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  • Writer's pictureHenriette Johnsen

Repatriation; the hardest journey?

I's taken some time, but thankfully, there's now a lot of support to be had from companies, bloggers, and books as well as from researchers, coaches, and therapists on how to manage the challenges of expat life - both the practical and the deeper rooted, more emotional and social ones. Often, people going into this field professionally are either expats or former expats with a felt experience of expat life themselves.

Lately, it's even becoming more obvious and accepted that it's not just the employee who needs support; the trailing spouse and children also need to lead fulfilling lives for the expatriation to be succesful. But what still lacks some attention is repatriation which for some is by far the most difficult of the five phases of expat life.

Having taken several stints abroad, I have had very different experiences with this transition: the first two times, I was grief-ridden and found settling back into my home life extremly difficult, not to say impossible. I simply wasn't done living abroad; and the thought of never doing so again filled me with dread, sorrow and sadness in the capacity of a profound sense of missing out on life. There was no question in my mind that I had to move out again.

My most recent experience of repatration was much different: primarily it was instigated by financial hardship and immense anxiety in relation to this - so finding myself under much calmer and settled financial circumstances made the transition seem safe and like the right thing at the time. There were lots of factors to work through for both my children and myself; but now, years later, though I still have the odd yearning for life abroad, I feel properly settled and content in my current life. Like I have the best of both my countries, both my homes!

The challenges of moving abroad seem more obvious: cultural and religious differences, learning a new language, creating a circle of friends, becoming familiar with exotic foods and foreign costums, finding your footing identity wise etc. seem to most more obvious than the fact that when you move back to your home country, you might experience the exact same challenges. You might not know where to do your grocery shopping; understand the changed school culture; feel at ease with work colleagues, your boss or the informal work culture; nor acclimatise to the weather or local customs now your outlook on life has been broaden. Furthermore, you will have to reconnect with friends and family, find a way of easing into their lives again; and you may also want to expand your circle of friends.

This is called reverse culture shock in the sense that you will have changed, your country will have changed, as might your friends and family who will definitely have gotten used to living their lives without you nearby. Though you might not expect it, there's a lot to be learnt upon returning to your home country: depending on how long you have been away, life has moved on there too.

This can be particularly difficult to embrace: on one hand, you would expect/wish everything to be the same as it provides a sense of safety and familiarity; on the other hand, as you have undergone and experienced so much, you might also resent to come back to an unchanged society with friends and family of unchanged mindsets. As you haven't been part of the process of change in your home country; and your friends and family haven't been part of yours, it can be difficult to understand each other's perspectives and positions.

Tips for dealing with repatriation

Coming to terms with feeling homesick and out of sorts when in your own country can be incredible painful, confusing, and challenging to accept. Here are a few tips for how to handle the situation:

  • Just as you prepared for life abroad, prepare for moving home.

  • Have proper goodbyes in your expat country.

  • Lower your expectations of yourself and others.

  • Work towards accepting that though you are moving home, you are, depending on the lenght of your expatriation, moving to a somewhat foreign country - approach it as were you unfamiliar with it.

  • Be curious and openminded; like when you had just moved abroad.

  • Take support - talk to friends, family, colleagues and your boss to let them know how you feel. Don't suffer alone, but let them know how they can support you.

  • See how you can incoorporate elements from your life abroad which you really appreciated: perhaps more time with the family, a special Thursday evening tradition or a trip out every now and then.

If you are interested in having these tips elaborated alongside receiving many, many more tips on expat life and how to support with your mental health during this and other expat phases, you may be interested in purchasing my comprehensive guide on taking care of your mental health as an expat. You can find the guide here

Airport sign and the text "repatriation is also a transition".


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