My friend Maria over at iwasanexpatwife.com has inspired me to write my own retrospective of 2011. It may have been a train wreck for her, but for me the train finally arrived in the station in terms of my repatriation. What made it happen?
Finding a purpose. For me that meant finding a job I truly enjoy, but it could easily have been a hobby, a sport or a volunteer activity. Having a reason to get up in the morning, doing something that’s fun and being valued for it are things we all need and yet they often get blown out of the water when we relocate. This is my third job in 2 years, so it has been a bumpy road.
Making friends. This past year I’ve acquired a few more new friends and acquaintances. I don’t think it’s coincidence that they too had (or still have) international lives. I’ve also reconnected more deeply with old friends and I suspect that’s partly due to the fact that I, and they, no longer feel I’m about to pack my bags and head out again any time soon.
My family’s settled. I guess this is very much an expat wife thing, because we’re notorious for getting our families settled before looking after ourselves. Although we all repatriated at different times, I now feel both my husband and son are happy and settled, or at least as much as TKCs are likely to be.
This is the same list you’d make for adjusting to any new location, but there’s no doubt that repatriation adds a huge extra layer of complexity. For us, a period of unemployment during a particularly difficult economic period created additional stress, but the emotional baggage of who we are now vs who we were before expatriation was the killer and affected every aspect of our lives. Having said that, like many of life’s major challenges, it has been a time of learning and growth. Perhaps every dark cloud does have a silver lining.
Many expatriates don’t have a home to come back to, either because they’ve been global nomads all their lives or have permanently cut the ties to what was home. But for us knowing we had not only a country, but a house to call home, was an important touchstone during those inevitable down days of life overseas, so I don’t regret it. However, during the early days of culture shock when you repatriate and find home doesn’t feel comfortable, safe or even pleasant anymore, it’s like having the rug pulled completely out from under you. No wonder it takes so long to re-establish a sense of security and comfort.
So what now, going forward? I’m really not sure and, given past experience, I’m not sure I want to know, LOL! But one thing I do know is that I am a forever-expat. I continue to rejoice in my expat friendships, my volunteer work with Families in Global Transition and the Toronto Newcomers Club, so please continue to watch this space.