Repatriation – One Year On

Most trailing spouses suffer from an identity crisis when they first move overseas.  But for me the crisis came when I repatriated.

At the time we left Canada to move to Azerbaijan 15 years ago, I was happy to toss away my old identity.  I had a career which occupied me 50 hours a week, my son was always last to be picked up from daycare and I had a house and large garden to look after.  With a husband who travelled 50% of the time I used to joke that I was a single mom without dating privileges.  Giving up all that stress and hard work to stay home and bake cookies was bliss.  I spent 10 years catching up on my sleep deficit alone!  Finally I had time to spend time with girlfriends – other trailing spouses – indulge in hobbies and see new and exciting places.  What wasn’t to like about my new identity as a trailing spouse?

But my lack of a career did eventually start to gnaw away at me.  It bothered me that I had no answer to the question on forms which asked for “occupation.”  When my son left for university I found some part-time work and then a full-time job supporting other expatriate women.  I was confident, happy and knew exactly, who I was.  And then came repatriation.

Suddenly I wasn’t an expat anymore.  I wasn’t even a trailing spouse.  I had no job.  I was invisible.  I didn’t know who I was anymore.  It was intensely frustrating, humiliating even that a 14 hour plane ride could erase my identity so completely.  I threw myself into job-hunting and  took a job I knew was wrong for me from the get-go, thinking it would help me find my feet.  But if anything it made things worse and took my self-esteem to a new low.  The urge to stay home and curl up in a corner with a blanket over my head was overwhelming.

Only now, more than a year after returning home, can I say I’m gradually putting my life back together again.  Through volunteering, finding a new job and finally, finally getting out and meeting people, I’m starting to discover a new “me.”

I’d like to offer some sage advice on how to get through it, but to be honest, despite having read a lot on the subject, for me it’s all been trial and error.  The main cure for re-entry shock, in my opinion, is TIME coupled with a lot of introspection. If you’re still struggling, hang in there, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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9 thoughts on “Repatriation – One Year On

  1. Thank you for this, Judy!

    I especially related to the part about the loss of identity after a plane ride. I agree with you as well that, although it does help to read and to connect with others going through the same thing, that it really is a lot of trial and error (and just getting to the end of the tunnel!)

  2. I really enjoy reading about your continuing journey of changes and feelings on this issue, and hope you will continue to post on this topic.

  3. The fun really begins when the upheavals and uncertainties of repatriation occur in midlife. (Is it possible to be doubly invisible?)Re-entry shock + night sweats = a helluva bumpy ride. Time, as you point out, is a great healer, although unburdening oneself to a friend over a cup of coffee on occasion never hurts!

  4. Exactly, Maria. Sometimes it’s hard to tease apart the normal stages of life we go through from the expatriate experience. Returning to the work force after raising children is hard for anyone, ditto an identity crisis in your mid-fifties. Expatriation or repatriation just adds an extra layer of complexity.

    And yes, coffee with a sympathetic friend, is amazingly effective (and cheap!) therapy 🙂

  5. What a great post Judy…I’ve been living in the UK for over 6 years now and while I cannot imagine ever living in Australia again, your post made me think about our expectations…when we become an expat there’s an acceptance that you are the different one and that you are choosing to build something new/different. I wonder if the shock of re-patriating comes from expecting ‘the same’ as when we left??

    Mary Lea made some really good points in her post about the things that change ‘back home’ and of course we change. I’ve found it shocking how at odds and un-at-home I felt on the 2 visits back to Melbourne since I’ve lived here… is my way of ‘recording’ my day-to-days – originally for family and friends in Australia but there’s something cathartic (and slightly addictive) about letting it all be out there…

  6. Thank you, Kym. I think the real shock of repatriating is discovering how much YOU have changed. I read a wonderful quote once, which I can no longer find (dammit) which said, roughly, that we go out into the world expecting to change it, but instead it changes us. That is so true of the expat experience. So for the repat the challenge is to carve yourself a new place in your homeland. Rather like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

  7. Pingback: Repatriation – Two Years On « ExpatriateLife

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