lifestyle. And I really fell in love with that lifestyle. I loved the whole ambience and looking at the IDF soldiers and just the whole freedom of being in another country and not having to listen to my mother and not having to have her under me or over me or next to me everything around her reminded me of her. And in Israel, like had a fresh start. I didn't have to be in her presence. And I think every teenage person listening to me can I testify, never wants to be around one's parents who are, you know, in parents of teenagers. So, that's the real reason like when people asked me why did you go to Israel? I said I wanted to escape my mother and they all start laughing. It was a serious situation. But that's the most comical answer I can give. Because I wasn't really a Zionist. I wasn't really like soldier material. I wasn't like grew up in a military family. You know, I didn't have all the credentials to be like an IDF. But that was the decision. Right? That was the ultimate decision why I went I went to serve and in IDF. I just like I need to get away from my mom. Like that was the accident, "behind the service" because most Israelis they know. They serve for compulsory service and when they're born, they know that they're going into the military and I had a very privileged life in the sense that I didn't have to go and serve. Right? I had no, I was just volunteering. So that's the reason. It was started with that decision to really escape for my mother. And there were many other family issues that played into that. But that was the main motivation.

Daniel De Biasi 5:14

But, there are so many countries in the world that you can escape from your mother, but why specific to Israel?

Dorit 5:21

So I think a lot of it, I had an Israeli father, and it's really born father. So obviously, that made it a little bit more real. I have volunteered on a kibbutz, as I mentioned the summer before, so that kind of paved the way. I think also New York City is a very diverse Jewish population. And I think like the Jewish capital, and lots of Israelis are there. I think that I knew already how special I was, in that environment. Because I had an Israeli speaking Father, I had an Americanized mother. But I also didn't know a little bit about my homeland. I didn't know anything about that culture. So that was like the bonus that I would get to know more about that is really peace. And everybody knew that I had a special name, you know, this Israeli, you know, most of my peers were American Jewish, because I went, you know, to youth movements or synagogue. And so it was very American. And I wanted to kind of like, be a little bit more special by showing off that I had this is really heritage.

Daniel De Biasi 6:26

Okay, so you're just for clarification. You're Jewish, right?

Dorit 6:27


Daniel De Biasi 6:31

And, Israel is kind of where everything started, right?

Dorit 6:34

Yeah. For me, everything was where the relationship to Israel like as a social connection, as a cultural connection, because all I knew is that I had an Israeli father. And that was it. I didn't know what I did know, growing up, you know, when he tried to speak to me Hebrew, and I wasn't very interested in it. You know, and I think it's something that you learn, when you get older, you start to appreciate what you don't know. And you want to get to know more about. So it was a little bit of curiosity, there was a little bit of interest. And I think also just wanting to escape going somewhere else. And it happened to be a place that, that I had family and I think that also made it easier.

Daniel De Biasi 7:17

Correct me if I'm wrong here, Israel is not like a really a peaceful country to go to. So you were like, pretty much a teenager, you were like 18 when you left?

Dorit 7:25

Yeah, I was about 19.

Daniel De Biasi 7:27

Okay, so you move, you left in 19, New York City to go to Israel, which is not one of the most peaceful and maybe safe country in the world. So I guess your mom that you were trying to escape from, like, probably concerned about your safety, I guess.

Dorit 7:42

I mean, to Israelis, anybody living there, Israel is very, very safe. Because we have the IDF. And it's one of the best armies in the world, if not the best. The way the media likes to portray it is that it's not safe. So my mother was listening to the media. My mother's weakness was the fear. And that fear got triggered by what the media would say about Israel. And, the media never is kind to Israel, never. Always portraying Israel as the villain, as the enemy and all this political dramas because of the country. But when I was serving, I felt incredibly safe. Like I knew the country had my back, it was very hard for her to understand this. And I think when the older generation and the younger generation conflicts like this, I had to make certain decisions as her daughter, in order to extricate myself from her thinking. And once I was able to do that it took time because that's what the first memoir, Accidental Soldiers tell us that chronicles that journey, how I was able to find my own person in a militaristic world. Yes, you're right. It's not peaceful. It's far from peaceful, but it's definitely for Israelis. And anybody living in the country, it is very safe. Like because you feel it, you have all these soldiers all over the place, and, and you just know it. So it's very hard to communicate to her. My decision, the rationale why I made these choices, because that's what a daughter has to deal with. When you're dealing with a very fearful parent, who is also very, super talented, but has major flaws, right? Like any character and literature, right? She was one of her own worst enemy. She got in her way, and she got in mind, and I wasn't able to grow as a result. And it was a great lesson. It was great teaching for me because as a parent, I don't want to get in my son's way. Like I would hate if he wanted to make decisions and serve in the IDF. I wouldn't want to stand in his way. So I could see that the choices she was making really impacted my own inner growth. And once I was in Israel, I kept having to hear her voices all the time telling me you know, don't get too close to soldiers. They have guns. And I was like, Well, I have a gun too. What do you want me to do? You know, I have an M16, you're gonna tell me no, not to shoot it if somebody tries to attack me? Because she had programmed me to be so fearful, I had to kind of learn how to not brainwash myself. And that was what I had to deal with. And so I, I had to deal with a number of identity crises, kind of how do you deal with this kind of upbringing, when you have, you know, a mother who's just like this,

Daniel De Biasi 10:27

I think it's kind of like a normal, even my mom, when I decided to move to New Zealand, she was afraid she was scared for me. Even like I was like moving probably one of one of the easiest and safest country in the world, but still, still your mom still like worry about, especially like at that age of like, you're pretty young, you're probably not even like having much of like a knowledge of like living on the planet and probably from a mother, it's natural to be worried, right?

