Repatriation or ‘heading home’ after working and living overseas, can be a time of mixed emotions for the expat family. They’re excited to be moving back and reconnecting with family and friends and going back to all that’s familiar. But also sad to be leaving new friendships, interesting experiences and what may have been a charmed and exciting lifestyle.

For some families, repatriation can mean the long awaited ‘release date’ from a challenging experience that was endured rather than enjoyed. And for a few, the challenges can prove to be too difficult to navigate. It can impact on the well being of spouse or children, resulting in an earlier repatriation than planned.

When did all go wrong?

Many factors can contribute to a less than happy experience overseas:

  • Not enough research and planning done before relocating.
  • Distance from family and friends.
  • Cultural differences.
  • Language difficulties.
  • Unrealistic expectations.
  • Feeling unsupported.
  • Challenges with children’s education.
  • Healthcare concerns.
  • Safety and welfare concerns.

My Repatriation Experience

My own experience of repatriation was a steep learning curve. While I had enjoyed my time overseas, I was ready when the time came to go home. With my memories of home, awash in a rose-tinted hue, I thought it was going to be much easier than it turned out to be.

Rose-tinted glasses have an amazing ability to embellish and distort the facts. Before you move overseas, they lull you into a false sense of security…

”So I can’t speak the language, no big deal …everyone understands English if you shout…. ! Wrong!!

Thinking of home, you dwell on the fantastic times, remembering when you visited on leave, catching up with family and friends, loads of activities and being fussed over. It’s all going to fall into place and it’ll be just like we never left. Wrong again!

After the initial euphoria of being home wears off, and reality kicks in, you can feel unsettled even a little flat or down. You can experience reverse culture shock. You should fit in right?.. but you feel you don’t. It can be quite un-nerving and unexpected.

What has Changed?

Remember time didn’t stand still just because you were away, and:

  • Dynamics within the family back home may have changed, things you may not have been aware of while living away. Sometimes distance makes the heart grow fonder!
  • Friends or family may have moved so that support system may not be there.
  • Living out of boxes, for weeks if not months, as you try and put your home back together…is exhausting and can add to the unsettled feeling.
  • House prices may now be out of reach where you want to live, or need to live for children’s school, putting financial strain on the family.
  • Difference in cost of living a major consideration, especially if it was a one wage family overseas. It may require two wages now to manage financially.
  • You may lack confidence getting back into the workforce again, and may even need to update your skills.
  • Back to a more congested commute now, less family time. More stress.
  • After a while, your family and friends glaze over a little bit when you find yourself talking about your life overseas, the adventures, experiences even the bad bits …that don’t seem so bad now!

The thing to remember is, that home may not have changed all that much but you have…you’re not the same person that left.

It takes perseverance and courage to carve out a new life for yourself and family in a foreign location.

Developing new skills, integrating into another culture and perhaps learning a new language. You may have come in contact with scenes of abject poverty, political unrest or social inequalities in your particular location overseas. Things that you felt were important before you left home, may no longer impress you.

There is no question, our life experiences good, bad, stressful or enlightening, change us. They shape how we respond and react to our environment.

It is true that travel opens the mind, but being able to make a new home away from home stiffens the backbone, broadens your shoulders and opens your eyes to the world as well. Thickening of the waistline is totally optional …but it is a possibility!

For your own Repatriation Challenge

So some tips to ease your way back in:

  • Plan for the return home, just as diligently as when you relocated overseas
  • If moving back with children, contact schools in term time but move back in school holidays if possible. Children manage better if they can start the new term with all the other children.
  • Cull as much as you can before you leave, no point in packing stuff that you will have to get rid of when you get home. If not, unpacking will be a nightmare and storage is expensive.
  • Be wise when shopping for keep sakes of your time overseas. While the life size giraffe looks amazing, it will be a health and safety issue in the sitting room!
  • Keep in touch with friends you’ve made overseas, they are an important part of the experience. They are really the only ones who know what you’ve been through good and bad. Friendships that are forged through shared experiences are truly special and long-lasting.
  • Make plans for them to visit you so you can show them around your town or city and you can appreciate everything again, seeing it through their eyes.
  • Be patient, keep an open mind, be kind to yourself, it can take 9-12 months to truly feel that the ‘new’ you is home again.

Eighteen months back home for us and we were transferred overseas again. This time my rose tinted glasses were permanently filed away under S for Sabotage, so much easier to deal with things when your vision is clear and true.