The Repat Journey Interview Series Part II
In my Repat Journey Interview Series I’ve been speaking to many people on their individual return journey to their homeland. Based on the stories of my interviewees, it seems clear that more employers need to incorporate repatriation into their relocation process.
Did you know that up to 50% of first year returning expatriates leave for better opportunities (Nery- Kjerfve & McLean, 2012)? In effect the intercultural skills they’ve acquired on their international assignments (resilience, flexibility, language acquisition) go unnoticed and they are not able to just “fit in” when they return and often simply feel underchallenged.
Repatriation may occur for many reasons and can look very different to different people. The art of coming home will depend on how long you’ve lived abroad, length of assignment or the fact that there was no expectation of returning home at all. Some repats are forced to come home due to circumstance – COVID-19, political instability, family circumstances etc…
This month I spoke to Adrian Weatherill, a public speaker and writer on mental health and culture and identity, his forte being specifically in interpersonal and inter-cultural relationships and negotiations. He has lived abroad on and off throughout his life and most recently returned to the UK in December 2019 after being away for three years.
Adrian has recently founded a new company called VCX with the aim to educate and improve how finance (banks and insurance) companies interact with their vulnerable customers; Mental health being a priority.
I asked him about his experience coming home:
Returning home was tough. Life in the 1st world is totally different from developing countries, and since I had got used to a more relaxed culture – it was hard to return to a more rigid, legal, and digital world. It took me about 2 months to calm myself from the rollercoaster of emotions that I went through; from the elation of being back on familiar ground to the depression of missing my adopted home and the realisation that although I was familiar with my old life – I was reminded of why I was happy to leave it in the first place; the ‘rat-race’, the elitism, the rules governing everything you do. It took that long to settle into re-learning how processes in my home country worked again, and the culture attached to it; The civility, the legal frameworks, the rules, the bureaucracy; Here, the government and various agencies need to know everything about you – there, nobody knew anything about you. Much was cash in hand, and word of mouth.
What do you miss about your life abroad?
I miss everything about that life; the glorious weather, the freedom not to care about one-upmanship and material wealth – family and dancing and food and alcohol were the mainstays of the culture there. Life was so peaceful – morally most of the people were kept in check by family pride and religion so I never once felt unsafe – unlike home where even looking at someone the wrong way can land you in hospital. I miss my business; I was an English teacher and it provided so much joy to help others learn not only the language but the culture of my home.
What do you appreciate about being home?
Being home I have appreciated the variety of choice that we enjoy; the shops stock food from around the globe, the streets are lined with international flavours, the people are a homogenised mixture of international colour and culture. The culture of art, history and literature, theatre and entertainment are wonderful and I missed them a lot when I was away.
Have you heard of reverse culture shock?
Yes, I have heard of reverse culture shock – I read about it years ago probably in a travel magazine or something to do with travel, but I was always aware of it – I have been living between two countries all my life; From a baby I spent every summer holiday (3 months) with grandparents in India. When I came back to England I was never the same for weeks…and what I had encountered on the streets of Calcutta will live with me forever.
Do you have any advice for expats returning to their home countries?
The advice I would give to people returning home would be to find a support network to ensure that you feel welcomed and to help you through the small simple yet vital things such as shopping, setting up your utility providers etc. That’s for the rational stuff; then for the other things – I would definitely advise people to extract themselves slowly from their previous life by keeping in touch with those they left behind, reminding themselves visually of the life they left behind so that the shock is softened by sensory reminders – screensavers, photos, music, etc. Tell stories to your support network – and if you’re not sure that they want to hear about it – journal it – write articles. It’s as cathartic as therapy.
Take it slow – very slow; you will have wildly fluctuating emotions based on a feeling of loss of identity; frustration that you no longer feel the same way you used to and that others will notice that you have changed and perhaps be different towards you. Accept that you will have changed – accept that what you considered home and friends have moved on without you in your absence and that there is no greater truth that home is in your heart not a specific place or culture. Be proud that you were brave enough to make the decision and live another life. Remind yourself that you are stronger for the experience – not weaker.
In his article“Return to Paradise” Adrian gives you a flavour of how he felt when he first came home to the UK.
Adrian’s story shows how we have to give ourselves time to repatriate and underlines the fact that these experiences abroad add a layer of value to our lives, even if it is difficult to see in the beginning. For me in my work as a repatriation consultant, it is so interesting to observe the varying levels of displacement and see how coming home affects people in such different ways.
Next month I’m going to speak to two people who didn’t find it hard repatriating – it doesn’t have to be difficult for everyone. For many it can simply be a relief to get back home.
In the meantime, if you are an expat or a repat, remember to keep in touch with each other – with friends who have left for their home countries and if you’ve repatriated, reach out to those you left behind. Just because physical distance is between you, make sure you keep distant socialising. Make it a priority. Moving home can be seen as a continuation of your global life and network, not the end of it.
I offer a 60-minute repatriation awareness session for £99 to those wishing to get back on track when they return home. A one-to-one encouraging chat with feasible solutions, tailored, independent and clear-cut advice.
Here to help and guide you with my experience and Repat Format