Repatriation is never easy. Whether you’ve lived overseas for only a few months or whether you’ve lived overseas for several years, transitioning to life back in your home country isn’t easy. When you’ve adjusted to life in your host country, and have even come to love your host country, uprooting yourself and moving back to a different culture can be difficult.
For the first time expat who is moving back home, it comes as a shock to discover that moving home isn’t as easy as one would expect it to be. What could be difficult about moving back to the country in which you grew up? After all, you grew up there. The customs and culture are familiar. You know the language and you know how things work. You have family and friends there. There is a often giddy excitement that surrounds moving back home. You just can’t wait to get home and see everyone again. You can’t wait to go to the same restaurants you used to go to and to shop at the stores you used to shop at. And you can’t wait for the Friday night girls get togethers that you always used to participate in.
Things don’t stay the same
But after a day or two of being home, suddenly you are hit with the realization that things just aren’t the same anymore. It doesn’t matter where you are from, things simply don’t stay the same for forever. Friends move. Or move on. People change. Weekly routines fall by the wayside with life changes. Restaurants and shops close. New ones open. People have babies. Life gets busy. People get new jobs. And the life you were so excited to come home to just feels different. And at the same time, part of you realizes how much you have changed.
You will have changed
It doesn’t matter which country you are repatriating from, it will have changed you. Living overseas changes you in a thousand little ways. Often you won’t even realize the changes until someone points them out, or you move back home and realize that you aren’t the same person you were when you left. Your interests have changed. Your tastes have changed. You have grown. Living in a culture different from your own forces you to adapt and branch out. You have had to move out of your comfort zone. Often daily. Your worldview or views on certain subjects might have changed. It can be frustrating to come home only to realize that things will never be the same because you won’t ever be the same.
Prepare yourself for the changes
It is much easier to face the changes at home if you are mentally prepared for them. If you are expecting to return home and simply fall back into the routine you had when you left, you will be miserably disappointed. But if you remind yourself that things won’t be the same as when you left, it can be easier to face them. And then you will be pleasantly surprised when you go home and discover all the things that are still the same. Not everything will have changed, and those things that are still the same will bring you comfort.
Make the effort to reach out
After the first week or so of being home, after all your friends have said their initial hellos, everyone tends to fall back into their old routine and expects you to do the same. They don’t realize that you are probably missing your host country and are feeling a bit lost in the transition. They won’t understand what you are going through unless they too have repatriated at some point. Recognize this and don’t hold it against them. You might have to make the effort yourself to organize outings. You might have to make the effort to make new friends. Living overseas often lends itself to quick friend-making. You meet another expat and suddenly you are BFFs as you both need someone with which to explore your new city. Making friends overseas is easy as you have a lot of common ground. But making friends back home can be a real challenge after living overseas. Your interests often change so much that you don’t feel you can relate to the average person you meet back home.
Keep yourself busy
Don’t give yourself a lot of downtime to miss your host country. Keep yourself busy with new interests and hobbies. If you find yourself with lots of time to dwell on the city you miss, you will have a harder time transitioning into life back home. You will find yourself constantly thinking about your beloved former home and maybe even spending your free time googling jobs back overseas. If you are able to move overseas again, and feel that’s what you need to do, then there is nothing wrong with that. But if you know you need to be home for a while, you need to make the transition as painless as possible.
Repatriating isn’t easy. It’s often difficult and emotional, even when you do want to be moving back home. But giving yourself the time and space to go through the transition, and being aware of the fact that things back home will have changed, just as you have, will help your repatriation to be a smoother process.
Have you repatriated? What helped you the most during that time?