Maybe Steve Jobs was right and we can only connect the dots looking backwards. At one point I would have said that I had no advice for anyone repatriating other than to simply hang on and get through it. But now, looking back, I can see that there were at least 4 things that I probably did right, even though it didn’t necessarily feel like that at the time.
We had more notice of this last repatriation than we’d ever had before, several months in fact. This meant there was time both to say our farewells to people and places and start thinking about life back home. Two essential elements of the RAFT model for transition.
Although I’ve never heard it recommended, I also found it helpful that we stopped off on the way back to visit with family in the UK. That mini-break created a bit of a buffer between the two realities and landing in Canada didn’t seem like such a jolt.
Choose your destination wisely
We were fortunate that we were repatriating to a very multicultural and diverse city, our home in Toronto. I’ve often said that I don’t need to travel anymore, because the world now comes to me. Rubbing shoulders (quite literally on my subway ride to work each day) with people from all around the world makes me still feel connected to a much wider world. Anecdotal evidence from friends and acquaintances who have repatriated to small-town anywhere suggests that the cultural adjustment is much more difficult. Something to think about if you’re planning to retire to a rural utopia.
Bizarre though it sounds, signing up for Twitter and LinkedIn, when I first returned was a really valuable exercise. At the time, my intention was simply to learn about this new social media phenomenon and find myself a job, but in hindsight coming up with the required summary/brief description of myself, compelled me to think long and hard about who I had become while living overseas and what I wanted for my life going forward.
Don’t sever the expat cord
I believe that one of the reasons there is so little written about repatriation is that many repats feel they must close the book on being an expatriate. Even though I claim that I’m a ‘forever expat’ I admit to feeling occasionally that maybe I’m just a sad ex-expat to still be writing about my experiences. But I know that it’s been helpful to my adjustment to acknowledge and celebrate my expat life rather than pretend it never happened. A life lived in many countries is part of who I am and that’s never going to go away.
Even though I’ve talked about how little my international experience was valued when I was interviewing for jobs, it was someone in my international network who referred me to my previous position and on several occasions I’ve been able to connect people across the globe. Staying connected on social media with those you met overseas can have valuable practical benefits as well as social ones (subject to the usual caveats).
It seems we only become wise after an event. Four years have passed since we returned to Canada and every year I’ve blogged an annual “state of the nation” about my adjustment, each one peeling back yet another layer of the onion. I wonder when, or even if, the adjustment will be complete?