Re-entry: expectations vs. reality

Re-entry: expectations vs. reality Re-entry: expectations and reality don't always matchWhen 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.]

Expectations

Re-entry ExpectationsI 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.

 Reality

Re-entry: the realityThose 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.

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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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12 Responses to Re-entry: expectations vs. reality

  1. This is amazing, Maria! I’m very glad you got so much data for your research! Keep writing and “feeding” us with this kind of information.

  2. Judy says:

    Thrilled you got so many responses, the numbers are A.MA.ZING! And fascinating to see my own experience with multiple repatriations echoed by the larger group. I’m not so nuts after all 🙂

  3. Dounia says:

    Great post and it’s interesting to see the stats, even if I’m not particularly surprised by them. It’s funny though, because I just wrote a blog post on reentry this week. If you’re interested, please feel free to read it and let me know your thoughts. But either way, this was a great post and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more!

    • Maria says:

      Everything you wrote rings true, based on what I’ve heard from TCKs and ATCKs. My favourite line: “These years of reentry have made me grow the most as an adult third culture kid.” What a refreshing perspective, considering what a confusing and difficult time this is for so many repats.

  4. Interesting study. Congratulations on the response. I repatriated 3 times. Two as an Air Force Officer [still expat experience] and one as an Expat. My reentry was different with each return. I look forward to the book. Thanks Judy for posting to Facebook.

    • Maria says:

      Thanks so much (and to Judy as well, for being such a good shill for my book!) Have you taken my survey? I’d love to hear more about those three experiences — especially the differences.

  5. Christie says:

    Hi Maria,
    I found your blog through ‘Your Expat Child.’ Your recent post was especially relevant to me as we will be repatriating to Pittsburgh in about six months’ time after a four year stint in Australia. I am concerned about the impact on our four children ages 7 to 15 as they have truly settled in Melbourne and have come to think of it as home. I have followed my Canadian husband first to Toronto, then to Texas (which almost counts as a foreign country!), to Pittsburgh, to England (twelve years ago), back to Pittsburgh, and now to Australia. I’m happy to take the survey if you think it will be helpful, even though we have not yet repatriated. I feel like our England stint didn’t count because it was shorter, and I was so thrilled to get back to the U.S. that it felt easy at the time. However this time around I suspect it will be much more difficult. I look forward to reading more about what you discover, and want to wish you all the best with your book.
    Christie

    • Maria says:

      Thanks Christie. Please do take the survey, even though your time in England was short. You could add your repatriation from Toronto, as well. At the end of the survey I ask if there’s anything else you’d like to tell me, and if you could mention your concerns about your upcoming re-entry there, that would be great.

  6. Great blog. I’ve repatriated for the anticipated first time this year after living in Hong Kong for 12 years. I’m not aspiring to your dizzy heights but am blogging about how I’m getting on. It keeps me sane! Keep up the good work.

    • Maria says:

      Blogging either keeps you sane or drives you crazy — sometimes both at the same time. Good luck with your blog; I like the way you’ve kept a week-by-week accounting of your re-entry. (Wish I’d done that!) Thanks for reading I Was An Expat Wife, and if you haven’t already done so, please take my survey. It’s available for just two more weeks.

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