10. You’re no longer a rock star. Returning home in a burst of glory every year is like the Second Coming (or Third, or Fourth, depending on how many times you take leave.) Everyone is excited to see you, schedules are cleared, and those few weeks go by in a blur of manic social activity. When you’re home for good, however, there’s a distinct feeling of “meh” in the air. Why should your friends bother making a special effort to see you when you’re around all the time?
9. You have more family cohesiveness. In many ways, my family experienced separate home leaves. I stayed at my parents’ house, while my daughters split their time evenly between both sets of grandparents. Chef Boyardee never took home leave at all. I didn’t see the girls for days on end, and when I did, it was never just the three of us. Now that we’ve repatriated, we’re back to having dinner together most nights and hanging out together whenever we feel like it. Not having to schedule time to see my children is a good thing.
8. The weather sucks. I’m looking out the window as I write this, and lucky for me I’m a touch-typist, because I’m almost blinded by all the snow on the ground. Aside from the Christmas I spent in Canada en route from Singapore to our new assignment in Bordeaux, I managed to escape snow and bitter cold for 5 years. My home leaves occurred over the summer months, which meant sunshine, butterflies, and temperatures in the high 20s/low 30s. That first winter back (the coldest for 15 years in this neck of the woods) was the first unpleasant shock of repatriation. Remembering that there’s a new winter every year was the second one.
7. You’re not living out of suitcases. Who, aside from George Clooney’s character in the film Up in the Air, enjoys living in temporary housing? Much as I love my parents, I find camping out in someone else’s home for weeks on end anxiety-producing. That niggling feeling of impermanence spilled over into other aspects of our lives as well. For example, I noticed that my children shied away from making friends during home leave, knowing they wouldn’t see these new pals again for a full year. Now we’re free to embrace the future in all its messy, unpredictable glory.
6. Your homesickness is finally over. That’s the good news. The bad news is that now you’re homesick for somewhere else.
5. You’re less scattered, more focused. Any expat will tell you that home leave is exhausting. All that running around, trying to cram a year’s worth of living into a few short weeks, means that our interactions with loved ones can be somewhat superficial. Now that I don’t have to worry about fitting everyone in around shopping, bank meetings, and…well, more shopping, I can actually spend time nurturing those relationships that are important to me. Even if it’s not always easy to pin people down (see #10.)
4. You have to deal with the day-to-day stuff. Remember all those annoying little chores you were exempt from during home leave? Things like paying bills, dealing with repairs, and shovelling the damn snow? Guess what — they’re baaaaack!
3. You belong again. Home leave is like limbo: you’re not exactly a visitor, but you no longer qualify as a local, either. While I found certain aspects of that ambiguity enjoyable for a while, it’s not a state I’d like to be in forever. Now that I’m back home, I feel that I’m truly Back Home. It’s true that my former expat status means I don’t fit in 100% anymore, but if 90% is what’s on offer, I’ll take it.
2. There’s no escaping what ails you. It’s easy, as an expat, to run away from problems with people in your host location. You don’t have to expend your valuable energy dealing with them; the next assignment takes care of that for you. It’s the same with home leave: you’re safe in the knowledge that in just a few days or weeks, you’re outta here. But you can kiss that escape hatch goodbye once you’re a repatriate. Now you have to behave like a grown-up and actually fix what’s broken.
And the number one way repatriations is nothing like home leave is:
1. You’re not going back to Paradise at the end of 6 weeks.