A reverse culture shock model

Have you ever wondered what it’s like for expats who return home and become repats after working abroad? When expat assignments end, the assignee is often not prepared for the “reverse” culture shock that is about to happen to them, both personally and professionally.

And this often surprises them, sometimes to the point where they feel let down by their companies, friends and families or indeed by their own expectations.

My Five V model is based on personal experience (I left the UK in 1991 and returned in 2014) as well as on the feedback of others who have been through the repatriation process.


At the beginning being back home again feels like being on VACATION. You go back to your old job and everyone seems pleased to see you. It’s nice not to feel “foreign” and be part of the familiar again. You visit all your family and friends. You go to your favourite restaurants, stock up with all of your favourite foods that you’ve missed whilst living abroad. Life is sweet.


Then, after a couple of weeks you realise that life isn’t as great as you thought it would be. VICTIM mentality sets in. You ask yourself why you left all those perks behind – the sunshine, the luxury accommodation, the tax-free salary, the adventure and all the fantasic friends you made? At work no one seems to realise that YOU’VE changed! As well as there’s a different management thinking in place with different reporting systems and so much admin! Your teenage kids have had to change language of instruction at school and are constantly in touch with their old friends on social media complaining about the move. Your partner who had a great job when you left is finding hard to find work to fit back in as everything has moved on. Everyone’s mood is low and it’s tough trying to be positive for everyone else if you don’t feel great yourself!  Aaaaagh!!!!

Stage 2 of reverse culture shock


After a while (it can take a few months to a few years) it’s time to VERIFY all of this! It’s possible to stay in VICTIM mode but if it’s better to remain realistic, find a “buddy” and,  find some routines. Inject some of the things you loved about living abroad into your new home life. Yoga classes are universal these days, right? Kids settle as they make friends and get back into routines and hobbies. Of course, you miss your old life but remember the things you don’t miss – for example, that feeling of being different or that you are on display and scrutinised for the way you dress or speak the language. Instead of complaining all the time to people about your home culture, you find a confidante who understands what you are going through and you can let of steam! And remember you think life in your homeland has changed but remember the world is changing everywhere!


VICTORY comes to those who wait and in this case at the point when you realise, you have found a way to make life work for you back home. You can join international groups, carry on classes in the language you spoke in your expat life and find ways of keeping in touch with your expat friends. If you have a good employer, they will have assigned you a new role in which you continue to grow. Your kids are part of a wonderful global network and they stay in touch. You’ve stopped comparing cultures all the time, but can manage to live in your new old home and look back on your other life with fond memories. You are glad to be home and see the good things about your home country.

Stage 4 of reverse culture shock


When you are settled and reflect on your life and situation, you treasure all of these experiences living abroad, you realise how much you have learned. You have become more resilient, you have a broader worldview, you have more creativity in problem-solving and you. Just like many people who have lived abroad, you have a clearer sense of self and you offer VALUE to society and organisations. You have no doubt become more flexible and open-minded and developed a set of intercultural skills that are a tremendous benefit to you both in your private and professional life. 


BUT not everyone gets to the VALUE stage as they don’t get valued by their companies. And their partners need support to find their way in the new “old” job market. Here are a couple of hard facts:

Did you know that Only 16% of companies have a repatriation strategy as an integral part of their career management? (Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Report, 2012)

And up to 50% of first year returning expatriates leave for better opportunities? (Nery- Kjerfve & McLean, 2012)

So if you want to keep those diamonds of expat employees, make sure you have repatriation as part of your relocation strategy. Acknowledge the VALUE they offer.  


That’s where I come in. As your repatriation expert, I help lead the way & make things easy. I offer support for companies, repats and their partners/family in a variety of ways.

More next month on some personal repat stories and my REPAT FORMAT, a unique three-stage program I have created based on years of experience and working with people from around the globe.

Want to know more about how to nurture your global talent? Let’s talk!