Reverse Culture Shock
The thing people least expect is to suffer culture shock in their native country. It is where you are from, so, surely, acclimatising should be smooth and easy?
Unfortunately, that is often not the case.
This is where reverse culture shock comes in, and it can really blindside you, even if you anticipate it. One problem is that things have moved on at home in your absence. Even if things have not changed, you certainly have. Your recent experiences of being at home have been while on holiday and have involved fun times with friends and family. They have not involved the school run, a long commute, or grocery runs. Family and friends, while excited to see you, might have demanding ideas about how often they will see you. Or, they might not have time for you having been used to seeing you just once every summer.
Feeling like a stranger in your own home country is one of the most bewildering feelings. It does get easier, so hang on to that knowledge.
If you are finding things weird, your kids definitely will be. While your most recent memories of being at home are on holiday, the chances are that these are their only memories of your country.
The term “hidden immigrant” (looks the same but thinks differently) is a cultural type developed by Dave Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, alongside “foreigner” (looks and thinks differently), “adopted” (looks different but thinks alike), and “mirror” (looks and thinks alike).
When kids move, they often want to fit in straight away and be “normal”. Herein lies the difficulty for hidden immigrants: They might not be able to share “in” jokes or play the same sports as their friends. They might be behind or ahead in some areas of school or even hold different cultural values. They might look and sound the same as everyone else but have had completely different experiences.
Reconnect with Old Friends and Family
One of the best things about moving home is the chance to see all those people you have missed. Seeing them regularly—instead of cramming an update on last year’s events into one dinner—is, frankly, refreshing. Having the ability to just drop in and see people or go to stay for the weekend brings back all the great parts of the familiarity of home.
Unfortunately, not everyone will be easy to see. Some will not understand or even want to know about your life abroad. They might expect you to be permanently happy to be back and might not understand if you find it hard, so you might find yourself holding your tongue and censoring what you say to them. You might even find yourself seeing less and less of these people. In your time away, you may have become used to this phenomenon and know it is impossible to keep all your old friends forever. It still stings, but those who are true friends will still be there.
Stay In Touch with Expat Friends
Just because you have left a place, those friendships still exist, and the experiences and memories that you had with those people still happened. It will be harder to connect on a regular basis, given distances and time differences, but it is worth it. These people have known you the best and most recently. They may well understand you better than your family and friends at home. Expat connections run deep and are often forged quickly, so it is a mistake to let out of sight mean out of mind. It is also especially important for children to maintain those connections. Sean Truman of Truman Group, an organisation providing remote psychotherapy and mental health consultation to expatriates, says: “There’s something really powerful about technology in really good ways about linking people to relationships with people that really matter to them.”
Find A New Network
You might find yourself looking for new friends, especially if you have moved to a new area or the people you knew before have moved away. You need a network that understands you and your experiences. From making friends at the new school to joining a club, new friends are going to be a big part of your “re-pat” experience. When we move abroad, we all put the effort in to meet new people, and this is no different.
Explore Your “New” Home
It is so easy to underestimate what your local area has to offer, but there is so much adventuring to be had there, too. Head outside to national parks or even local parks and playgrounds. Get to know your local shops and restaurants. Perhaps consider getting away for the weekend and exploring something new a little further out from your area. As expats, we often seize the day, knowing there may not be another chance. As re-pats, we can forget that spontaneity.
You Guessed It: Look for Positives
While no one should bury the uncomfortable and unwanted emotions that moving can bring, staying positive is still a critical part of the process, even on arrival. Staying positive can really help to improve your outlook on a repatriation that may or may not have been through choice, and may or may not be going well.
Throughout this all, know that the expat community is still here for you and everyone has your back. Repatriating may well be the hardest move you will make, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful.