Thinking of “home” conjures memories of blue skies, smiling faces of love ones, our dogs and an easy lifestyle. These rose coloured glasses of mine are building me up to fail at our upcoming repatriation.
Many expats buy into false assumptions about the ease of returning home. Home is familiar so the move will surely be straightforward, as will the transition back to normalcy. This is when the gods of reality check laugh and throw a few curve balls.
Those returning home experience similar challenges to when they moved abroad – sourcing accommodation, cars, school enrolments, possibly securing a job for the spouse and so on. However this time, the family completes this transition without the support from the employer. After all, you’re home now how difficult can it be?
Reverse culture shock
The romanticised view of ‘home’ often omits the forgotten frustrations and stressors of everyday life. Home has changed – people have changed and experienced new and different things and may have moved into a different lie stage. You have changed too as a result of experiencing a new culture. Your beliefs, values and essentially your world view have evolved and these may be at odds with what awaits you at home. Be aware that this may make it difficult to simply pick up where you left off with friends and coworkers upon your return.
Further, your lifestyle abroad was fairly comfortable. Here, we have domestic staff who assist with minimising the daily stressors of navigating anger inducing traffic (machet), limited parking opportunities, lengthy travel times as well as home cleaning. Returning home means doing everything for yourself. Additionally, you may find that money becomes a consideration without access to expat financial allowances (though this may be countered by the spouse being able to work once again!).
Leaving the familiar is difficult for adults who have the language to communicate frustrations and fears. Children on the other hand may not and their anxiety may present through behaviour. Repatriation for kids is an enormous deal – they are leaving their home, school, routines, friends and significant adults – everything that is familiar and predictable. Some children may have developed a strong connection to the adoptive country and some may not even remember life back home.
So how to manage this transition for kids? Communication is key. Talk positively about the transition and ensure that the child knows that the move is inevitable. Children should feel supported to talk openly about how they’re feeling about the move without judgement. Other strategies may include:
- schedule proper goodbyes prior to leaving
- ask your child what they might like to know about ‘home’ and research together
- once you’ve made the move, set up the child’s bedroom in a similar way to provide a sense of familiarity and comfort
- establish routines within the home and
- keep in regular contact with teachers or carers
Many organisations do provide counselling services for officers and their families; consider utilising this service to support with the transition before, during or after relocation. Repatriation offers many additional challenges for expats and their families due to the perceived ease of returning to the familiar. Good luck.