This repatriation thing is different from the expatriation thing, especially if you’re like me and slightly in denial/a little bit anxious about going home.
This time three years ago I was a-buzz with excitement about moving to the USA. We’d had the move confirmed, were heading out to this area of Maryland for five child-free days to look at our new surroundings and to get to know the area, to check out the schools, see our new house, find some good eating and drinking places etc etc. I had endless lists, spreadsheets, post it notes, files, forms, websites, references. I had contacted people about jobs, sent off my ‘resume’, sorted the cats’ injections so they could come with us, had a clothes sale so I could fund my visit to the States, got boxes, started clearing out etc. I was in a state of energised euphoria about the adventure. Just read how excited I was back then!
This time….er, not so much. I see it not so much as an adventure, but a chore, and yes, I know I have to get out of that mindset….!
Today I briefly looked at jobs back in Cheltenham and then got very despondent about it all. Then I sorted some of my son’s toys and wotnot, and got a bin liner full of stuff to throw away, and I am having a clothes sale, but that’s because a) I have no room back in the UK for my fabulous outfits and b) I’m funding a volunteering trip here in the USA. And then I took a look at the local schools in Cheltenham, knowing there was nothing I could do to get him a place in year 3 because they are all full and we’ll probably have to look elsewhere.
I have no folders, just a set of emails that say ‘UK 2015’, no files, no post it notes and no energy nor inclination.
Apparently, that’s part of the repatriation process – going back to what you know doesn’t create the same buzz, the same stimulus, the same ‘woohoo’ about it all.
‘Repatriation has its psychological phases that are unexpected and daunting. Most notably, encountering reverse culture shock when returning home is a surprising situation that’s overlooked by both expats returning and their businesses calling to come home,’ says Dean Foster, founder and president of DFA Intercultural Global Solutions.
He adds this: ‘Like culture shock, reverse culture shock has a number of stages; imagine this to be a U-shape curve. At first, you may be excited to return home – seeing friends and family members, wearing the rest of your wardrobe, and eating at your favourite restaurants.’
Okay, I can see a bit of that, but only in small chunks…..
Then he says: ‘This initial euphoria eventually wears off, and that’s when you find yourself feeling out-of-place in your own culture. This is the experience of reverse culture shock; it’s the bottom of the curve and often the roughest part.’
Yeah, I can see that bit.
However….. ‘The good news is, although it may take time, you will begin a gradual adjustment back towards feeling comfortable with where and whom you are.’
I’m looking forward to finding out when that will happen. Just as long as it’s fun, chaps!
How reverse culture shock happens
Reverse culture shock is experienced when returning to a place that one expects to be home but actually is no longer, is far more subtle, and therefore, more difficult to manage than outbound shock precisely because it is unexpected and unanticipated.
I wrote about that reverse culture shock feeling for Global Magazine, and interviewed some folks who had recently undertaken it. For them, it was cool, mostly, and pretty exciting. I’m sure I’ll get there. Some days I have the odd glimmer of hope and excitement, but that’s mostly when I remember wearing fabulous shoes in my PR job, working with those gregarious gals and playing netball.
And of course, the danger of lurking in the past in that way is that you’ll never dream about nor make a present and a future happen. And I intend to make both those things happen, once I get out of this bit of the repatriation curve…… Wish me luck!