Going Home When Everything Has Changed: 10 Tips for Repatriating in the Context of Current Events

Going Home copy 2.0

Here we go again.

We’re ramping up for the annual reminder that expats say “goodbye” an awful lot  —  Some because they are leaving and others because they are not.

It feels different this time though.  All of the same old repatriation dynamics apply but there is a LOT going on in the world right now.  Current events are screaming (even more so than usual)  for the attention of the masses who are in turn screaming for the attention of the current events.

Homegoings are bound to be impacted.

One quick clarification: I’m not a political commentator nor do I desire to be.  There are plenty.  Regardless, though, of where you are from, where you are going and what you feel like screaming about . . .

 

Here are 10 Tips for going home when everything has changed:

 

 

diving copyONE:  Brace for impact

Re-entry can be kind of like when you’ve been sitting by the pool in the hot sun for a while and all of your friends are saying, “come on, the water is perfect”.  Then you dive in and . . . PHUUUAWWW!!!

Instantaneous hypothermic shock.

There are multiple variables but one of the most significant is that you expected something different.

Repatting is most challenging when it is a surprise.  Do your best to know what you are jumping into.

THEN jump in.

Bonus tip:  Know yourself — Are you a diver-inner or a toes firster?  Plan accordingly.

 

eclipseTWO: Anticipate the Eclipse

You’ve got stories to tell.  Exciting ones.  Grand adventures of far away lands, awkward moments and likely something that involves a toilet.

On a regular day one of the most commonly shared frustrations among repats is the sense that no one is listening.  Add to that a dominating narrative or news event (local, national or global) and it’s probably a safe expectation that your stories could get trumped (no pun intended).

Be patient.  Eclipses don’t last forever.

Bonus tip:  Superlatives lie.  Just because a lot of people aren’t as interested as you thought they might be does NOT mean that NO ONE is.  

 

safeTHREE:  Find Your Safe People

Every repat needs a place to be understood.

You’ve got some catching up to do but that is not going to make sense to everyone.  You need someone who gets it and will stand as a buffer between you and the rest of the well-meaning welcome homers who can’t fathom why you have broken down crying in the cereal aisle.  Someone who has been there and felt that is a great option but don’t shut the door on someone who hasn’t.

If they get it — they get it.

More than anything look for someone who lets you be ignorant without making you feel stupid.  The right safe person can help you make sense of the things that just don’t.

Bonus tip: Let people who “get it” help you engage (not hide from) people who don’t.

 

tableFOUR:  Lay it on the table

Repats are a strange breed.  So are expats but at least their strangeness makes sense.  When you were a foreigner you had your foreignness to fall back on.  There was little question as to WHY you were such a bumbling mess and you weren’t expected to be completely caught up on politics and pop culture.

Not so for the returnee.  You’re supposed to be normal, up to speed and happy to be “home”.

However, it is unfair to expect anyone who has not experienced what you are going through to miraculously presume that you feel more like a foreigner than you ever did abroad.  Give them the benefit of vulnerability and let them know what’s going on inside.

Bonus tip:  Repatriation is not a disability.  Don’t confuse being vulnerable with making excuses for bad behavior.

 

earFIVE: Become a Master Asker

Asking questions is an art form on so many levels.  Not everyone is gifted at shutting up, listening and probing for deeper understanding but it is a skill that can be honed.

Of course you have an opinion and something to say.  Look around.  EVERYONE has something to say and they are all saying it (loudly) at the same time.  Being intentional and genuine about asking questions first will give you a MUCH deeper grasp on what is really happening AND earn you the right to be heard.

Bonus tip:  Asking questions can also be a science (if you are more inclined in that direction).  Develop a formula and ask away.  

 

coinSIX:  Flip the coin  

Know what makes me mad?  When someone rips on my host country.

I’ve lived in China for the better part of ten years so the “chingy changy” jokes or the cracks about dog meat strike a nerve especially when they are followed by the elbow of presumed agreement.

You’re talking about my friends.  They are actual people.

Know what I forget?  There are two sides to every coin and my home country is full of real people too.

I generally stick my foot in my mouth at least three times before I remember that life abroad doesn’t make me an expert on all things domestic.  My “home friends” deserve the same respect that I insist they give my “far away friends”.

Bonus tip:  Respect does not equal agreement.  

 

VolumeSEVEN: Adjust the volume

Repatriating can also be like when the sound is not good on the Travel Channel.  You crank the volume up to 85, put the subtitles on and scoot closer to the television.

Then you flip back to the news and nearly blow your eardrums out.

It’s ok if home feels loud at first.  Sensory overload happens when you suddenly hit the switch and simultaneously understand more AND less than you have in years.  There is no shame in pacing yourself.

Unplug when you can and even if you can’t, do your best to lower the volume.

Bonus tip:  Scheduling things that you have never scheduled before could help.  Start the timer on news intake, social media and binge-watching.  When the buzzer buzzes . . . walk away. 

 

water balloonEIGHT:  Don’t lean on your ability to unpop balloons

A perfect storm is brewing.  If you are going home, you have some wonderful things to look forward to but transition comes naturally with tension.

If you are stacking the typical repatriation tensions on top of an extra set of transitional tensions (for example your friends are adjusting to a new job or a new leader of the free world) the odds of conflict go up.

