Why Repatriation Deserves More Attention

When the opportunity to live and work abroad presents itself,   individuals tend to focus their attention on the expatriation process as well as the benefits of residing outside the home country. They discuss the impact of an overseas assignment on their career and relationships, identify personal and professional challenges,   speculate about the types of skills and knowledge that will be gained overseas, anticipate career development and personal growth.  Once a decision is made to relocate overseas, practical arrangements follow with concerns mingled with excited anticipation.   

Living in a foreign country brings both advantages and challenges.  Individuals typically will go through different stages defined as the honeymoon, culture shock, recovery, and adjustment phase (Oberg model) prior to successfully adapting to their new life.  Individuals may experience the duration of each phase differently but eventually will accustom to the new environment and become fully integrated into their host country.  Some people plan to remain overseas for only a few years (i.e. transferees, students; others entertain the idea of living in a foreign country for an extended period of time (would-be emigrants).  

After embracing the expatriate life, it is quite common to defer planning the return home or not giving much thought to what will happen after the completion of the international assignment or stay abroad. In fact,  a majority of expatriates, whether they plan to return to their country of origin in the near or distant future,  assume their repatriation to be an easy affair, a simple move that can be summarized as relocating “home”, an environment that is not only familiar but also well-known and understood. However, empirical evidence and anecdotal observations that depict the realities of repatriation reveal quite a number of challenges and difficulties individuals should acknowledge and plan for. Repatriation is not as simple as it seems. As expats, we learn about our host country’s culture and practices, and as we accept and practice new customs and behaviors, we begin to see the world from different angles. These new perspectives not only change our beliefs but also our behavior.  As we go through these phases and evolve, our country of origin, family and friends back home also undergo many changes in our absence.  Internet, Skype, social media are indeed great tools to stay connected to people and organizations we care about but we shouldn’t forget that “being connected “ does not necessarily mean  “being involved” .  

Repatriating is not an easy process because the environment we considered as our home is no longer familiar and understood.   This is called reverse culture shock. It is felt more intensely because contrary to an expatriation, these emotions and thoughts are unexpected.  This may create a lot of frustration. Numerous surveys indicate that about a quarter of expatriate employees resign from their job within a year of the return to the country of origin. A sizable number of returning expatriates report considering new assignments or opportunities abroad.  So if you are planning to return “home” after residing abroad for a number of years, here are some tips to facilitate the transition:

  1. Do NOT make assumptions about your repatriation.  
  2. Be inquisitive, ask questions about issues to consider (i.e.  social-economic environment in the home country, business and cultural practices, career development, financial planning, education, administrative process, reverse culture shock, cost of living, to name a few).
  3. Prepare and plan
  4. Seek assistance as needed (i.e. coaching, counseling, professional services).
  5. Keep your expectations realistic.  3. Create a support system (i.e. mentors)  
  6. Be open.  
  7. Accept changes.
  8. Use and share your newly acquired skills and knowledge. Repatriation can be as successful and enriching as your expatriation!

Written by Anouchka Eichmann, X-Expats

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