When I decided to write a book about overcoming the challenges of repatriation, I knew I’d have to talk to repats about their experiences. I wanted to get an accurate picture of re-entry — the good, the bad, and the ugly. I wanted to pick the brains of the men and women who left their expat lives behind and lived to tell the tale.
Since I’m not much of a networker, this meant putting out a survey and crossing fingers and toes in the hopes people would respond. I was aiming for 100 responses, but clearly, I underestimated the power of the expat/repat community. I was shocked to get 235 responses the first day, a number that has more than tripled over the past couple of weeks.
To say I’m overwhelmed is putting it mildly. The support I’ve received has been incredible, from the many people who posted the survey link on their blogs and Facebook pages, to the people who wrote me encouraging notes along the lines of, “This book needs to be written,” to the 840 kind souls who took the time to fill out my survey and share their knowledge with me. Thank you all for your generosity.
I’ve started looking at the data, and already some interesting patterns are starting to emerge. One of the questions I had when I started this project is how our expectations of re-entry affect the process of readjustment. Another was whether subsequent re-entries become easier or harder. Let’s take a quick look at the responses to two questions in the survey about expectations and reality.
Of the 544 repats who responded to these questions, 269 repatriated twice, and 140 repatriated three times. I wish I’d included an option for a fourth re-entry, just to see if the pattern would hold. [Note that the figures on the charts are percentages of the total number of responses.]
I love this chart. It’s almost poetic, how expectations change from one re-entry to the next. The first time they repatriate, 68% of respondents have the classic “how hard can it be?” outlook on returning to their passport countries. The second time around, that optimism is dramatically curtailed. By the third re-entry, respondents are much less likely to expect readjustment to be a walk in the park.
Those 68% of first-time repats who thought re-entry would be easy were in for a big shock, as evidenced by the mirror images of their experiences in the two charts — expectations and actual experiences are exact opposites. While it’s encouraging to see that re-entry does get easier, it’s disheartening just how small those gains are: 33% said their first repatriation was easy, only 6% more labelled their third that way. The interesting thing is that by the third re-entry, expectations and reality are almost in sync. Experience obviously counts for something when it comes to understanding the ups and down of repatriation.
With so many responses to work through, I’ve only been able to take a cursory glance at one small sliver of the information I’ve received so far. I’m looking forward to diving into the rest of the data and seeing what it tells us about repatriation. I’ll be keeping the survey open for another few weeks, so please continue to let your repat friends know it’s available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/IWasAnExpatWife
Thanks again for all your help.