Dorit 10:50

Oh, absolutely. And let me just say, you know, like, this is gonna be a very difficult decision for any parent who's letting go of a child to serve in an idea. I think there's a difference between worrying and catastrophizing, and like, thinking the worst out of the situation, and that's what I inherited.

Daniel De Biasi 11:08


Dorit 11:09

I inherited this worst case scenario of catastrophizing. And I think because Israel is such a high powered energy country, you know, it's like, easy birthed the catastrophic thinking to start charting its way and making doing great damage on your brain. So I had to, like, calm it down, you know, but to like, talk it down. And that's not something that people can help you with. That's something that you have to work on yourself. And, you know, it was very hard for her to to understand my choices. So we were always in conflict. I mean, there were very rare moments that we saw each other eye to eye, you know, and she understood me. So that's what I'm trying to say is that, you know, kids make choices. Parents, we have to accept them, or naturally, we're going to worry. But I mean, to the worry to the point that you're actually going to step in their way. And catastrophize, and that can be actually very damaging.

Daniel De Biasi 12:06

No, no, I totally get it. I'm not a parent. So I never been in a situation where my child decided to go and in a tough situation. But let's put it this way, he already moved to a new country, which is already a difficult choice to make. And also you're going to serve in the army, which is-

Dorit 12:22

Like a double whammy.

Daniel De Biasi 12:23

Exactly. It's not an easy decision for parents to take and probably I don't want to, like, justify your your mom, maybe like a stabbing in the way it was a way to protect you, I guess. But I mean, were you afraid? Were you scare when you decide to go to the to Israel ever, because even you didn't really know what to expect. Because in the media, everything is scary, everything is going wrong, and blah, blah, blah. So you don't really know what to expect. And maybe what you know is more than what actually was the truth. So. were you scared?

Dorit 12:52

I left with all the fears in my suitcase, because the media and my mom together were like two armies. And it was very hard to separate those two at first. The culturalization and the assimilation into Israeli society, slowly put them in the background and until they were like a destruction, and what really whenever I was scared, or whenever there were moments that of uncertainty, like how can I do this? I felt like the country had my back. By that I mean, the people are naturally wired to look out for each other. And so for somebody like me, who was a little nervous, and a little, maybe high strung about certain catastrophe, and certain thinking and certain fears, I realized that they didn't really have room in the whole present climate of trying to survive and thrive as immigrants. And so slowly, it took a backseat, and even further, another backseat and another backseat. And I think that's why it was so good that I did it when I was young, so that I could learn new habits, new ways of working through these things. They never go away. Your fears are always a part of you. But I think that that's why the Israeli society is such a strong culture, because they really have this very, in the army, at least they have a very strong looking out for each other kind of mentality. And that really was actually a saving grace for me.

Daniel De Biasi 14:25

When you decide to leave, what was your idea? Was it to go there for a few years. I have a different experience and moving back to the US? What was your plan if you have any plan?

Dorit 14:34

I came with the idea that I would serve as volunteer under Israel's law of return every Jewish person can come back to the homeland if you're Jewish or you have proof that your mother is Jewish. And so you basically are entitled to certain rights. I knew that I had certain rights like for example, I could get my my degree for free. Like, first degree for free. I could do all sorts of different things. But I didn't know what I wanted to study. I didn't know a lot of things. But I just like kept my options open. And eventually, that's how I ended up staying longer and longer. I just started with let me serve in the military. And then we'll see what happens.

Daniel De Biasi 15:16

So you even study when you went to Israel?

Dorit 15:18

I finished the military. And then I studied my first and my second degrees.

Daniel De Biasi 15:22

And so you stayed there for 18 years? Why did you decide to stay there longer, actually, what actually got you to stay longer?

Dorit 15:29

At that point, after finishing three years of almost three years of military service, I felt like I was already like a full born and bred Israeli. I didn't really feel like the United States was my home at that point. I just came back for visits, but I didn't feel like there was anything there that would bring me back. I felt like really at home, I had a support system, I had family. And I didn't feel a need to come back at all.

Daniel De Biasi 15:54

So you mentioned you had a family in Israel, so you were speaking the language as well?

Dorit 16:00

Yeah. So that's something I learned very quickly, I came already with some Hebrew when I was starting the army. But you know, your Hebrew can only go so far, if you know this little, you have to continually improve it make it better. And from that service, that's where it really became very, more like a native born. I still had an accent, but I could really communicate very fluently. And then I just acquired the language much, much faster. I think when you're in the military, you are expected to communicate fast.

Daniel De Biasi 16:33

Yeah, direction. Yeah.

Dorit 16:35

Yeah, you need to be able to take instruction, and you can't pretend that you understand. It's you're under high pressured situations. And some of them really determine your role and what you're doing. And you can't fake it, you can't fake it. But eventually you have to know what you're doing.

Daniel De Biasi 16:52

Just like to understand you were working on, like a volunteer for the army, were you actually just training or you were actually in the army, protecting the country and fighting the enemy, if you want to call the enemies.

