As this post goes live, we will be merely days away from returning ‘home’. Prior to our move and shortly after we arrived, we were prepared by our organisation for the initial challenges of change and cultural adjustment. Repatriating, we have found a gaping hole. There is very little support in preparing us for the transition ‘home’.
Repatriation is difficult to understand if you’ve never experienced it. Many people perceive returning expats (repats) as being overly nostalgic, affected, resentful and difficult to relate to at times. I mean, repats are returning ‘home’, so what’s so hard about it? Well, for us ‘home’ is where we have lived for the past few years. We have carved out lives here, we work here, have friends here and here is where our normal and familiar is.
Researching repatriation, I have discovered that the process of returning is extremely challenging for most. Most repats experience depression, anxiety, grief, isolation and reverse culture shock that may last for up to 12 months. Friends and family just wish you’d stop talking about your old life and get back to normal, back to reality. But what you really need will be their support, patience and understanding.
Friends and family have changed since we moved away due to life experiences, as have we. I am acutely aware that some friendships won’t last the test of reconnecting and that has to be ok. That’s life. Another stressor however, is how this next phase will affect and test our relationship as we move from being a single income family with pressures of life abroad to a double income family with the additional pressures of the everyday plus transitioning back to a Western culture. Relationship breakdowns are common within repat communities.
Having worked for only a short while during our posting, additional anxiety is emerging for me about returning to work. Have I lost my knowledge and skills and have I still ‘got it’? Will I cope with the long hours and a job that is mentally and emotionally demanding? How will I establish a work/life balance and not burn out? Will colleagues understand if I have a mini meltdown due to stress or anxiety about settling back into Australia (reverse culture shock)?
So. with all of this in mind, we cross our fingers and hope for a relatively smooth transition into our previous lives. I’ll keep you posted..
In many ways the Indonesian perspective of jam karet is a small reminder that we a living in a country with many different customs, habits, norms and values than those of home. It should be noted that there is no real normal when discussing Indonesian culture due to the vast number of cultures within Indonesian society itself!
Time is flexible in Indonesia. This cultural norm of life and time being flexible has been something I have grappled with during our time in Indonesia. In the western world, being late to appointments or even simple catch ups with friends or family is considered tardy or rude – not so here. Many times, people are late for appointments or do not show up at all (other times they may show up early) and the reasons given can be quite amusing – tired, hungry, traffic, rain, flat tyre, whatever. These excuses are deemed acceptable and it is rude to take issue with the person who is ‘late’ which is difficult for expats to deal with.
To cope, we have taken the approach that we wait for an hour or so for repairmen or deliveries and if we need to head out, we do. Arrangements will be made for besok (tomorrow or thereafter) and the job will get done – eventually. Fortunately employing a pembantu helps greatly, as she can liaise with these people should they show up in our absence. No stress, no problem (tidak apa apa).
Jam karet is also about building and maintaining relationships. Life’s hiccups allow people to stop and connect with others. If it’s raining why not stop and share a story over coffee with a stranger? Most homes and shopfronts have chairs out front where people sit and chat to pass the time. Time and patience are a way of life and there’s a beauty to the mindset that we are all connected. Not such a familiar concept in the West these days.
The idea of time being elastic brings with it a lovely approach in many ways to dealing with life in general. Why not just go with the flow and make life easy? Let it go and let it be. Whilst I will continue to be punctual, my take away from this experience is to not sweat the small stuff and that has to be a valuable life lesson.
Accompanying my spouse on his overseas posting turned out to be more about discovering more about myself than about seeking new adventures in a very foreign country. I had to let go of my former self to an extent and allow change to happen, all the while holding on to what is essentially me. I had to discover who I was without the many layers of career woman, friend, partner, daughter, whoever and start all over again. And I did.
With time I have established a new support network of trusted friends, found a short term job, and lived a life. I learned that I could manage and create a happy existence once I worked through a few bumpy moments and realisations and extended kindness and patience to myself. Here’s what I discovered about me..
I am resilient, flexible and resourceful
I am compassionate and kindhearted
I am a loyal and trustworthy friend
I am a supportive and selfless partner
I am a lifelong learner
I am a good person.
Not a bad education of self for being ‘just a trailing spouse’. What have you discovered?
Below are just a few apps that have been useful for us during our time in Jakarta. You’ll find many more of your own.
WhatsApp – used by most expats
XE Currency Converter – easy to use & no explanation required
Go-Jek – for all manner of deliveries, cleaning and beauty services
HappyFresh – online groceries and delivery
Uber – similar to taxi service
Eztable – online restaurant and cafe reservations
Google Maps/Waze – handy for travel times and online directions
TripAdvisior – helps to plan things to see and do, recommendations for hotels, restaurants etc
Facebook – connect with other expats and community groups
The thought occurred to me today – will be friendships at home be the same as before I left and what of the friendships I have made at post? Looking back over the past few years , I can count on pretty much one hand the number of friends who have kept in touch from home. This is normal, and I hold no resentment, life happens. We may think of each other often and not make contact or or we may not even be a thought to the other. No big deal.
Social media and technology has made keeping in touch so convienient due to convenience of time, cost and ease – but only if you wish to. I’ll admit that I often think about colleagues, friends and family back home and have every intention to send that text, or message on Facebook or video call via Hangouts and that’s where it ends. With good intentions. Good friends don’t take this personally (most likely because it’s a mutual thing) and reconnecting is so seamless and wonderful.
Life saddest and most happy moments force communication and many friends have included my in their grief, celebrations and successes for which I am grateful. These friends have been with me for varied lengths of time on my life journey and often hold the key to many memories and milestones of my own. A shared history if you will. So what if these friendships become unexpected victims of my time abroad and cannot withstand the test of time?
Expat friends who have returned home are another consideration. Many of these people can relate to the peculiarities of another culture, the joys and frustrations. They hold the memories of my time abroad. These friendships are sometimes so intense due to the difficulties we experience and the supportive nature of trailing spouse frienships. Shared experiences that are unique to our time at post. How do these relationships withstand the transition to a regular life?
With our impending repatriation, I’m beginning to wonder will many of these friendships stand the test of absence and continue when I return. I’ve changed I know that and I shoudl expect that friends and family have too. Let’s just wait and take things as they come..