They just do.

People say stuff.  People that you have known and loved for your entire life might even say things that make you think, “who ARE you?”

This is important: No one is the best version of themselves in transition.

When emotions are flaring and core values are being challenged from every angle people do and say whatever they can to make their voice heard.

Take a deep breath.  Work hard to NOT say what can’t be unsaid or do what can’t be undone.  You will still love these people when the dust of current events has settled.

Bonus tip:  There is a world of difference between disagreement and personal attack.

 

scaleNINE: Study Yourself

Living abroad changed you.  You knew that already but have you considered HOW it changed you?  Specifically.

This is a great time for you to become a student of you.  The more you know about yourself the less confusing the tensions of re-engaging will be. Knowing yourself won’t alleviate challenges but it may shed some light on why they frustrate you so much.

 

Here are some questions to think through:

  • How has my view of my own country changed?
  • How has my view of my host country changed?
  • How has my view of the world changed?
  • How have my politics changed?
  • How has my faith been strengthened, stretched or challenged?
  • How has my perspective on wealth/poverty been effected?
  • What has changed in me that I wish had not?
  • What is different in me now that I hope never goes away?

Get alone with a piece of paper and figure yourself out.  Better yet, have this conversation with your family, or your safe people.

Bonus tip:  Physically writing is a powerful way to discover things that you may not have even known existed . . . in your own brain.  

 

WaterfallTEN:  GIVE GRACE ALL AROUND

Count on this as you prepare to go “home.”

•  There WILL be moments that make no sense at all.

•  There WILL be people who say stupid, stupid things.

•  There WILL be days when you feel incompetent, irrelevant and marginal.

There will also be great moments of joy and celebration.  Your transition does not need to be defined by the tensions or the rough bits BUT . . .

When they happen and you’ve run out of options, patience and steam, consider giving grace like you have never given grace before.

  • When your brand new friend says, “you lived WHERE?” . . . “WHY?!” give him some grace.
  • When your best childhood friend says, “You must just be glad to be away from there” . . . give her some grace.
  • When your second cousin makes an ignorant stereotype joke about your host country . . .  grace.
  • When your dad forgets which country was your host country . . . grace.
  • When your favorite people say painful things.
  • When the noise is deafening.
  • When the news is depressing.
  • When every conversation comes back to the exact same topic and none of them are about you . . .

GRACE.  GRACE.  GRACE.

Not because it is the best weapon but because it leads to a better place.

And here’s a bonus tip:  When you fall apart in the cereal aisle — take some grace for yourself.  Lot’s of it.  

Transition is temporary.

 

Know someone who is headed “home”?   Pass this on.

Are you a “home-goer” yourself?  Share your thoughts .  What excites you and makes you afraid?

Been there and lived to tell about it?  Give us your wisdom.  Comment below.

 

 

8 Comments

  1. Jerry,

    Thanks for putting into words such good advice! I’ve been an expat for over forty years and have experienced many reentries, both to my birth country and my host countries. You are right on target. Especially the part about the cereal aisle. For my first reentry, it was the toothbrush and toothpaste section of the drugstore that overwhelmed me. I think I wandered that little store for over an hour, I was that overloaded by all the stuff that was available… My husband and I have made it a point to go into a grocery store/market in every country that we visit. It is so interesting to discover what each culture values in the way of food. 🙂

    Reply
  2. So we have been into this thing called “transition” for two years after decades in Tokyo. We returned to a full political season—the first one we had experienced (you know, all the noise before the primaries, then the primaries, then the conventions, then the actual race and election day…except it didn’t stop there) since 1980. All of what you wrote I can say, “Yes” to—probably in capital letters—but this is what stood out to me:

    GRACE. GRACE. GRACE.
    Not because it is the best weapon but because it leads to a better place.

    And that better place is where there is air—as in to breathe. So many times in the last two years someone on the national level has said something that seemed to just suck the air out of the room. Grace allows the air to flow back in. Where there is air, there is life. My life. Your life. The world’s life. Grace is the “narrow road” that is hard to find but leads to life.

    Thank you so much for writing.

    Reply
  3. Mercy and grace…mercy and grace…for some reason this echos in my head every now and then 🙂 Thanks for sharing this, Jerry!

    Reply
  4. I don’t see any other way of connecting with you, so I’ll have to do it here. I have subscribed 4 times to your blog and I still do not receive it. Any idea what I’m doing wrong? (OK, that may have been asking for trouble…)

    Reply
  5. Love this post. Preparing to repatriate in two to three months, so this is excellent timing. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Do you have suggestions lor the family and friends to help the expats with reentry?

    Reply
  7. Great article. I have been through it many times myself and with each re-entry it gets easier, now I don’t even notice it.

    Reply
  8. This article is SO SPOT ON! Well done Jerry. I have been “home” now (I still don’t think of it as home) for 9 months and everyone of these 10 tips I can relate to. I miss my home in China…the culture, walks on the beach, the people, the food, my dear friends, my church, my dog, my ministry. But then I have to give thanks to Him that because of these “mixed up” feelings about home, I am more aware that my real home is HEAVEN! And interesting, none of these 10 tips will be needed when I go to this eternal HOME! Praise the Lord, Sue Corl

    Reply

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