Yolanda Ajak on Repatriation
The theory of repatriation is one thing. Actually repatriating is another. Come along Yolanda's journey as she moves from China to Canada and be inspired to enjoy your expat life and prepare for the hardest move of all: going home.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Egypt and then in Canada. In my last year of university I went to study abroad in Thailand. It was a great experience. And then I came back. I found that I really liked it and I actually went back abroad, but this time I went to China for 5,5 years.
What was your biggest challenge repatriating from China to Canada?
It was challenging to say good-bye to my friends. They became family to me. It was difficult to meet people who you fit with and once you find those people, it was really hard to let go.
I got some closure.
Tell us more about repatriating during a global pandemic.
A lot of feelings. You don't know what to expect, because everything has changed. Also the nervousness of traveling during a pandemic. I had nightmares of catching covid. You just don't know anymore. It's like your going home, but your not going home to like home that you left.
What expectations have you had about Canada? Where they met?
I stayed in touch with a lot of people and I asked a lot of them what the situation was like here and they assured me that things were opening back up. I was quite happy about that, because I was so used to that freedom in China. We were really safe over there. I was nervous about coming here, because we have anti-maskers here. In China there is no such thing. When I got here, I realized things are essentially normal pretty much to how it was in China. You have to wear a mask everywhere. People are out and about and if you can show that you are vaccinated you can dine in everywhere you want.
How did you experience reverse culture shock?
Some of it has to do the way people are reacting to covid. Where I came from it was just one way and one way only. Having to hear so many opinions on covid was overwhelming.
And I realized how nice everyone was. How polite. Was everybody always this nice? It is almost as if they are blind to it. For them it is normal everyday. People hold the door for you. That is so nice.
What are your experiences finding a job back home.
The process of finding a job is an emotional rollercoaster. I am transitioning kind of from education to something else. I have changed now as a person and narrowing down what exactly it is that I want to do, it's been rough. The process of applying, the way resumes look like nowadays has changed. What companies expect from you has changed. And navigating through that has been a little tough. I feel like I'm poking in the dark. And then there is the insecurity of I have been away so long, what if they don't look at my experiences. I am starting over as someone who is first entering the job market. It`s so different to China where I could find multiple jobs in a week.
I have four versions of my resume now.
What advice would you give someone who will repatriate in the near future.
Expect to have ups and downs. Lots of them. It´s totally normal even if you are happy to be leaving your foreign country to go back to your home country. Prepare yourself. Things in your home country won't be the same. And even if you didn't realize that you changed, you have. You need to be patient with yourself. If you start to feel negative emotions, be mindful and recognize that that is normal. That is supposed to happen. It's like being in a blizzard. Maybe setting up a system for you beforehand. If you are a person who needs routine, set up a new routine. Write things down, make daily lists. You are gonna feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. I am grateful to have a coach like you. Talking to someone every now and then to check in.
What do you miss most about living in Beijing?
My friends. The routine that I had. I am a people person. My entire life there was built around the people that I interacted with. I feel like I got pulled out of my network. It was for the first time that I actually built real independence for myself. I found who I really was and I was able to connect with people who are really like me.
When you think about your time as an expat and now a repatriate: What life lessons have you learned?
You know that you made the choice to go abroad and you wanted to experience change. That was I guess the whole point of going somewhere different. You wanted change. And when you come back, it's gonna be a change as well. You moved on and you have grown and changed and the version of you that was left here with the people that you left, that person has not changed to them. So you have to reintroduce yourself. Reset new boundaries. You have to regroup. It's all changes. Sometimes when we are going it's all exciting change and when we come back it's not so exciting, but we have to accept that change is change.
How has coaching supported you during repatriation?
It has helped me immensely. It's been incredible having someone who has had the same experience as me talk to me. They always say when you are talking to someone about something it is good for the person to whom you talk to to have some sort of knowledge about what you are talking about so that you be understood and feel validated. Having someone to check in and keep me accountable to things that I say I want to do in order to move forward has also been helpful.
How would you continue: Coaching because...
When we started I had an outline of what kind of person I want to be. It was about the first exercise that we did. How do I want to see my life and feel about my life. Those things are long term goals. I would continue coaching because in order to see those through, through check-ins and complete the mission from beginning to end.
What else would you like to share about your expat adventure or your repatriation journey?
Leaving China during the pandemic was definitely a whirlwind. As stressful as things can get no matter where you are. When it is all over when you look back, you actually feel proud of yourself what you accomplished and done. You said out to do something and you did it and you came back and you learned something.
It´s definitely one of those journeys that you should be proud of.
Where can people find you?
It's funny because I am going through a social media detox. But you can find me on twitter: ajak333.