November 26, 2009

Going home

Repatriation is today's topic. please find below a very honest, open and insigntful online discussion about repatriation after an assignment abroad. Pass this post along to your HR office!

Before starting, I would like to put out an invitation: I am gathering stories from expats on how the experience of living and working abroad has served to jumpstart significant personal and professional progress. Please contact me if you would be willing to share your thoughts (in a confidential way) for this project. The comments below may help you reflect.

The opening question for this discussion was: END OF EXPATRIATION: WHAT ABOUT YOUR "REACLIMATATION". Before leaving, companies often provide relocation service and sometimes cultural training to reduce the adaptation period but at the end of expatriation there is a new adaptation period. Does your company organise something and how do you manage your "reacclimatation ?

and here are a few responses (without names for privacy)

This is normally forgotten by companies. I suppose that it is supposed that you go back to your usual self: family, friends, sights, language and, this "reaclimatation" is an easy thing, and sometimes, it is not so.

Also, bear in mind, that many expatriations follow to a new expatriation so, this problem doesn't arise until a long time since you first left your home country. And when this happens, your past environment has completely disappeared.

When you are an expat and come home for a few weeks, every body wants to see you and you become really busy, with hardly time for yourself. When you are finally back, suddenly, all those feel that they don't need to rush to see you and you may find your self pretty much alone during some time, this can be hard, specially for a non working spouse, who normally is after returning from a long expatriation. Companies feel that they have done enough covering the cost of the move.

I would look at this problem from the other perspective. Once you leave the "home country" for an expat job, you are begining the new life somewhere else. As the time goes by, the "new country" its opportunities and problems, are closer than the ones of "home country". You are building new relationships, and parallely sort of a distance to all of "home country" issues. Looking from abroad and judging as an independent judge, rather than participant makes you confused in understanding where you belong. The longer the contract is the harder it is to come back. Consequently what happens is that many expats can't find their place in their "home country" and look for another jobs abroad.

HR teams do spend a lot of time and money to help a family move and adjust abroad. I actually don't know anyone who has received help during repatriation.

When people leave their home country and move to a new environment (new culture, new food, etc.) they end up finding out what they really are made of, and that will change them.

Like it or not -- in your home country you are defined by many things that have very little to do with who you are inside – what school you attend, what clothes you wear, what you do for a living, what music you listen to… When you move to a new country with new language and culture and ways of doing business – you have to make a decision. Do you walk into a McDonalds because you recognize the food or do you walk into a local restaurant where you don’t know the food and can’t speak the language?

Most expatriates choose the latter. And when that happens you start to change. You challenge yourself more and more.

You also seek support from people locally vs. from back home. Speaking for me -- I have found that the people back home couldn't empathize with what I was experiencing and didn’t understand that I was changing as a person. The local expatriates did. The local international school did and provided a lot of support too.

When my family moved back home we were different people. My husband and I had 3 children (plus dog and cat) – and we all were lost. There was a huge gap between who we are now and how our friends and family remembered us. And yes, Jose is right! Nobody rushed to see us!

We needed a welcome home party. We needed support to help all of us adjust. During the time we were away the world changed. Social media, mobile phones, TV shows, junk food, schools….even the church. We needed help reconnecting to our home country and starting over again. We had changed, our home country had changed.

It took a long time for our family to adjust. I have found that we now seek out new friends who are 'world focused' and more open minded. Many of our expatriate friends have moved back to their home countries too, and every single one of them have made major changes in their lives at home. New homes, redesigned homes, different schools for their kids, and many wanted a new job! Yes, the company that sent them abroad no longer kept their attention.

In my world, international consulting, very little is done to even help us adapt to the country we are going to, let alone help us adapt when we return. We each find our own coping mechanisms but one of the ways that has always helped me recover from a long posting abroad is to decompress in a neutral location before coming home. That way the denouement of returning home is not as strong and you have been able to process a lot of the emotion of leaving the country you worked in before going back to your old life. But the more international work you do, the more your old life needs to adjust to the new and improved you and vice versa. You must have the courage to make the changes you need to make.

I have just finished reading Robin Pascoe's book Homeward Bound and can highly recommend it for anyone repatriating. I have done so 3 times and it doesn't get easier through practice. The book made me realize that I'm not alone and also that it's not unusual for the readjustment to take years, not months as most would expect. Robin makes the point that living overseas changes you forever and most probably I will always feel something of an outsider. Not a pleasant thought, but perhaps a fair price to pay for all the wonderful experiences I've had living overseas.

Happy Thanksgiving!
a domani,
P.S. I added Robin Pascoe's book to my list to your right.


Deirdré Straughan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elizabeth Abbot said...

oops. let me see about copying some of the text without names. Would love to talk to you! are you back in Italy? send me an email with your tel and good times. Thanks.

Dad said...

A unique subset of the ex-patriot who returns home is the military person who has been at war in the foreign country without family. The return is a major problem in the United States today both for the returnee and family, especially with soldiers returning from a second or third tour of duty.

Madeline said...

I agree with the comment that when you come home, you look for people with a more international perspective.

One thing I'd add that I didn't see mentioned specifically is that, having done 3 expat assignments, I never felt like my company used the skills I'd gained abroad. It was like "oh, welcome back. There's a 10 am meeting." There was zero "what did you learn? how was it over there?" etc.

Also it was harder for me coming home because I was sent from a US corporate office so on assignment I was a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Back home, I was a small fish in a big pond. Our company sent many people on international assignments and everyone who returned felt the same way, and in fact many left the company within a year after returning for that specific reason.

Jeff said...

Uffa, my return to the USA is scheduled for July 2011 so I have some time to get ready but I don't expect it be easy!!
And I know my company won't do anything they don't have to. They are getting so cheap these days, but aren't they all!!

Elizabeth Abbot said...

Hi Jeff, are you still in Puglia? I have seen your blog in the past.
Hey, I'll offer a few coaching sessions when the time comes in exchange for feedback and your story -- keep in touch!

Jeff said...

Ok and what a story it is...I had a journal that I made almost daily entries in the first couple of monthes. Now I don't write much including in my blog. Maybe I'll make a New Year's resolution to write more...