From homecoming to homefeeling: 5 things I did right as a repatriate

From Homecoming to Homefeeling: 5 things I did right as a repatriate

I feel right at home these days.

Today officially marks the end of the holiday season chez nous: Chef Boyardee is back at work, Younger and Elder Daughters are back at school, and Jeff and I are once again alone in a very quiet house. Jeff will spend today in typical dog-like fashion — long hours of sleep punctuated by short bursts of frenzied playing — but since the first day of post-holiday peace is traditionally when I set goals for the upcoming year, my day will be more contemplative. (Although I’m not ruling out the occasional game of fetch or prolonged tummy-rubbing session.)

I had actually intended to write about goals for 2012 today, but there’s been a change of plans. Blame Judy: last week at Expatriate Life she wrote about feeling at home again after two years of repatriation, which suddenly made me realize that I feel the same way. I’m not sure when it happened, but the angsty, Sturm und Drang feeling that’s lived in the pit of my stomach since I landed at Pearson airport several years ago has miraculously disappeared.

Judy credits several things with her turnaround, and I’m going to shamelessly rip her off with a list of my own. (Coffee’s on me next time, Judy!)

5 things I did right

1. I learned about reentry shock before I repatriated. Real estate agents have their mantra: location, location, location. Expats and repats should have their own mantra: expectations, expectations, expectations. Knowledge is power, and understanding what lies in wait can soften the blow… or at least make it a little easier to handle.

2. I took care of myself. Dealing with a major life transition takes a lot of energy; neglecting your physical health saps your strength when you need it most. I joined a gym as soon as I got back, and because I’m lazy, I hired a personal trainer to keep myself accountable. Away from the wine mecca of Bordeaux, my alcohol consumption dropped dramatically. I also tried to eat well and get enough sleep, but I drew the line at yoga. (I’m not a fan.)

3. I got social. I’m an introvert by nature, so making friends doesn’t come easily. I knew I’d have to make an effort to meet new people, and it worked: I met Rosa at tennis and I met Judy when she contacted me through my blog. With an average of ½ a friend a year, my numbers aren’t so great — I told you I wasn’t good at this! — but I also made a huge effort to see my pre-expat friends at least once a week. And I adopted a new group of friends through my volunteer work (see #5).

4. I found activities that give my life meaning. I spent my first year of repatriation finishing an MA in Intercultural Communication, and then I started looking for work. To say I struck out in my job search is a colossal understatement, but my unemployability turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it forced me to figure out what I really wanted to do. That sent me in two different but related directions:

  • Remembering all the generous people who helped me adjust to expat life — especially Bérengère, Jean-Charles, and Sylvie, who gallantly corrected my French and made it feel like fun — I volunteered as an English-language mentor for a settlement agency. That was my introduction to a wonderful group of Korean ladies, and when the agency shut down, we started a coffee and conversation morning (known as K-Talk) that I look forward to every week..
  • I also began writing again, testing the waters with a few articles at Suite101.com before branching out to other online sites. I created I Was An Expat Wife a year and a half ago, and what an incredible journey that has been. Best of all, scribbling for free paid off — I started getting paid gigs, and now I’ve officially hung out my shingle as a freelance writer. That’s one more item ticked off the Bucket List.

5. I accepted feelings of loss and grief as inevitable. Closing the door on expat life is like experiencing a death: you have to give yourself permission to mourn. The flip side of that — giving yourself permission to move on — is where I got a little stuck. Here’s what I learned: grief can’t be rushed, but eventually that tsunami of sorrow does begin to recede. The trick is being patient enough to let grief unfold at its own pace, hopeful enough to envision a life without it, and wise enough to know when you’ve outgrown one stage and are finally ready to embrace the other.

Coming next week: the public flogging (a.k.a 5 mistakes I wish I hadn’t made as a repatriate.)

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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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14 Responses to From homecoming to homefeeling: 5 things I did right as a repatriate

  1. Really enjoyed this Maria. It should be required reading for all expats. Packed full of great insights. Will share with my son later today.

