Going Home Again. Six Strategies for Successful Repatriation.

 

Living abroad can be an exciting, transformational experience for a family, as immersing in a new culture exposes family members to a different style of living and often requires relating to one another in new and different ways.

 

Returning “home” though may turn into a disappointment as family members realize that much has changed during their absence: A favorite restaurant has closed, neighbors have moved away, close friends have formed new relationships, new stores have replaced familiar haunts, new neighborhoods have emerged from a cornfield. The result is a home that is somewhat familiar, but not exactly what the memory holds.

 

Further, employees assume that overseas assignments will enhance their career opportunities within their company. While on assignment, they often develop new skills and competencies, but they return home to positions that make no use of their development and growth or, worse yet, find that there really isn’t a plan for the next step on their career path with the company.

 

The Repatriation, returning to one’s home country and settling back into “regular” life — can pose challenges as daunting as those encountered with expatriation, the process of leaving home. Also known as “re-entry shock”, every aspect of life is affected: social, physical, occupational, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, and change may manifest itself in difficulty adjusting to either home or career—or both– for the employee and family.

 

Recognizing the changes that have occurred for both the individual and the family is key in supporting a successful return to the home country. Based on a wellness model of various aspects of adjustment, here are six strategies to help with repatriation:

 

  1. Stay Social: Encourage families to use social media and Skype to keep in touch with the world that they will be re-entering…AND the one they are leaving. It’s important to continue relationships with family members and friends, even when separated by distance. New technologies make this process much easier than it was a decade ago. Once the family has returned, scheduling time with friends they haven’t seen helps to re-establish bonds.
  2. Be Physical: Changes in diet and activity can alter well-being, for good or ill. If, for example, the family is moving from a location that provides many opportunities for walking to one that is automotive-reliant, building exercise into the schedule helps to fill the void. Establishing new routines that honor recent life changes may be helpful, as well. Yoga or meditation can provide other options for balance.
  3. Acknowledge Change: Helping families to intellectualize the reasons behind the stress they are feeling can help to dissipate some of the dissonances. Encourage them to identify causes of stress, then employ strategies to counteract it.
  4. Find Meaning in Work: Employees who are returning home have developed new skills and perspective. They may need help to identify new challenges and growth opportunities to apply their newfound knowledge, or risk being frustrated and unfulfilled in their work. Relocation and repatriation may affect employment of an accompanying partner, as well. Partners can benefit from assistance in preparing to re-enter the job market.
  5. Honor feelings: Recognize that moving involves a loss, and any loss may be accompanied by a grief cycle. (Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.) If relocating individuals find themselves struggling to function through normal activities, working with a counselor or coach who specializes in life transitions may help navigate this process.
  6. Keep the Faith: Many individuals and families are comforted by a spiritual grounding of a faith-based community. If this applies, rejoining or seeking a home in their faith tradition may be a remedy.

 

Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.” Repatriating families can go home, but they will never be the same as they were before their international experience.  Once conquering the reverse culture-shock phenomenon, families realize how enriched their lives had become as a result of an international assignment.

 

Amy Connelly is the Manager of Training and Corporate Communication for REA – Partners in Transition, a leader in spousal assistance for career transition during relocation. Follow REA’s Pinterest Board on Repatriation, and check out www.reacareers.com to learn more about available services.