Recently I read a rather intriguing article that sort to explain the very real difficulties of returning home after living and working in another country and finding that finding that you no longer quite fit. The article resonated with my not simply because my thoughts now centre on our impending return home, but because I have experienced this feeling of not quite fitting in when I have visited home for family celebrations, short holidays and visiting friends.
“Think of shapes: Imagine you are a circle, living in Circle Country. Then you move to Square Society. You will never become a Square, but that culture starts to embed itself in you. When the time comes to return to your Circle Country (home), you have become a Triangle (http://naomihattaway.com/2013/09/i-am-a-triangle-and-other-thoughts-on-repatriation/).”
We have been posted to Indonesia for nearly 4 years and during this time my values, beliefs and perspectives have evolved and when I return home I feel a little well, like a misfit. Living this duality means feeling unsettled understanding that I don’t quite belong here or there..
Friends, old colleagues and family members are interested in a highlight reel of an expat’s adventures and experiences; anything deeper than that and their eyes glaze over. They want to hear stories of the glamorous lifestyle of an expat, particularly that of the supporting spouse. No-one wants to hear the stories of feeling socially isolated or the difficulties experienced because “what have you got to complain about?” And let’s face it – life’s deeper moments are shared over a glass of wine with trusted confidantes.
The support for relocating to your new life is thorough. Repatriating not so much. We have been provided with a handbook containing a to do list leading up to departure, once we land the rest is up to us. No formal support for re entry. No support for returning to work (for the spouse), enrolling children into school, finding homes, cars, connecting utilities etc. Fend for yourself and cope as best you can.
Engaging with expat groups like I am a Triangle certainly help to manage anxiety and garner support from others who have experience similar struggles, triumphs and experiences. Technology has allowed a sense of connectedness and belonging throughout my journey as an expat and will continue to do so as I grapple with the return home.