Monday, May 18, 2009

Repatriation (Part 1)

It has been 9 weeks since I have been home! My goodness, how time flies! I am starting to feel better and back to my normal self. A friend from Brussels recommended that I get a couple of books regarding repatriating. I received the books earlier last week and started reading through the first one. And, guess what??!! I am not going crazy! What I am feeling is completely normal! Whew, that is a relief!

One of the books is titled, The Art of Coming Home. It confirmed to me that coming home is much harder than leaving. I know that sounds so weird and I did not want to believe it at first, but it is so true. Books have been written about preparing to leave on an expat assignment (I read them ALL) and companies pay to help with the transition, but not many books are written on coming home nor do companies invest in helping with the adjustment process. Isn't that interesting? One study found that 64% of returnees experienced significant "culture shock" upon repatriation. 64%...that is amazing and kinda scary!

One person commented about repatriating: "The euphoria was short-lived, however. Within a few weeks I found myself, unexpectedly, in the depths of despair instead of at the anticipated peak of ecstasy. Instead of enjoying the company of old friends and neighbors, I couldn't seem to find anything to talk to them about. Instead of enjoying driving on wide and familiar roads, I was petrified because I often found myself on the wrong side of them. Instead of enjoying supermarket shopping, I was overwhelmed by the quantity and the variety of items available."

Amen, sister!

This is called "reverse culture shock".

The book talks about the meaning of home. It is familiar places, familiar people, routines and predictable patterns of interaction. All three of these make possible most of the feelings we associate with home - security, understanding, trust, safety, and belonging. Then, how does the place returnees come back to measure to these criteria?

Familiar Places - One of the first things you notice about coming home is that things are not familiar anymore. Things have changed: new streets, new traffic lights, new shopping centers, new neighborhoods, new restaurants. Places have closed, moved, renamed. You cannot come back to a city and rely on your instincts to get from one place to another because so much has changed. It may be home, but you are going to have to learn how to get around all over again.

Familiar People - You think that the people you know have not changed while you were gone and will not regard you as having changed either. As you expect, therefore, you will essentially have the same relationships with these people that you had before you went away. You assume that time stopped while you were abroad. The truth is, people have changed and you have changed. Some have died, married, divorced, become parents, moved away, or changed jobs.

YEP, that is right!

Home may include many familiar faces, but it contains very few familiar people. You won't be able to pick up where you have left off with loved ones or friends and not take any of the relationships for granted. You won't be able to relax entirely and be yourself, trusting your instincts, nor will they be able to relax and be themselves around you. You will all have to come to know each other again.

Routines and Predictable Interactions - A routine is anything you do without thinking, without paying conscious attention to your actions or words; indeed, in its purest form a routine is something you do while you are paying conscious attention to something else. Because of routines, the predictability of so much of what you do, you feel in control much of the time and able to relax; you can trust your instincts and be yourself. Routines also enhance your sense of well-being and security and thereby contribute to feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem.

Coming home, you are surrounded once again by unfamiliar places and people (albeit much to your surprise) and with much the same effect as when you went abroad; routines were interrupted and you have to create new ones before you can feel settled. In the meantime, nothing feels normal or comes naturally. The most mundane tasks once again require your conscious attention, and most of your interactions with people, even close friends and loved ones, will be somewhat awkward and uncomfortable, at least until you determine how much they have changed and what they may think about the new you. You are continually on edge, not able to trust your instincts and just be yourself.

Although I am not too far into the book yet, I can already tell a difference in my attitude. I am feeling better and getting to know the new me better and not getting too freaked out as much as I used to!

Writing about my experiences in dealing with the repatriation is helping me understand the process and it also helps you all to know that I am not going crazy...I am just going through "reverse culture shock"!!

Exciting stuff, uh?!

I hope you enjoy coming along with this new adventure too!


  1. So happy to have you here. I went to Europe for only 6 weeks and it felt like ages. There weren't too many changes, other than me, and I never saw the United States in the same way again :) I can only imagine after 2 years what it would feel like. I will continue to pray for the time for you to transition and make this feel like home again!

  2. You know I'm hooked, babe!! Here or there, I'll take you any way!

  3. Welcome Home!

    I found your blog on MCK's blogfrog....

    I know how you feel about coming home. We lived in Thailand for almost 4 years and coming home was so hard. I felt like I was a different person and although I love the good ole USA I so missed the excitement of living in a new country.

    We live in Texas and moved back to our small town because my hubby was leaving for another assignment in Africa and we wouldn't go. When he returned and we were offered an assignment in Dallas we couldn't leave fast enough. We needed more than a small town could offer.

    Great idea about reading the books for coming home I wish I would have done that!

    Great blog....

  4. I think it IS exciting! Very exciting, in fact. You went and did something most people never get the chance to do, and now, even though it's new, different, and maybe even a little sad or scary, here you are.

    I look forward to reading about your US adventures. ;)

  5. Anonymous3:05 AM

    Hi Tippa,

    I totally understand what you're writing about here. It's so good to go home but weird at the same time!!