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.)