How long after repatriating will I start to feel “at home” again?

Repatriation takes timeThe burning question asked by every expat facing re-entry (and every repat in its throes) is this: “How long does it take?”

It’s a good question, but it’s tough to answer definitively, for a couple of reasons. First, every expat (and therefore, every re-entry) is different. Second, repatriation isn’t an event. It’s a process.

Yes, it can be quick. In fact, some lucky souls re-integrate almost immediately. Of the 539 repats who answered this question on my repatriation survey last year, 11% of first-time returnees said they started to feel at home right away.

I’ll confess to gnashing my teeth with envy when I read that. My experience was quite different. For me, it took about two years and involved a lot of dancing, of the one-step-forwardtwo-steps-back variety. Eight years later, I still have occasional relapses. But again, everyone’s journey is unique.

Based on my research, I’d say the majority of repats (43%) start to feel at home within their first year back. That doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing after that; it just means the choppiest waters are behind them by that point.

How long did it take you?

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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 How long after repatriating will I start to feel “at home” again?

  1. Brya Wightman says:

    “At home” is such an interesting term and better than ‘returning home’. I know that I will never have that ‘return’ as so much has moved on since I first walked out the front door and boarded the plane that took me to 3 countries spanning 11 years.

    I mean how could I? I left as a working Mum and returned to no career and no dependent children. Interestingly an expat wife of course is with or without children, but not working. So the difference – well there is my surprise, with slightly more than a decade from departure to return I am in what can only be termed an ‘interesting age’. Too old to start a new career and too young to be retired. So when asked “so what do you do” instead of “What does your husband do / what company does he work for”……… silence by me, I have no answer……… WOW for the first time a real feeling of valueless.

    As you can relate when in new countries you look for ‘playmates’ – you know that wonderful group of people you meet and connect with immediately as collectively we have similar stories – the expat ‘given’, now interestingly they are nowhere to be found or distant as they are still working, or if not then perhaps not so like-minded.

    And lastly when asked the old one-liner , well meaningly said of course ………”so what’s it like to be home?” you must say “Good” with a smile because you offend your audience if you do not. Likewise things in your home country may now annoy you , where as before they didn’t, this too can not be discussed as again you may offend.

    So without work and workplace distractions, no quick and satisfying friendships blooming and much needed clipped comments I am suffering from this thing called unhappiness but most importantly how totally ungrateful I feel by feeling this feeling. Most of us have been/come from underprivileged countries and to feel this sense of not being happy when we are now ‘home’ with all the trimmings just feels insane, so wrong!. And while all these feelings are percolating having no one to chat to – you know who really gets it, nods their head with real understanding and compassion holds out their hand and helps you down that path.

    So to answer the question “at home” with a wee bit of qualification referred to above, not yet, after 2.5 years, But it will happen. Doing the dance of 1 step forward and 2 back, HOME now has a different look than it did before, decorated by some ‘hiccups along the way’ , the paintwork called ‘no going back’, with the letter-box renamed ‘no regrets’!

    • Maria says:

      What an amazing comment, Brya. So interesting for me to read, as you’ve touched on just about every one of the “big issues” that come up time and time again in my survey results. Yet your optimism shines through, despite the fact that the past 2+ years have been rough for you. “No regrets” — that should be the repatriate mantra! Good luck, and I hope you feel at home soon.

  2. I was repatriated 3 years ago from Houston to Rio de Janeiro. I feel exactly the same when I read your article. Rio is not my home town and that didn’t help.
    The good side is that this experience gave me the push to pursue a new career and start a new business.
    But just like in your text above, the dance still goes on…

    • Maria says:

      Your company website is excellent, Carolina — congratulations! I hope the business is going well for you. Good luck, and keep on dancing.

  3. Carol May says:

    Maria–thank you so much for your thoughtful posts. They have really helped me—I don’t feel so alone in my not-so-easy repatriation experience. After 7 years abroad, I’m starting to feel more “settled” after two years. By that I mean not feeling constantly on-edge and out-of-sorts. I went to a culture shock seminar recently, where they discussed recent brain research that shows that the brain needs time when moving across cultures to form new connections to process the new data inputs you are confronted with in a new culture. I found that quite interesting and am wondering if my brain has formed those new connections now. However, I’m not sure I will ever feel at “home” in the US–there is so much I disagree with here. However, one positive I have found here is volunteer work at a health clinic and charter school for recently arrived immigrants, mainly from Central America and Africa. It has really helped me to help someone else confronting a new culture, particularly those so desperately in need. I’d be curious to hear about your mentoring work with new immigrants—-Carol

    • Maria says:

      I’m glad you’ve found some support here. I do find that working in the international/intercultural arena is helpful for a lot of repats. (See Carolina’s comment, above, about starting her business to help expats settle in her passport country of Brazil.) It certainly helped me. You can read about my experience as a cultural mentor here. I still meet regularly with the K-Girls, and they still bring me a lot of happiness. (Their English has improved, too!)

  4. Lindan Swanson says:

    It’s been 10 months since I’ve been back in the US and I still feel quite tearful whenever I think about France or my life there. As a result, I don’t let myself think about it very often. I still can’t use a US keyboard very well either! Living abroad is a priceless experience but it does create identity problems when/if you have to come home.

    • Maria says:

      I agree! The trick is to figure out how to create a new identity that honours all the growth you’ve experienced in France, without living in the past. That takes time, patience, and a lot of trial and error. You’ll get there in the end 🙂

  5. abhi says:

    Here goes my story…or rant.. idk 🙂 Just had to get this out there and needed someone to talk to.

    I spent the first 10 years of my life in my home country and the next 15 years across 5 countries. The first move was cause of my parents work; since then my parents have moved to a different country and my own studies & career have taken me places. In this time, my parents took citizenship in one of the countries they currently reside in. Also, I accepted that I’ll be living this expat for a pretty long time.

    Over the next month, I’m faced with the reality of repatriating to my ‘home’ country as I can no longer stay in my current place, due to visa issues. I have not been able to secure a job for over a year despite being very well qualified (Masters degree from a top university) and having pretty solid work experience. The number of times I’ve heard people say..I would hire if it weren’t for citizenship issues is.. depressing

    So being faced with this realization that I have to finally go back to a country I haven’t lived in for 15 years.. to a place where I know no one.. and I need to navigate the job market there..

    I am scared shitless. I used to a fun & relatively outgoing person. But over the past 6 months, I’ve retreated into a shell.. cut most contact with friends and frankly lost all interest in life.

    All I can think off is how this isn’t ‘fair’. Ha! I was living a life that by all accounts, I should be very thankful for. But it does not feel that way.

    • Maria says:

      It isn’t fair, and even for those who want to move to their home country, repatriation is difficult. From what you’ve written, I think it’s fair to say you’re viewing your re-entry as the END. It doesn’t have to be, though. It can be a pause in your expat life (as I suspect you’ll be looking for another overseas job), or it can be another type of adventure. If you haven’t lived there in 15 years, it might just be new enough to get your expat senses tingling. Either way, I’m sorry you’re feeling so down about this upcoming move. If you’re as resilient as most ATCKs I know, you’ll figure it out. Good luck.

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