Dorit 17:04

Right. So just to educate you in any listeners, you know, Israel is a very, has very many different ways to serve. And in different units. I chose particularly the kibbutz unit called nahal, which is spelled nahal, nahal. It's short for pioneer fighting, you move by unit. And basically, in a nutshell what that means in terms of service is you work on keyboard team doing agrarian work, either working in the fields pulling, you know, lumpy tomatoes, and like 110 boiling, you know, degrees, or you're working on different sectors, and the kkibutz may be in the laundry, kitchen, dining room, the orchards, the fields, babies, children, anything that they need help with. And so I would serve half the time on kkibutz team doing those kinds of jobs. And the other half would be military work. As part of the military work, we studied first, doing some army special intensive Hebrew language learning. Then we did basic training, where we learned how to fire guns, and we learned how to we got our brace, which is part of the, you know, 18 miles march that you use with stretchers, and you, you know, in the hot sun and you're in boots and full army gear. And then we went on different army bases throughout Israel. One army base was on the Lebanese border, the other one was next to Gaza. And the other one was in the Golan Heights. And each time we went, we moved with our unit, our group, our cohort. Our cohort was men and women from different countries, from Europe, from Russia, from Denmark, from the Scandinavian countries all over, we were all a bunch of different immigrants, different ages. So it was very unique situation. It was special for us, because they knew that we were some of us didn't have parents in Israel. So we were lone soldiers, which gave us extra rights, extra privileges, they they took a little bit extra care of us. And we moved together as a unit within the bigger unit. Within the bigger platoon, we moved from different army bases throughout the country. And each period was determined by the kind of jobs that we would do. So at one point, I was a records clerk, I served in as a records clerk. And at that time, there was no internet. There were computers, but nothing like we have now. No social media, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no nothing, nothing. This is 30 years ago, 31 years ago. So you know, my job was really to count the number of soldiers who are in the base at each time and the way I just kept track was pen paper, a ledger, a huge notebook, and a ruler. I just crossed them off. And I do like what we called you know, a check in and checkout soldiers came back from Lebanon, I checked them in and I checked them out and I had to count. It was like a very precise number of, you know, headcount of how many soldiers were in the base at every given time for different reasons. And they had to get special permission if they wanted to leave because we were in a closed space. So it wasn't like you leave every day and go home. You know, we were in remote areas. So our job was really tough. We weren't like able to leave when we wanted to not very much like public transportation, you had to like hitchhike. You know, in those days, hitchhiking was considered safe. Now it's not. Now soldiers don't do it, because they're afraid that they would be abducted and killed. So it's dangerous. But in those days, we just did it freely. Because we didn't have buses, we didn't have cars. You know, we didn't have our own personal vehicles. You know, so that's how we managed that that was a very special unit for us in the IDF.

Daniel De Biasi 20:58

Have you ever been like in some tough situation where you feel like in a war or was it more like a peaceful kind of environment?

Dorit 21:04

Well, there were a few scenarios that were tough that I mentioned in the first memoir, Accidental Soldier, A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the IDF, where a soldier didn't make it back to the base. And it was all because of, you know, some fighting that was going on. And I had to be the bearer of those that bad news and let the base know that soldier wasn't part of the headcount. And then we had to figure out how to let the parents know. And then it was not easy situation.

Daniel De Biasi 21:34

Oh, I bet. So why then did you decide to move back to the US? Because you feel like that was your place, that was your home. Why then did you decide to move back to the US?

Dorit 21:44

You have to remember that I spent 18 years they are trying to make this country, my home. And I succeeded. And I was living very happily, on a kibbutz with my husband, with my new son. In the meantime, in that period of time, I managed to get a first degree a second degree teach crazy very crazy, Israeli, you know, high schoolers English, you know, and a lot of high pressured situations, and succeeded in that eventually. And then we had a war, and Israel is known to have wars every number of years. And the last one kind of, you know, was 2006. But then the most recent was of the attacks that we had this this past few months. And when you have a war in the United States, maybe you don't feel it as much as you do in Israel. When you have it in Israel, it's very difficult because then you don't have peace, and then you don't have economic security. That was the bigger picture. The other reason why we left is because our Kibbutz, which I mentioned before, was communal, and very social, had become very privatized, capitalistic and materialized. And people now were owning cars, and building new floors to their houses and taking trips to these grand places, and just basically having a very lavish lifestyle. And we were like, shocked. How did this like communal, social place suddenly turned into a mini America? And it was, it was like, a whole new world for us. We didn't know how to eat it. We didn't know how to. And so we tried to make it work. We tried to find new jobs, my husband didn't have a job. So we have to keep hopping from job to job to job. And he was in like very, not very good paying blue collar positions. And the decision to leave was not something we took lightly. It was something like a very heartfelt, like, seriously tough decision, because we had family, we had support systems there. We had a home, a physical home, and we had friends, it's not something you just give up, right, especially when you work so hard to make it your home. But all those factors together, mainly economic was the decision that drove us out. And most Israelis will understand this when they know what we're talking about. It's very typical, unfortunately, for many people who are trying to make it economically, that by nature, the economic infrastructure in Israel is designed to keep you poor, you are not able to make good money. But everything is very much government regulated. If you don't work in a high paying industry, then you suffer the government regulations. Things are very, very low paying. The salaries are low, the quality of living is very high. It's a great recipe for staying poor. So we wanted to grow and economically develop and Israel was not letting us do that. The conditions that we were in, we found ourselves, we're not letting us do that. And that made it really tough and it was just like Well, what do you do, we literally you're in a two way street. Do do I do this? Or do I do this? Do I leave? And we tried very hard to make it work, we sent out resumes, tried to find new jobs, I had an English teaching job. So for me, I'm always going to be employed, because they always need English teachers. But that's not something I wanted to do for 30 years. I didn't want to do this for the rest of my life. And my husband was in a whole different situation, he was a kibbutz member, and they weren't helping him. And that was also very hard for us. We just saw like, the kibbutz crumble before our eyes, people were just not interested in helping him. And this is a person who spent many years of his life building the system up and educating the children of the older generation, and being very respected and running a dining room, you know, and buying supplies and making sure that everybody had three meals a day when it was a full real dining room. These are things that in America, we don't have. It's a very foreign concept to anybody. But this is the world that we had. And we were very privileged to live in such a wonderful environment, but then things drastically and dramatically changed. And we had no choice but to exit, unfortunately. That's very heartbreaking for anybody, but it was particularly heartbreaking for us.

