Top expat tips – how to cope when you return home

Top expat tips – how to cope when you return home

25th October, 2013

You moved to a new country to fulfill an employment contract, for love, for a better life. Whatever the reason, you coped with moving away. Now it’s time to come back home. How do you deal with the reverse culture shock you might experience, where your homeland feels as foreign as your new home country once did? Here is some sensible advice to make moving back as smooth, trouble-free and enjoyable as possible.

The holiday effect

Most people moving back after a stint as an expat feel very strange when they return home. It’s a little like an extreme version of the holiday effect, where the minute you get back home it feels as though you’ve never been away in the first place. Bear in mind the feeling is perfectly normal and you’ll be less fazed by it.

Prepare yourself in good time

Especially important if you have children, it helps to spend time preparing for the move well in advance. Perhaps you could create a scrapbook together about your home country with photos, drawings and clips from newspapers and magazines. Make time to discuss the differences and similarities with them,  answering their questions and taking their concerns seriously.

If you don’t have children, what about your spouse or partner? Again, the key is to discuss everything that might become an issue openly and honestly beforehand rather than waiting until you are in the thick of it.

Expect a two week whirlwind

Your first couple of weeks ‘back home’ will probably be very, very busy: getting together with family and friends to celebrate, shopping, moving back into your old home or into a new one and so on.

Once all the drama and excitement is over you may find feelings of strangeness and disconnection setting in, especially if you’ve formed an idealized version of ‘home’ and the reality doesn’t quite fit. You’ve missed your family, but within two weeks they are driving you mad. You yearned to see your old friends but years down the line, they’re different people. Being aware it might happen makes the reality easier to adjust to.

Slotting back into your old routine… or not

You might want to slot straight back into your old routine. Or you might want to live completely differently after your experiences abroad. Either way, your family will probably have expectations of you, which you need to manage.

The best way to deal with your relatives’ and friends’ needs and make sure your own needs are given the right amount of respect and consideration, is to be open about it. Call a family meeting to discuss what you want to do, then talk about things calmly together and make yourself 100% clear.

You might want to live in a different area of the country from your original home, for example, but your folks might want you close by. It’s best to be open about your wants, needs, plans and desires so nobody is disappointed or offended.

Dealing with a slightly different culture

Say you moved to a new country in 2006. Today’s economic, financial and business landscapes are very different post-recession. It’s unwise to expect things to have remained the same in your absence. Prepare for a shock and you’ll be less disconcerted.

In some cases tax and revenue rules may have changed. The way the housing market works might have changed. The employment scene might be completely different. Never assume things will be exactly the same and you will be in a better overall position.

Making home where the heart is

Don’t delay unpacking. Make your home as homely as you possibly can. Put up family photos, get all your ornaments out, arrange the furniture so it looks and feels comfy and homely. And get busy with your hobbies as soon as you can, another good way to re-acclimatise. The longer you leave it, the more disconnected you can end up feeling, according to research by Graebel International.

Taking extra care of your health

Moving back can be stressful, and one of the best ways to combat stress is to eat well, sleep well and get plenty of exercise.

Getting back to work

If you moved abroad with your spouse, you might have put your own career on hold. If they moved with you, what happened to their career? One or both of you might need to source re-training, get career counseling or get help rejoining the job market. Doing so will help you ease back into the career landscape and feel more comfortable once you are in it.

Getting the kids back to school

It can be tough being a ‘new girl’ or ‘new boy’, especially when they join their new school at an odd time of year, half way through a year or term. It’s easier for children to fit in if they start school in September, in the new school year, but if that isn’t possible, there are things you can do to support them. Have a chat with the teachers and head teacher about your expat life. Follow up with more meetings if you need to. And talk openly to your child about school, so they know it’s OK to tell you if they are having difficulties.

Rediscovering your own culture…

Get out and about in your home country. Involve yourself in your community. Meet new people. These are all great ways to reintegrate yourself and rediscover the place you once called ‘home’.

… and keeping in touch with your old one

It’s ok to miss the country you’ve been living in for so long. You can stay in touch with friends over there, and celebrate their festivals and occasions. There’s no need to discard everything about your expat life just because you’ve come home. Make it part of your everyday life instead.

Give yourself time

A lot of expats are high fliers who expect a great deal of themselves. If that’s you, give yourself a break. Be patient. Expect the process to take time and you won’t be disappointed with yourself if you fail to make a perfect job of absolutely everything first time, every time!

Any questions about repatriating yourself and your family?

If you have any questions, someone in our community might be able to help. Feel free to leave a comment below, or connect with us on Twitter @now_health or on the Now Health Facebook page so we can share them with our readers.

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Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

Contact Alison Massey

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