‘Repatriation- the deepest and darkest secret of the expat experience’– opens a recently published article in The Wall Street Journal .
Do you recognize this, I was shocked reading this because it’s o so true and nobody tells you. I was unaware and therefor unprepared for this last transition.
‘You expect life to be basically the same. But you have changed, and things back home have changed since you’ve been gone’ says Tina Quick in the article. It’s so logical that everyone’s life goes on back home while you have gone, because why would everyone and everything still remain the same, they have a life on their own.
The reality for lots of repats is that the reverse culture shock couldn’t be more intense. Because we assume that everything back home is put on hold or paused until we return. We only start noticing when we become disappointed when we actions we took for granted have changed, when we feel left out because nobody is waiting for us to return and when the excitement of moving turns reduces to tiresome unpacking while being a stranger at home. A stranger in your own familiar life.
I remember clearly of enthusiastically sharing stories about foreign experiences while you see your listener’s eyes slowly but steadily blanking out. The more exotic the experience, the sooner this process started. It was their inability to relate to these experiences, as it was my unawareness about this. As adults we are able to rationalize this reverse culture shock back home, but what about our children?
The reality of home is not the home leaves. What stays out in their memories are the never ending home leaves over summer, a chain of sleepover parties, seamlessly floating into pool parties, visiting their families, friends make themselves available for a ‘hi&bye’ – moments, always bringing gifts and toys and endlessly chilling. These days where never ending, always fun and the best of times. That’s how our children picture ‘back home’.
And so will repatriating be for them: in their mindset everyone is over the moon, anxiously waiting for them to return, and inviting them over for play dates just like during home leave. The reality is upsetting: they have changed and things back home have changed. Just like nobody is waiting for you to return and same goes for your children. They also have to fight their way back in. They will find their friends far too occupied with after school activities and sports, no more play dates and nor hanging out. This is necessarily painful and annoying unless you prepare for this repatriation as if it where you’re next move.
How can we prepare our children in smoothing the transition back home? How to avoid the feeling of being a stranger back home?
1.Sharing isn’t caring: Depending on the age (s) of your children try to explain to them how they have grown and have experienced new adventures. A life abroad to which their friends back home can not relate, the location is unfamiliar to them, the trips your children have made are too exotic, the schools to attended to different from the local school back home.
Tip 1: Sharing a slight sliver of their experiences is fine while keeping this in the back of their minds.
2.Back home we do this differently: Secondly ‘remind’ them of the way we do things back home. While living in the U.S. My daughter, being six years at that time, got very used to having sleepover parties where all her friends had the habit of getting dressed and changed in her closet, not to been seen. I pictured her back home, where closets are so much smaller, wrestling / tussling in an effort to get dressed, while her friends all getting changed together at the same time laughing their heads of.
Tip: Refresh their memories of how we do things back home.
3.Repatriation is your next exiting post: Lastly, explain to your children that they made new friends while living abroad just like their friends back home have grown stronger in their friendships. It’s not about them at all.
The feeling of being a stranger at home is typically how most of the repatriating children as well as their parents feel. This pitfall can be avoided by creating awareness around this.
Together with your children help them to create lists what to pay attention to, what to take into consideration and what to be aware of. Follow the same schedule you would follow when you would go for your next move to a foreign country.
Tip: Prepare for the repatriation as if it were the next exiting post.
Now sit back and relax in your chair, peek through the narrow airplane window enjoying the view below you: silhouetted your tiny little homeland where nobody is waiting for you and where you, at the very same time, are happy to return to.