Daniel De Biasi 26:21

Oh, no, I bet because most people, most probably most of the listeners, they're leaving the country because they're chasing something better. They don't want to stay in the country in a way, they just want to move somewhere else. But in your case, you wanted to stay there, it was just not the circumstances for you to stay.

Dorit 26:34

Exactly. It was like against everything that we believed in. But we were just like, we can't make we can't do it. And it was that kind of it was against our will like literally, but we just had to like take our destiny in our hands and just leave. And then the next thing you know, we're at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and applying for a green card.

Daniel De Biasi 26:55

So the US was the only option, or like, okay, that's mostly just the easiest option. It's just you didn't even consider going somewhere else?

Dorit 27:02

It was the easiest because it was the more, you know, like traditional, let me like, build the American Dream from there, you know, not start new, completely new in another country where, you know, I don't know, anybody, you know, let me start with, you know, having American citizenship is always a good thing for anybody. Right? So we were just like, looking at it from that perspective, mind you, we never like tested it. We just went on faith, because we didn't have the time and luxury to go back and forth. And like find the perfect home environment. We had to do this all like through email. And like, it's very hard to do that. So we just went by our instinct, my intuition, which was like, well, let's just do the American thing, you know, go back and go to our home country.

Daniel De Biasi 27:55

Because at that point, you had a child, how old was your child at the time?

Dorit 27:59

He was two at that time, two years old.

Daniel De Biasi 28:03

So there was like a more responsibility. It's not just you and your husband.

Dorit 28:06


Daniel De Biasi 28:06

There's a kid.

Dorit 28:06


Daniel De Biasi 28:07

Do you think like the decision to leave Israel was amplified by the fact that you have a child or that was just that was in it?

Dorit 28:13

Um, we were really thinking in terms of economics, I think, you know, we were so young that we couldn't really grasp the big picture yet. We were just looking at how do we save ourselves economically. And I think when you have that much economic stress, it can blow up a marriage, it can blow up a relationship. And that was the first priority is how do we take care of ourselves so that, you know, we have jobs that we're happy in and feel secure about? How can we make that work? And that was the only thing that was on our minds. At that point. It wasn't about we knew that it would be in the diaspora, and we knew that we wouldn't have the Jewish, the Israel connection. But at that point, we weren't like thinking, because we already had made our decision to leave.

Daniel De Biasi 28:57

And your husband is from Israel, as well?

Dorit 28:59

Yeah. He's Israeli born. Yeah.

Daniel De Biasi 29:01

Okay. So was it hard for him to move to the US?

Dorit 29:05

Well, he knew how the Kibbutz had completely changed. So he was fine with that decision. In fact, he was more ready for it than I was, I was actually not so keen on leaving. And when I told him to consider it, he was actually like, way before me already packed and ready to go. He like mentally checked out. And I think it was just because he saw how disturbing things had changed on the kibbutz that it wasn't something he wanted to deal with for the rest of his life.

Daniel De Biasi 29:38

Bureaucratically, was it easy for him to move to US, because the US is pretty strict, especially from that part of the world.

Dorit 29:45

Yeah, this was like, you know, 14, 15 years ago, maybe things are now really strict. But his English, he worked with many volunteers, so he was already used to speaking in another language. It wasn't like a new language for him at all. He had a great, he's a great aficionados of American history. He knows more American history than Americans. You know, he listens to movies and films, and he's very cultured. So, you know, I was not worried about him at all. I knew he would do much better than me. I was just like, an emotional mess. And he was a lot more with it than I was.

Daniel De Biasi 30:24

My question was like bureaucratically to get, like a green card to get a visa to move to the US was it hard?

Dorit 30:31

It wasn't hard that to get it, it was just, you know, it was pretty straightforward. The process because it would have been harder if I wasn't an American, but because he was married to an American, it was just the bureaucratic process of proving, you know, identity, relationship, marriage, that in itself is stressful, you know, but I knew that because I was an American, and you know, some people forge these papers, you know, try to prove that you are American. So yes, this was a stressful situation. But in the back of my mind, I didn't really worry about it. Like, I knew that he would get the green card, temporarily. And I was right.

Daniel De Biasi 31:12

Because I hear like a stories all the time, like people trying to get to the US, the process so long. It's frustrating, and it's just like, it's crazy.

Dorit 31:21

Yeah, post 9/11. It was crazy. It was. I don't remember all the specifics of you know, cuz it's been a while. But I remember that they asked a lot of questions about his intention, why you wanted to go there, what he wanted to do there, you know, like, it wasn't like trying to prove it, no, you don't have a sponsor at that point. You don't have a company that sponsored you to get to the United States. So it was really the individuals responses first, and the marriage and the relationship to me.

