Can nostalgia ease the ‘repatriation blues’?

Yearning for your expat life might not seem like the best way to come to terms with being back home, but one group of researchers believes ‘host country nostalgia’ can lead to repatriation success.

The good ol’ days

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, nostalgia is a ‘sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations’. Whether ‘being nostalgic’ is seen in a positive or negative light depends on the context. Sometimes we might enjoy hearing a friend reminisce. Alternatively, we might roll our eyes when they start harking back to the good ol’ days.

The role of self-continuity

But in the context of repatriation, one group of researchers from the US maintains that feeling nostalgic for a host country can have a positive impact on repatriation. It maintains a person’s sense of self-continuity, which will make readjusting to life back home easier, not harder. In their paper, the researchers conclude that host nostalgia could be the key to creating a more “personalised, flexible, and economical means of easing repatriates back into their home countries”.

How to be nostalgic

Unfortunately, their paper doesn’t offer us a practical guide on how someone can be strategically nostalgic when repatriating. However, let’s assume they don’t mean a repat should start harking on about the ‘good ol’ days’ to whoever will listen. In fact, repats will often discover friends and family can’t relate to stories about expat life. However, there’s nothing to stop you reminiscing in private. For example, writing about your expat life in a mini-memoir, or archiving all of the photos you have on your phone, are two conveniently structured avenues for nostalgia.

A taste of home

Remember that although the assignment may have concluded, your journey continues. When repatriating, you won’t abruptly pull the plug on your expat life and resume your old routines. Often repats will pursue a ‘blended lifestyle’ back at home. By maintaining some of their expat ways, they will have that crucial sense of nostalgia and self-continuity. For example, one expat partner recently repatriated to Cape Town from Ho Chi Minh City and rather than reacquaint himself with his old French press, he makes a classic Vietnamese-style iced coffee using a traditional drip filter and condensed milk. As he drank coffee like that every morning for nearly six years, it’s a taste of home.

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