  2. Maria says:

    Thanks Linda. I suspect everyone has a different list; these were the first 5 that came to mind. The list of what I did wrong is much longer, but I’ll whittle it down to 5 for the sake of symmetry!

  3. Judy says:

    Looking back it took me far too long to do the right things and I still haven’t done the exercise. But I wonder if that isn’t just part of it … because even when I felt at my worst, I knew exactly what I was experiencing and what I should be doing to make myself feel better…and yet I didn’t do it. What is the solution to that? Do you employ a life coach to hound you? Am I stupid? Or is it something you just have to go through? I would love to say I know the answer, but having been through it 3 times I’m still none the wiser.

    • Maria says:

      I think we’re all hard-wired to cope in a certain way. I exercised because it was something I could control, it got me out of the house, and it made me feel better. You may not have hit the gym, but you kept yourself busy and engaged in other ways — finding a job, doing volunteer work you love, and meeting new people. Our trains both eventually reached the station, they just took different tracks to get there.

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I had a really hard time readjusting to life after repatriation, and although I came out fine in the end, I wish I’d had your list…

  5. Tony says:

    My wife and I find it hard to re-adjust after coming back home. Truth is, I don’t want to re-adjust.
    As a rule I have set myself, I try to never look back. Sometimes it makes me think of the persons that we lost along the way, of the important moments and occasions lost, and I feel sort of weak and incapable of concentrating on the future and, better still, on the present. Probably I am a bit too cynical, but men don’t like feeling weak 🙂 Also, after the sorrow has gone, I remember only the smiles, the jokes, the positivity and passion of the wonderful persons that passed away. They seem to tell me: don’t wast your time thinking it over, but make the best out of your time! Thanks for inspiring this thoughts in me.

    • Maria says:

      You don’t sound cynical at all — you sound very positive. I like the idea of grieving when it’s time to grieve, and then honouring what (or who) you lost by remembering the good times.

  6. Rachel Yates says:

    Wonderful list! I’m unlikely to be repatriating, and this year sees the sale of the family home that my son spent the first 8 years of his life in and my daughter was born in. It’s bringing mixed emotions; I enjoy living abroad and making new friends, but it feels as if I don’t belong anywhere anymore. My son, now 15, pointed out the other day “You just get rid of everything, and now you’re getting rid of the house”. Relocating, repatriating – the expat life throws up it’s share of both joys and heartaches, doesn’t it?

  7. Danielle says:

    Thank you! I’m still an expat but our time to re-enter may be coming soon! Scary!

  8. Thank you for this excellent post that sum up very well the repat experience and things to do. Actually I think that for a repat we have to do exactly the same things than for an expatriation but in our own home country.
    When I came back to France after 6 years abroad in two different countries, our family settled in a city where we have both (my husband and I) never lived, had no family and friends. I had to readjust to everything. It was like a new expatriation but in my home country, it was very unsettling.
    It was easier because I new the rules but still the six first months were hard like when I moved previously abroad.
    I believe anticipation and preparation are keys for a good repat and it is important to prepare yourself as soon as possible. Some expat coaches even say you have to prepare to the repat when you move abroad …

    • Maria says:

      I think it’s very true that preparation should start long before you repatriate, but very few expats like to think about it. I can’t really blame them, but it makes for a bumpy landing when they do arrive back home.

  9. John Luth says:

    Thanks for the list, just found your blog and plan to keep following. My wife and I just finished a 2-year assignment in India and returned to the states in early December. We relocated domestically upon return and spent the first month celebrating the holidays and getting moved and into a new house in Florida. That being said, I feel like January is our first month completely as “repatriates” (December felt a little like we were still on home leave, packing a suitcase something like 13 different nights) and look forward to acquainting myself with your archives.

    • Maria says:

      Thanks, John, and welcome to my blog. I’d love to hear how your repatriation unfolds. (I loved your post “Annoying Me Slowly,” by the way. Reverse culture shock at its finest!)

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