Daniel De Biasi 31:54


Dorit 31:54

And so those two factors, usually, when you don't have a real marriage, like an American wife or a spouse, then they look to see if you have a company that's sponsoring you. Right? So, or a family, we didn't have to worry about that. So it wasn't that but it was really like the veracity of his responses, and how kosher he was. And you know, whether or not he, you know, was he just using America as an escape, you know, or was he really intentional about being there. And so he told the US clerk at the time, and they had a great conversation about his study, wanted to work in the United States as a US as an Arabic linguist, because he knows four dialects of Arabic. And so they were like, at the time, the US was still in the war with Afghanistan, they were- they had US troops. And so it was like a perfect conversation. They were like, yeah, you can really do a lot of work there. And you know, it made total sense to have this as his ticket. And of course, like, that was our thinking, like, you can really go and you know, serve as an Arabic linguist. Well, that didn't work out. But that helped us get help at that point. I mean, it helped move the process along, because that was, that was really what we were thinking, we were thinking, hey, you can be employed as a US as an Arabic linguist for the US government, and we didn't have any jobs. So that was like the first thing that we thought he could do.

Daniel De Biasi 33:19

So in your situation, you emigrated twice, because you left your country twice, you left the US and then you create your own in Israel, and that became your country, and you have to emigrate again. So I usually ask my guests if they have any regrets about leaving their country, but in your case, I'd like to ask you if you have any regrets about leaving Israel, which is kind of your second country.

Dorit 33:41

Yeah, that's a great question. I think about this all the time. That's why I tell my whole network like Sand and Steel, my second memoir, is a story that I'm constantly living as I'm writing it, or as I'm marketing it in this case. Because the book is already written. I didn't know how much I would miss Israel until years later. I don't think it's possible for anyone to know in advance how much your heart will long for a country until you feel the separation. And I think in my case, you know, having this dual identity of being a Jewish person, but also being Israeli. It's like determining your loyalty. Whose side of the Atlantic Ocean do you feel more connected with? I will always connect with Israel. Now that I'm talking to you, I will always feel that Israel is my heart home. It's the country that brings me alive. It's the country that energizes me. It's the country where I have the greatest heart connections that I probably would ever have than in the States. It's something that's very hard to put into words, because the people bring you make you feel alive. And so that's how I call it in the memoir. I literally say these words. I say, you know, it's a country that makes me come alive. And in different scenes of the memoir, I show examples of what that looks like, you know, and so we're at the Western Wall, and we're having an experience or we're with family, and we're at the beach, different places, those are things that are very unique to Israel. And they don't let you, can't let go of those moments, right, or being on a kibbutz or, you know, reconnecting with family after so many years away, I don't think it's possible to just let go one country and just say, I don't care about that past anymore, as you know. So you know, being in the United States, and being Jewish is not the same as being in Israel and being Jewish. There are two different types of Jewish experiences. Only one is very much country driven very much Israel identity, you know, and working the culture in in Israel, I was Israeli first and Jewish second. In America, it's reversed. I'm Jewish first, and then I'm Israeli, because that's how it just plays out. And so I find that, you know, I don't get to speak Hebrew with anybody, because the signs are all in English. And everybody speaks English around here. And it's very different, the lifestyle, the cultural expectation, so I could never have anticipated that I'd miss it as much as I do, especially on the Jewish holidays, very much. So especially when Israel is under attack. And then I feel like I've deserted my homeland, because I can't stand in solidarity with my family who's in bomb shelters. You know, there's certain aspects of giving up that very unique, very culturally connected country, socially connected country, to a very materialistic, separate country with a lot of anti semitism, a lot. And just people who attack Jews for no reason. And so in Israel, you feel protected, because, you know, you are in the country of the Jewish nation. This is the country for the Jews, there's nothing like it on the planet at all. And we're very special because of it, we have, it's God's given land to the Jews. And, you don't have that in America, and instead, you have anti semitism, and all of these things replaced this very whole, very heart centered relationship that, you know, the heart is in the Jewish people. And here, you just have a whole bunch of people from different countries, nationalities, and you're just one of many, many, many. And I said, I think I said to you, Israel is the size of Delaware or Massachusetts. So we have 52 states. And it's the smallest of all the states and to go from one to the top is like eight hours. And in America, just like going from one coast to the other, it's six hours by plane. It's been a cultural adjustment to reinvent the sizes in your mind and translate that into relationships. And Israel is so small, it's so tiny that people get each other like that, you know, when I tell them how I feel in the diaspora, they're like, for some reason they get it. They like understand me, you know, and I tell them that it's lonely and they get it. You know, they've never lived in my shoes, but they get it. I don't need to explain much. And yet people can be very quickly over there. And it's opposite here, I have to work very hard to explain myself. And I think these are things you can't know in advance only years later can you understand how these differences play out in everyday life.

Daniel De Biasi 38:37

Let me see if I get it right because I mentioned to you before last time we spoke, I don't know much about Jewish about the religion and I'm not really into religions. So I don't really know much about it, especially coming from Europe. I don't think Jewish is very popular, very like, I think it's more spoken here in North America than it is in Europe, at least from my perspective. But I think the difference is like the do you feel alive in Israel, your religion is your lifestyle, everything you do is part of who you are a part of being Jewish. While you are in the US you kind of be like a part time Jewish, in a way kind of like you leave you're Jewish, but in certain circumstances, and not all the time. Is that a difference or-

Dorit 39:21

It's not quantifiable by religion, you're just an Israeli, and that in itself is enough. And Israelis are very nationalistic people. And so the ethnicity is what counts. Now if you decide that you want to be very observant, jewishly, there are many ways to express that in Israel. And so you have a lot of different ways of expressing your Jewish connection. But I think it depends on where you are and who you talk to. If you go to Jerusalem and some of the Orthodox neighborhoods, you're going to speak to people whose religion is important, and they don't see Israel as the first. But overall, as As a country, because it's the land of the Jews, it's absorbing all of those nuances. So it's an ethnicity, cultural thing. And then, as I understand it even more from here, then it's really how you identify as Jewish, and what that means for you. But as a whole the country ethnically is Israeli.

