Home Strange Home.
Many expats will be moving home this year after living abroad and although one might think it will be a smooth transition to return to our previous lives, experts say — think again.
According to the Wall Street Journal article Repatriation Blues returning home, for a number of reasons, is harder than leaving in the first place and many expats are not prepared for what they will experience. Of course, expats realize that life will be different when they move home but thinking it and experiencing it are two different things. The problem is you will move home a changed person but you may not realize just how much you have changed — you left as one person and you will return as another.
Here’s a few reasons why moving home will be strange.
1. Your conversations will change. For example, as an expat flying to the Maldives or Australia isn’t that big of a deal. Expats do it all the time. It’s what we do — we explore but for many of our family and friends at home, this dream of exotic travel will never be realized. Amongst ourselves travel is common conversation. We love talking about our travels but when we return home these conversations will end because it is always difficult to discuss things with people who haven’t shared the same experiences.
Many expats coming home go through a period of grief until they “give in to the homesickness” for their host country. Tina Quick
2. You will not be stimulated with the same challenges. Being an expat is addictive. Similar to addictive professions such as law enforcement and fire fighting which typically attract adrenaline junkies. Being an expat is also addictive because we are constantly being challenged with the curve balls life throws at us. Although most expats are not in harms way like fire fighting and law enforcement, there is a definite type of personality that seeks constant change. For an expat, everyday is a new challenge.
“We moved back to the same house; we were driving the same car and it hit me like a punch in the gut. It took two years until I felt like a human being again.” Maria Foley
3. You are now a product of your experiences. Expats live in a mix of cultures. We have grown accustom to exotic foods, wearing ethnic clothing, adopting new and different words and expressions. This will seem weird to the people back home. It will take an enormous effort to live the same diversified life you once experienced. And until you begin to re-assimilate you will always feel like you don’t belong.
It is recommended that before you leave, expats should undergo a ritual where they visit and say goodbye to each aspect of their life abroad. Naomi Hattaway
4. You will lose your close-knit community. Expats develop close relationships out of necessity. Initially, it begins as a survival instinct, a way of coping, and a way to make the best of a crazy situation. It then develops into something more intimate, a deeper closer bond that is only shared with people experiencing similar situations. These types of relationships are similar to friendships developed in fraternities, military etc. It will be difficult to cultivate the same type of relationship when you move home.
It’s easy for returning expats to feel isolated. “Nobody gets it. It’s like having somebody dying and there’s no funeral and you’re not supposed to talk about it. You feel guilty talking about it.” Lois Bushong
5. You will question who you are. Who am I? is a really difficult question for anyone to answer but it is even more difficult for an expat. Moving home may feel as if your glory days have been left behind in your life abroad. How can anything match up to what I have already experienced? you might ask yourself. Leaving your home culture and adapting/adopting a new culture; and then leaving the new culture behind to return to your home culture leaves one a little confused.
For the first four weeks, I felt like I was visiting. Then I realized I really do live here. I was not going back anywhere. That was when things started to get really hard” Nneka Okona
The problem is we expats have a comfortable life in our alternate reality. We have absorbed a mish-mosh of cultural experiences and are accustom to a level of diversity that is hard to find outside of an expat community. We accept the everyday struggles and the constant state of semi-confusion as a small price to pay for the enriched and exotic experience. Never fully understanding exactly what is going on at any given moment is part of the charm.
When we decide to return to our home country we will have many stories to tell of the years we lived in a foreign country. How we once rode the camels and the elephants. Telling our grandchildren how we once kayaked in the Arabian Gulf, camped under the stars on the desert dunes, and easily jetted off to remote countries for long weekends. We will always have these wonderful memories to take with us wherever we go.
But the one destination that may not be so easy to discuss is the final destination home.
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