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I just can’t re-integrate (and other returning-expat blues)

Does returning to your “home” country fill you with more anxiety than moving away did? Find out what other expats feel about reverse culture shock and more…

The prospect of returning to the UK after 15 years, having left single but come back married with two children, was exciting. I was looking forward to it. But as soon as I started to try to integrate into the local community “back home” and make friends, I felt like I was walking around with a sign on my head that read: “Look out! She’s had more fun than you! And she doesn’t need new friends!” I might have had lots of fun, but so too, I’m sure, did the people who had lived here all their lives, just different fun. And I was definitely hoping to make new friends.

My children, on the other hand, were very anxious about moving back. They knew they’d be different, never having lived here, and both speaking French and Spanish as well as English. Luckily their school friends were interested in them rather than holding them up as oddities. From the children I was lucky to make good friendships with their friends’ parents, which helped me re-integrate.

BBC Capital’s article ‘How expats cope with loosing their identity‘ is a very interesting thought-provoking read, I highly recommend you take a look here. It really highlights one of the big issues for returning expats.

This returning-expat blues subject is also big enough to have several books written about it. A well-known one is The Art of Coming Home by Craig Storti. This is what Amazon says about it: “The Art of Coming Home lays out the four stages of the re-entry process and details practical strategies for dealing with the challenges you will face each step of the way. Veteran trainer, consultant, and world adventurer Craig Storti sketches the workplace challenges faced by returning business executives as well as the re-entry issues of spouses, younger children, and teenagers.”

Following their expat identity article, BBC Capital asked the question on their Facebook page: “After a long absence, how do you integrate back into your home country?” That one question sparked over 280 comments on Facebook, and, uncharacteristically for social media they were almost all helpful, thoughtful, incisive and heartfelt.

One person wrote on BBC Capital:

“Reverse culture shock is: i) what’s most important for you doesn’t count for others when you’re back home; ii) and what’s most important for them, is unknown for you, because you ignore what happened in your own country during your absence.”

Those two points provide a good “warning”, I think, for anyone going overseas who expects to eventually “return home”, that is keep an eye on the big issues affecting your home community and don’t expect home friends and other people to be overly interested in your overseas life. When someone tells you about their holiday, how interested (really interested) are you? So why should home friends be interested in your “extended holiday”, because that’s possibly how they see it.

Another BBC Capital reader wrote:

“I never realized that when I first left my native Ireland, I would essentially be giving up ‘home’. For the last twenty years I have been mostly in the US. I tried to re-settle in Ireland (gave birth to my daughter there), but I feel like it’s too late for me now. I feel like an outsider and get treated as such quite frequently. I have changed, and I feel labelled as a result. I have to make the decision as to where my daughter will go to school, and where we will finally hang up our hats, but sometimes I feel that I can never hang up my hat again. I have become a transient being without a connection to any particular identity anymore. I am worried that my daughter will be impacted by this restless-ness. It’s so hard, but by the sounds of things becoming increasingly more common.”

Sadly, there is some real pain felt by that expat. How do you feel? A citizen of the world who can hang your hat wherever home is? Or are you thoroughly perplexed about your place in the world and don’t really know where home is anymore?

Please share your tips about reintegrating and your feeling about reverse culture shock in the comments section below.

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