10 ways repatriation is nothing like home leave

Canadian winter

The weather sucks … but it’s Home

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.

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About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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8 Responses to 10 ways repatriation is nothing like home leave

  1. Judy says:

    One plus I would add for repatriation is the fact that we don’t have to say “goodbye” so frequently to family and friends. Those farewells, when we knew it would be another year before we saw them again were a real killer.

    • Maria says:

      Oh, you’ve got that right. Every joyful welcome at the airport would be neatly balanced by the teary goodbyes at the end of the trip. And the guilt would damn near kill me.

  2. Georgia Lewis says:

    A friend commented on Facebook how her home leave shipment arrived in Perth, Australia and suddenly I was mentally whisked away to another place and time and am, at the moment, seriously missing my expat life. I came to hate all the trouble surrounding the home leave shipment, and am very happy to go to the store for only three items that are easily put away when I get home. I delight in the fact that I never have to darken the door of a Costco if I don’t want to. But I miss the feelings of excitement when we broke into the crate and found all sorts of goodies.

    It wasn’t my choice to repatriate. I left my home overseas to see my son in California and suddenly was served with divorce papers. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my life, or my friends. Most of my things that I shipped over have not been returned to me. But the things I truly enjoy and savor now that I didn’t have when I was here during home leave are the personal freedoms living in a Western democracy affords me and a substantially lower level of stress surrounding travel and getting things done under a short period of time. I can go on vacation and not bring a to-do list! I can go out my front door in shorts and a short-sleeve top, head uncovered, get into my own car and drive myself to the store for a bunch of organic dandelion greens, and no one (save my mother) will judge me for it! I have created my own Paradise for myself!

    Okay, writing all that down helped me get over the sadness. Thanks for the opportunity to vent.

    • Maria says:

      Venting is good! But it pains me that your expat life ended so abruptly (and so harshly.) Being able to leave on your own terms would have meant one less source of stress during the turmoil of divorce and repatriation. I hope you’re past the worst of it now — I’m sending good wishes your way.

      • Maria, thank you very much for your kind wishes and encouraging words. Re-entry was really rough, but I am definitely over the worst of it all and things are really looking up for me and my sons. I still experience challenging moments and I have a difficult time when my sons want to reminisce about the old days overseas. I have a hard time sifting out the bad memories from the great experiences. Writing about it really helps a lot, so I write my blogs about moving forward with my life with both feet firmly planted in the U.S. And I really love not having to shop for a home leave shipment!

      • Maria says:

        I’m glad to hear things are getting easier for you and your sons. Writing is very therapeutic, so please do continue blogging.

  3. Lynette says:

    Hi Maria – thanks for the blog – it helps – I am looking at going “home” after 23 odd years away so as you can imagine it is going to be HARD… my 3 kids are in boarding school so even worse my husband does not want to go “home” so looks like I am going to be stuck between a rock and hard place – between sydney and singapore for a rather long time to come it seems. This feels like I am not doing either – trying to please everyone but no one??!! It would be no nice to just move as a family but seems that is not so… interesting days ahead!! Are you feeling more settled now?? All the best Lynette

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