Daniel De Biasi 40:24

And have you been back to Israel since you left?

Dorit 40:27

I have a few times. The last time was in 2018, when my son was Bar Mitzvah, and that was at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which is one of the holiest sites in Israel. And that was the last time.

Daniel De Biasi 40:42

Okay, and you felt the same kind of connection you felt the same kind of like call from like the country or?

Dorit 40:49


Daniel De Biasi 40:49

Cause sometimes like when you leave your country, especially after against your will, you create like it is idealization of the old country, maybe you move back like, oh, it was actually, it's something different.

Dorit 41:00


Daniel De Biasi 41:01

But, in your situation was exactly the same? Like you felt, when you went back you felt-

Dorit 41:04

Every time I go, I never want to leave. Okay. And so, the scene that I described in the memoir is really like, I don't want to get back on the plane, and how conflicting those emotions are. And it's just very tough to leave.

Daniel De Biasi 41:19

And have you ever thought to move back to Israel?

Dorit 41:22

You know, during COVID, when it first started, there were a lot of North Americans making Alia or immigrating to Israel. And I think it was just like, for them, it was like a now or never type scenario. Like that was what they wanted to do. And they wanted to, like make Israel their home. As Israeli expats. It was something I thought about, and I talked to my husband about, and he was like, you know, I don't know, should we go should we stay? It was like the pendulum back and forth. It's still a something that we talked about. But we're always concerned like, what will the situation be like when we go back? And we know that the country has completely changed. It's not the same Israel that we left in 2007. So there's a lot of concerns how we would make it work. And there's still concerns that I don't think we're getting any younger. So we talk about it, but the decision has not been made to leave.

Daniel De Biasi 42:20

But, the the idea still there?

Dorit 42:22

Yeah, I miss it. My husband has already checked out, like he's checked out. Like, it's not enough to go back just because your heart feels separated into different places. Like, I feel like I belong here. And then some days, I feel like I belong there. Some days, I don't feel like I belong here at all, and only my heart is there. He's like, just going back because of your heart doesn't make sense. Like what it practically he's very practical. What are we going to do there? What kind of work would I do? You know, he's very much like, how are we going to make this work? You know, you don't just go back because you miss it. You go back because you have a plan. What's the plan? You know, and I think because these reasons that I described why it's such a tough country to to like make it economically, there would be even a harder case why to go back. You know, once you've already enjoyed the good life. What's like the reason now for going back after, like 15 years, now you want to go back so what's the plan?

Daniel De Biasi 43:24

Now I want to talk about like you moving back to the US.

Dorit 43:28


Daniel De Biasi 43:28

And that's where we start talking about the reverse culture shock, how was your experience in moving back to the US? And how did you find out that what you have was a reversible cultural shock?

Dorit 43:40

Yeah, I was very emotionally displaced. The first few years, I felt completely, like, here, there and everywhere. And it was only later that I stumbled on the US Department of State's website, they have an archived section. And I just probably from googling, discovered that there was emotional syndrome called reverse culture shock. And I'm like, well, that's must be what I'm feeling. Because I have had this these emotional symptoms for a while. And it was like having a doctor diagnose you. And I felt like all of a sudden, it felt real, like there was a reason why I was feeling these things. And so it was very reassuring to see that on the US Department of State's website like this validated what I was feeling. And I didn't know anything about reverse culture shock. I didn't know that that was such a thing I knew about culture shock. I didn't know what reverse culture shock meant, and what the implication would be for somebody like me, and it made perfect sense. Like, okay, now I get it. Now I understand.

Daniel De Biasi 44:45

And what were the symptoms?

Dorit 44:47

you know, you're feeling emotionally displaced. You feel like there's a longing that you can't describe, you feel like you're not really connected, that you're not you don't feel a sense of belonging. Everything is very foreign, everything is very kind of fuzzy, you don't quite fit in. You're feeling like you kind of landed on a new planet. And you're not sure what this planet is.

Daniel De Biasi 45:10

Because I did some research after we spoke last time about this topic, because I didn't know much about it. And I thought, let's be prepared for the interview, because I want to know more about a better discussion with you. And I did some research. And it seems like it comes down to two main factors that classify reverse culture shock, which one is the idealization, which is after being abroad for some time, we focus on the the good thing in the past, somehow, like when you move abroad, you just remember the good thing about your own country and not really the bad stuff. So we create like this idealization version of our own country. And then when you move to you move back to your own country, because this expectation that everything stayed the same. Even though you've been away for some amount of time, you expect that everything's still exactly the same, the people still exactly the same, like exactly when I left them, was that kind of the same kind of feeling that you had?

Dorit 46:06

That's pretty much it. And I think the idea here is that I left so many years had passed. So I left as a teenager, and I came back as a wife and a mother. So the expectation was, can I find a community that is similar to what I had on the kibbutz. But everything was so different. So the gaps were so strong.

