Coming home? When Repatriation Hits You
Updated: Aug 30, 2022
Have you lived in another country for a while, but now it is time to move back home? I have to rephrase that question: Have you lived in another country, but now it is time to move back to the country from where you are from? Your relatives and old friends may call it home and you too, might think that it will be a piece of cake to go back. And maybe it is. After all, you know all about the culture, you speak the language and you just know what to expect. It seems to add all up, right? But there is one part of the equation that has changed:
You are most likely not the same person that you used to be when you arrived at this place a few years back. You have grown. You have adopted to the new country, because you had to. I compare staying in a foreign country to swimming in new waters. Once you arrive, you are thrown into cold waters. If you are only there for a three week vacation up to an assignment of about one year, you are good diving. You can hold your breath and just get this over with. Whenever something seems familiar you swim a little bit, but as soon as it gets hard, weird, too unfamiliar, too uncomfortable, you just dive deep and that's it. You get out of these waters, tell your friends about it, make fun of it, admire it, but in the end, you shake it off.
But, this is not possible if you stay in the country for more than one year. You have to learn how to swim. You have to figure out how to communicate, how to cook, how to dress appropriately, how to drive, how to live. And while you figure out how to swim, you will change. Slowly you will adapt to this new lifestyle. And that process will change you.
In some countries you might feel as if you finally can be the person you always wanted to be. You might feel free, liberated and so so happy. In other countries learning to swim might be a real struggle. You might feel like drowning from time to time, but eventually you get the hang of it. It becomes easier. Things make sense again. You understand why people act a certain way and living here becomes less confusing.
This change becomes even apparent in the personal pronouns you use. In the beginning you will refer to the people in the new country as they. They love spicy food. They drive 70mph and it makes us crazy. They don´t know how to separate trash. The list goes on. But after a while, you will say things like our kids love spicy food. We drive 70mph and it is so relaxing and a lot safer than how they are driving back home.
They turns into we. And we turns into they.
You associate yourself with the customs of your new home and you disassociate yourself from the customs of your old home. Of course in most cases the lines are blurry and you are drawn to different parts of the cultures, but the main thing is that you have changed.
I am a triangle is a pretty common phrase among repatriates. It compares the people from your home country with circles and the people from your new country with squares. You mix these two cultures and you become a triangle.
So far so good. You might think this is great. I kind of fit in both countries now. This is definitely a win. And it is.
Here is the tough part and it all comes down to expectations:
What expectations do you have about your expat country? I guess you expect that things are different, right? And they are. So there are no unmet expectations. What expectations do you think the people in the new country have about you? That you are different, right? And you are. Some of them might be pleasantly surprised how much you fit in after a while. So there are no unmet expectations either, rather the joy of how well a triangle from a square country fits into a circle country.
But what about your expectations when you move back to your old country. You expect that you fit in. Your old friends, families and neighbors expect you to fit in, to be you, the old you, the you that they knew. And you are not. You are a triangle.
If you have children it might be even harder for them, because if they have never lived in your home country or only for a short term, they may be more confused while everyone around them is expecting them to fit in, because they simply hold a passport from that country. They are so-called TCKs-Third Culture Kids.*
So many unmet expectations. And this hurts. Feeling like a stranger in your own country hurts and can confuse you on many different levels.
There are some tips on how to deal with repatriation.
The obvious one would be to lower your expectations. If you don't expect something, you won't be disappointed. And while it definitely might be helpful to keep that thought in mind I wonder if it is possible to have no expectations about coming home.
Another advice is to treat coming home as another assignment. But it is not. You are coming home. That is part of the problem, isn't it?
Give yourself time to adjust to this new situation, is another tip people will tell you. They say time heals everything. I ask you, how much time is enough?
Having a coach by your side can make all the difference! Why? Because every person is different, every situation is unique and you, you alone, have to figure out how to move forward. How to make this home, your home, again. How to create a future and not forget the past. A coach will navigate you through those challenges.
COACHING because coming home is the hardest part!
They say home is where the heart is and that is exactly why coming home from a place that was also near and dear to your heart can tear you apart.
If you are in the process of repatriation I hope that you fit right back in, but if not, consider coaching so you can be home at last!
IT´S A FUNNY THING COMING HOME. NOTHING CHANGES. EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME, FEELS THE SAME, EVEN SMELLS THE SAME. YOU REALIZE WHAT´S CHANGED IS YOU. - F. Scott Fitzgerald -
*Misunderstood-The Impact of Growing up Overseas in the 21st Century is a book by Tanya Crossman, that deals in depth with the topic of TCKs.