The practical problems arising from repatriation can be anticipated and planned for but the emotional adjustments are much more difficult to handle. A lot has been written about the emotional toll of repatriation, but where are the constructive suggestions on what to do about it?
While you’re away:-
Read about it. Do an internet search on repatriaton, re-entry shock, reverse culture shock. This will prepare you in advance and when you’re feeling low you’ll know that you’re not alone and you’re not going mad! Only someone who’s been through it can fully understand it. Most family, friends and co-workers will expect you to slot right back in after a week or two. After all, you’re home, right?
Stay in touch with family and friends back home. They’ll be an important support system when you return. But also realize they can’t appreciate what you’re going through. If you meet up with them during vacations you’ll probably notice the glazed look in their eyes when you talk about your life overseas. The solution is to focus on what you do have in common, which is why regular contact with them while you’re away is so important.
Keep up with the news. Follow the local newspapers and magazines while you’re away. Most are online these days. Keeping abreast of the issues will help you stay connected and ease the transition.
Observe the holidays. Of course it’s important to learn about the new culture you’re living in overseas, but don’t neglect your own traditions. In many locations you’ll find expat clubs eager to help you celebrate everything from Thanksgiving to Novruz.
Once you’ve repatriated:-
Make some new friends to supplement your old ones, just in case you’re not as close as you were. Not easy to do, I know. In expat locations it’s much easier to find a fellow expat who’s looking for company. Back home everyone seems to have known everyone since kindergarten and it can be hard to break in. The good news though is that living overseas has probably improved your social skills. Join a club, pursue a hobby, take a class.
Stay in touch with your expat friends overseas. They are a valuable emotional support network. There’s a real temptation to hole up until you’re “over it” and perhaps some reluctance about admitting things are tough, but a complete and total silence will leave them hurt and puzzled. Although your level of connection with them is bound to change over time it should happen slowly and naturally. In the meantime they can provide a virtual social network for you while you rebuild and develop new friendships at home.
Give it time. You’re grieving for your former life. Just as it takes time to get over the death of a loved one, so it will take time to come to terms with your repatriation. The life you had is not lost, it’s still within you. I once read that you go out expecting to change the world and come back realizing the world changed you. That’s very true. Be glad you’ve had the experience and know that you are richer for it.