Daniel De Biasi 46:27

And how did you overcome this feeling this emotion?

Dorit 46:30

I think, the strongest way to overcome it, the best way is number one time, you have to give it time. And people who you know want to feel belonged want this to go away, it doesn't go away very quickly. It takes time, like anything. The other thing is that you have to have this idea that you can stay adaptable to new situations, you need to stay flexible to overcoming new situations. And also to understand that this is individually experienced, everybody has their own version of reverse culture shock and what they're feeling. And it's not something you can describe very clearly to somebody else, because everybody has their own way of seeing or expecting what home should feel like, and what home should look like. And that's very individual from one person to the next. So that is another thing that people need to understand is that you know, just because you're feeling it doesn't mean that it will go away so quickly. It's just the way a person goes through that experience. And finally, it's like can anything you have to be able to find familiar moments in unfamiliar situations. So what does that mean? If you are looking at a new environment? Can you find something in that new environment that is familiar to what you had before? Is there a way you can mimic some connection to the country or something that reminds you of that connection, that makes you feel less isolated, alienated, or less stressed?

Daniel De Biasi 48:05

Yeah, because, as you said, depends on how long you've been in the country are connected, you are with a country, some people may be live for a year, they don't really fit in the other country, they come back, they don't have any problems. And I like to emphasize the fact that research shows that reverse culture shock is even worse, and more amplified that normal culture shock, which is when you move to a new country, everything is different from your own country, you feel like I think I covered this with Jamie, in a previous episode where I talk about the life cycle, the adjustment cycles. And I think this is kind of a similar thing. When you move to a new country, or in this case, when you move back to your country, you go into like a similar cycles, where you feel like judgment because the country where I was living, they do things in a better way, why in my own country, they do it this, like, why they keep doing these things doesn't make any sense. Especially for like if you live in maybe multiple countries, you start getting the good thing for each country, you move to your back to your country, you start seeing the things that don't work, and you start being like I feel judgmental, you try to share with people that live with other people. So like, I don't know, we were talking about me, everything is always working this the same way, why you're complaining about it, they don't really understand you, they I think that's what comes to your alienation. Right?

Dorit 49:15

Right. And then you can't really talk about it with people because they don't understand what you're feeling. So there's the shame. A lot of it has to depend on the personality of the person. Right? And most people wouldn't want to leave their home environment to go through this. So it really does depend on the make up of the person and what they're and how determined they are to overcome it. And to make it a little less stressful. And that I think determination is a big factor and desire to assimilate is a huge factor. Desire to fit in culturally is a huge factor. There's a lot of external factors, right? How welcoming is the other country, is your home country. Right? And do you have family that's supporting you? All these things can mitigate reverse culture shock to some degree, I mean, you're always going to have the presence of it because it's individually experienced. So a family member can't like all of a sudden give you a magic pill and it will go away just doesn't work like that. But I think if you have, and it does say this on the US Department of State's website, it says, if you have, you know, more support systems in place, infrastructure in place, when you go, it will lessen the effect to some degree. And I think there is some research to support that. In our case, specifically, we didn't have anybody at the airport. Right? We didn't have anybody welcoming us. We came to a whole new I think, like, we came to a very new environment. We didn't have like family here welcoming us. We didn't have any jobs here. So the stress was very high. The level of stress was extremely high for all the right reasons, right? So on the other hand, you're looking at an a returning American who has a US passport, speaks English, but still has reverse culture shock stress, because the newness is just so strong. And that's natural, I think. But it would have been easier, I think, in retrospect, had we had somebody at the airport, had we had somebody like refugees, when they come from war torn countries, they go into an absorption through the US channels, and they are like very important nonprofit organizations that their mission is to support them. And so we're not your typical refugee. Right? We're not your typical immigrant. And so we have to deal with these kinds of issues. And that was really concerning, like, how do we make it work? How do we lessen the stress? What do we do? So that we're not dealing with this kind of stress over time for a long period of time?

Daniel De Biasi 51:50

Yeah. Because for you, you were not a refugee, as you say, because you are an American citizen. So people expect you to be an American. You got a passport, you're American, so don't expect you to act differently. You're an American, every under every aspect.

Dorit 52:05

But I mean, when I came to the United States, everything like I mentioned before, the big versus the small, I was like, Oh my god, the cars are this big. The supermarket lines are this long, the aisles, all of a sudden, there's like 20 different kinds of cereals. And they're written in English. I mean, this sounds really weird to somebody. But I mean, I was living in another country. So everything was so different. Like the tastes are different. It takes me 10 minutes to walk from this one side of the street to the next side of the street. Everything is so long, everything is so big. The houses, they're like mansions in Israel. Nope. Everybody lives in very small, like, you know, cars are the size of dog cages. Everything is much- America's supersized. And everything in Israel is 10 times smaller than that. I think that was the stress too, right? It's like you see a license plate on a car. It's from a place that you've never been, I still feel the stress sometimes like wow, like, in my head, I have to think big and small, big and small. And there are days when I just can't really lose it. It's just too hard for me. I still think like and it's really it's really weird.

Daniel De Biasi 53:12

Because yeah, one of the things I heard a lot there was like people are moving back to the US, moving back to the country, and even people speaking the same language speaking English, like what's going on? It just feels like a real fear because they're not used to it used to speak to another language non English. And you move to a supermarket you hear people speaking the same language is kind of it feels kind of like a weird. And one of the things I found one of the things that people say is that worked is actually once we mentioned before, that you can't really share your experience with people with the locals because they don't really understand. So one of the things that people said that worked is actually people start like writing blogs, for lack of a sharing this information to the internet because where then you can reach people in the same situation, they went through the similar experiences, and they can support you and they can create like a support group. And that seems like a lot of people started doing that. And that was the way for them to get out of like this overcome this culture shock.

