Planning your expatriate homecoming


The news that you’re leaving your country of expatriation to return home can be met with joy, dread or come as something of a surprise. The homecoming, which is part and parcel of the expat experience, is usually less tinged with excitement than the thrill of the new and the discovery of a country when you’re preparing to go abroad. Yet the emotions are no less powerful. Just like the news that you’re going abroad, the return home will spark different reactions among family members: joy, relief, disappointment, sadness or anger depending on the individual. And there’s no denying that, once again, this change will require careful planning!

Planning your departure: the first stage of the return home

The circumstances surrounding your homecoming will influence how you feel about it. Three factors will contribute to making the move easier or, alternatively, more difficult. These are: whether or not it’s your own decision to come home, the length of time you’ve been living abroad and, lastly, how well you’ve kept in touch with the friends and family you left behind. Depending how these elements come together, the homecoming experience will be different for each family. Regardless of how happy these circumstances are, something adults cannot always control, successful relocation to your home country begins with the preparation for departure from the host country. Leaving a place you’ve lived in is a kind of separation: it’s good to be able to mark the goodbyes or adieux and create affectionate memories that you can hold onto. The leaving party, for adults as much as for children, is highly emotional and symbolic. As a social and emotional indicator of what you’ll be leaving behind, it can help you prepare for feelings of loss and compensate for absence through valuable expressions of gratitude and gifts that you can take with you.

Preparing to feel different

You and your family will have changed, as living abroad tends to stimulate changes in identity (to varying degrees depending on the length of time spent abroad and the cultural differences you’ve embraced) but society in the home country will have evolved too. Friends and family will also be different and feelings of not quite being on the same wavelength, mixed up as they are with a lack of understanding, may be strong and hurtful. The inevitable feeling of “foreignness” when you experience it for the first time in your own country always comes as a surprise. An expatriate returning home once again goes through the cycle of culture shock and its different phases but this time it’s turned on its head as it’s happening in a place that’s supposed to be familiar! That’s why it can be helpful to talk to children, at a family meeting for example, about how they might, quite naturally, experience a sense of not belonging in the early days of the homecoming. By understanding these feelings, the children will come to accept their situation. They need to know they’ll be different and perceived as such by those who haven’t had all the experiences that their expat life exposed them to. The richness of their identity, the variety of their cultural references and their use of more than one language may also be problematic. A few words about the willingness to accept differences, which varies from person to person, and the persistence of preconceived ideas within society will help make reintegration easier and prevent them being too disheartened.

The homecoming as a family project

It’s important to stress the value of what the family has become by living abroad and all the enriching experiences you’ve had as a result. Prejudices and misconceptions about expatriation often exist in the home country and it’s the parents’ responsibility to protect and acknowledge their children’s identity. Planning a homecoming project as a family can generate positive energy. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages, the hopes and fears of each family member. You should also talk about the feelings of happiness it will bring, about looking forward to seeing friends and family again and the end of a life cycle, if this is the case. Encourage them to be curious to learn from others but also to share aspects of their old life with them. And if your return home wasn’t by choice, decide how you can work together to make a success of this period of transition. What can you do to help with the feelings of missing the life you’ve left?  It might be a weekly meal of the “local” cuisine, joining a cultural association or a language or sports club linked to that country or organizing practical ways of keeping in touch with the friends you left behind ... Sometimes relocating to a place with an international feel can make for a softer landing.
The important thing is to be satisfied with life as it is now, while holding on to your cherished memories of past experiences and taking strength from them in more challenging times. The return to your home country in the expatriation cycle may indeed be one of these challenging times but one that is fortunately short-lived. The ability to adapt, which you developed during your time abroad, will help you get your bearings and invest in your day-to-day life.

Psychological support from Tele-psy

To book a consultation, simply log on to the Tele-psy platform. From there, finding your way around is simple and intuitive. The network psychologists are listed according to their various specialties and you can create your own account and read articles on the psychology of expatriation. Once you’ve chosen your therapist and arranged the appointment, the consultations can begin using secure video software which you can download and which ensures the conversations remain strictly confidential.
Article written by an expert psychologist from the Tele-psy network.
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