While we might return to a place, we can never return to a time

Repat Journey Interview Series Part 3

In my Repat Journey Interview Series I’ve been speaking to many people on their individual return journey to their homeland. My last two pieces looked at hard reverse culture shock, people who found (or are still finding) it tough. This month I’ve been speaking to people who didn’t find it particularly hard repatriating – it doesn’t have to be difficult for everyone. For many it can be a welcomed homecoming to get back home.

My interview partner today is Margarita Diaz; Diversity and Inclusion Professional and Attorney who lived in Copenhagen for 2 years. I asked her a few questions about her return journey to New York.

Were you looking forward to coming home? 

Absolutely, yes.  I literally kissed the ground at Newark Airport when I stepped off the plane.

What did you miss about home when you were abroad?

Home for me is New York City, so a lot of what I missed about home was New York-specific.  I missed the “city that never sleeps,” 24-hour drug stores, a vibrant restaurant scene with easy takeout and home delivery, and countless cultural experiences and performances.  If you can’t travel the world, a little taste of the world comes to NYC to perform on our stages or teach in our studios on a regular basis!  I missed that feeling of living literally on top of each other, always something going on, but an unspoken respect for each other’s space and privacy.  I missed that diversity where no one yet everyone stands out, all at the same time.

These are just a few things I missed about home, the place.  Home, the feeling, was much more about who I was in New York, and in the United States.  I was an attorney, not only independent but usually the one others relied on to get things done; to “handle things.”  I also have always prided myself with being good with words.  These parts of my identity seemed compromised abroad, and I know this is a common experience for many of us expats.  And of course I missed my family and friends. 

How did you experience coming home after living abroad?

As soon as I returned, I earnestly felt “at home.”  I felt something click again.  I felt like that little piece of my heart that had been missing wasn’t missing anymore.  I no longer felt “far away.”  Don’t get me wrong; we had many logistic challenges, but with this mindset and heart-set, everything was doable. 

How long did it take for you to settle?

Emotionally I believe I settled right away.  Logistically it took a few months.  This doesn’t mean there weren’t adjustments.  I left New York to be with my new husband and returned as a married woman.  It’s impossible to strip the “abroad life” experience from the experience of a different stage in my life.  Finding a new rhythm with existing friendships and making new friends probably took the longest to settle into.

Had you ever heard of reverse culture shock?

I had not heard of reverse culture shock until several years after I had returned home. 

If yes, where did you hear about it?  

I don’t know where I heard the term first, but I definitely have been learning more about the concept through interculturalists and expat coaches I’ve connected with on social media.

What advice would you give to someone returning home after some time abroad?  

The truth is, everyone’s experience is different.  There are so many factors affecting our repatriation experience such as how long we were away, why we moved to begin with, how we felt about our home city and whether we have a propensity for wanderlust.  So the only advice I dare to offer is general in nature.  If you can prepare, it’s always helpful.  Without knowing I was “preparing,” I was doing some of the things I much later learned were recommended preparation: I kept informed about what was going on back home; kept up with news, pop culture and local happenings.  I maintained my cell phone number the whole time, which made it much easier to reconnect when I returned home.  I also knew that while we might return to a place, we can never return to a time.  This awareness helped me as I didn’t expect things to be exactly as I had left them.  And what I brought back with me, my new perspective having lived abroad, will remain with me wherever I stay or go.  So as with all advice, take what’s useful; prepare as best you can, and know that there’s a warm community of repats out there ready to share their experience and encouragement, just a click away.

__________________________
Margarita researches and writes about diversity from a cognition and communications angle with a critical thinking flavour.  You can follow her on Instagram @diverseinthecity or check out her website at diverseinthecity.com.

Conclusion

Thanks to Margarita for sharing her story and advice – it just goes to show how different we all are and how key the role of the individual is in relocation and repatriation training. It is crucial to listen to different stories to create understanding in the field. In my training and coaching, a one-size-fits-all repatriation format does not exist. I have never delivered the same REPAT FORMAT twice.

Make sure repatriation is part of your organisation’s relocation package. At least offer it to those international assignees/partners returning home even if they decide they don’t need it. A bit of help can make all the difference. Repats are valuable high-performers and are worth holding onto.

Are you looking after your repat talent?

2 thoughts on “While we might return to a place, we can never return to a time

  1. Thank you, Vanessa, for including me in your interview series on repatriation! It was such a pleasure to answer your questions and reflect on my experience returning home. I will forever cherish my time abroad and am deeply grateful for it. Repatriation is less talked about, so thank you for highlighting it in your series. It’s so important to hear our different experiences on coming “home.”

    Liked by 1 person

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