Dorit 54:07

That's exactly what I did. And that's as seen in the memoir, Sand and Steel, about how I tried how I did that, how I blogged and how people responded. And that was like the way to cope at the time. So you're really speaking my language right now.

Daniel De Biasi 54:23

And in your personal experience, how long do you take to overcome this reverse culture shock?

Dorit 54:28

I can't really pinpoint it. It took over a period of years. I still feel it today. I still feel the stress of thinking of how big this country is. And that I can't see family unless I get on a plane in in an airport for 10 hours. And the time differences, it's just it's sometimes so overwhelming to me. Because in Israel everything is cut down to like a one or two hour travel and then you're I still can't wrap my had around it. It bothers me. So there's parts of it that I haven't fully accepted. You know, I'm still fighting something that I can't change the whole like stress of it. I would say it took about five years, maybe four, it took a while for me.

Daniel De Biasi 55:18

Oh, wow, that's a long time.

Dorit 55:19

Yeah, maybe like the first two years it was over. But I still felt like there was still more stress over time. So I'm sure that people can maybe within six months, you can probably even bypass some of that stuff. Now that we have the internet, we have more ways of connecting with people, it might be even shorter. Right? And if you have more family waiting for you, we didn't have any of those things. So I think my stress just kept going. There was like no break, until we had to figure out like, how do we identify with certain groups, or how do I need to find those groups to identify with? And I tried very hard at the very beginning, but they weren't the right places. You know, so I never felt at home yet. I had to continue to find the group and the tribe and Pittsburgh is not my hometown of New York. So I never felt at home here yet. It took me a long time.

Daniel De Biasi 56:16

It's good to mention that every situation is different and right. Even depending like what country you lived in, maybe the country you lived in for a long time is not so different from your own country. As you go, correct me if I'm wrong. I think even the religion part that you come to the US and your religion is not seen very well, in your story, you seem not welcome in the country. It's not your home when you're not really welcome. Right?

Dorit 56:40

Right, exactly.

Daniel De Biasi 56:41

So other situation might be easier. I think this is a good time to wrap this up and where people can find more about you and connect with you and also find your books?

Dorit 56:51

Yeah, thanks for asking. So my website is under Dorit Sasson, I'm offering a two for one special if you preorder Sand and Steel, a memoir of longing and finding home you'll get my first award winning memoir, Accidental Soldier signed and personalized for free. You can get more details about that on the website. And there's a contact button that you can just reach out to me and just say, hey, I want to purchase Sand and Steel. And I'll immediately reach out to you with next steps. Or if you don't take like, like Venmo or PayPal or something like that, you can always pre order it from the publishers website. So and for Amazon, it's called Sand and Steal, A Memoir of Learning and Finding Home. And that is available as we get closer to the release of Sand and Steel, which is August 3rd. And I might want to mention that these are for US orders only. So I can't really take the shipping on myself unless you're doing it as a Kindle or PDF.

Daniel De Biasi 57:52

Okay, are these books available in other county or just in the US? at least a physical copy.

Dorit 57:57

They're available, they will be available as the Kindle for sure. I'm sure if you live in another country and you want to order Sand and Steel, then you probably have to get it through Amazon, because that's the only the closest way to get it to ship internationally, or through the publishers website, which is also available through my website doritsasson.com.

Daniel De Biasi 58:20

Sweet, awesome. Everything will be as usual in the show notes so they can find you find your link, find your website more easily. Sweet. Thank you so much Dorit to share your story and share like your knowledge on the on the podcast. It's been a pleasure.

Dorit 58:32

Thank you for having me, Daniel, and thank you for being open to the other side of reverse culture shock as it relates to my story.

Daniel De Biasi 58:40

No, I believe it's something that people need- because my goal is to help people moving abroad but at the same time, I want to open the way if they decide that that's not the place that wants to go. They wants to move back home. It's nice to know, it's good to know that these things can happen and be aware that if it happens, it's normal. You're not there's nothing wrong with you. It's just like is absolutely normal. So yeah, it's a good thing to know when you're moving abroad. In case you're moving back home, these things can happen.

Dorit 59:08


Daniel De Biasi 59:09

Awesome. Thank you so much story. I really really really appreciate it.

Dorit 59:12

Thank you for having me again. Take care.

Daniel De Biasi 59:15

Thanks. Bye bye.

Thank you so much for tuning in this week and staying until the end you can find the shownotes with everything discussed, insights of some of the topic we touched and much more at emigrantslife.com/episode51. And now, that moment you are waiting for, the giveaway. Because Dorit's latest memoir covers and experience of reverse culture shock in more details, we decided to give away a copy to one of you. A few days after this episode will be released. We will share a post on our Instagram page with instructions on how to enter the giveaway. So make sure to follow us there to get your chance to win a copy. You can find us on Instagram at emigrant'slife. And one last thing before we go, many of you reached out to me because you're planning to move abroad and need some help. So when we actually did, I'm booked for the whole month already. And so I just want to apologize if you're trying to book a call with me, you can't. But unfortunately working full time and on the podcast, I don't have a lot of time left. But I have to say, I'm having so much fun meeting you guys. So I hope we can meet soon. Anyway, thanks again for listening. Talk to you next one. Ciao!