Repatriating is going home?
So, you’re going home! After so many years abroad, you’re finally returning home. Congratulations!
Wait, home?? What is this ‘home’?
What are the challenges to moving ‘home’ and how can we prepare?
Tip 1. Know that it’s gonna be hard
Repatriation can be more difficult than expatriation, and many feel a bizarre sense of reverse culture shock. People and things aren’t the same as you left them, and you and your family will have also changed a lot more than you realize.
Tip 2. Define what ‘home’ means for you, or strive to be comfortable with an uncertain definition
The concept of ‘home’ often becomes a less geographic-specific sense of “where the heart is”, or a sort of “where I lay my hat”-kind-of-thing.
The gig is, when we embark upon this journey of overseas living, we never feel quite at home in our host countries, no matter how well we learn the foreign language, assimilate, and hang with locals. We will always in some way be outsiders. And that actually becomes part of the appeal: we’re different. We’re special. Sure, it can be a hassle when we think we’re buying toothpaste and it turns out to be shaving cream, but that’s all part of the adventure.
Then when we return to our place of origin, we’re culture-shocked into realizing that we’re not quite feeling ‘at home’ in that place either. Sure, we speak the language, though sometimes with an altered accent that some might think you’re faking to show off. Or when you hesitate to search for the right word, because it’s only popping in your head in another language.
Everything is different. Yet completely the same. You no longer have the most recent slang expressions, nor are you up on any of the latest fads. But here you are with your friends and families, who are enjoying their same jobs and going through the same ups and downs that life throws in their path. Everything seems so familiar and yet totally alien at the same time.
You need to strive to be at peace with this.
Tip 3. Focus on what’s going on locally, what you used to call ‘home’, and the people in it.
You’re excited about your adventures abroad and eager to share all the minute details with whoever will listen.
Problem is, they generally don’t want to listen. Sure, they may politely tune in for the first 5 minutes-ish. Then it really starts to sound like you’re just showing off already.
Okay, so maybe your parents are kvelling*.
But beyond that, honestly, these people don’t want to hear your humble yet brag-laden expat stories.
So you recently flew to Barcelona for a dinner party and you wanted to share how “bueno” the paella was, and how exciting that you “hablar-ed” with the locals. You know it didn’t cost any more than an Amtrak ride from New York to DC – and you got there quicker – but the image is still there.
Most people just aren’t that impressed by the fact that you’ve lived overseas and learned the language. So get over it. If you love them, focus on them and what’s important in their lives.
Then, find some like-minded friends who have travelled with whom you can swap stories about eating delicacies with eyeballs, having multiple live-in housekeepers, mixing up your various languages, and exploring the magnificent depths of the world.
After all, repatriation is just another stop on your Life Journey. Enjoy.
* An Americanism, from Yiddish: to be extraordinarily pleased; especially, to be bursting with pride, as over one’s family.
By Helen Bannigan
Helen Bannigan, a communications specialist with 20 years of experience, heads up Bannigan Communications LLC. Having lived in 6 countries over a period of 25 years, she provides multi-cultural training programs to expats as they move abroad or return “home”. These workshops increase the ability to build trusting relationships and communicate effectively in the host country, and participants come away with hands-on, actionable tools and guidelines to be successful and thrive in multi-cultural environments. or
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