Serial expats need support, too

It might be assumed that if someone has been an expat for many years, and in more than one country, they will more quickly adjust when relocated. But no relocation is ever the same and ‘serial expats’ shouldn’t be afraid to seek support.

The river flows on

“No expat ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same expat,” said Heraclitus – well, not quite. The great Greek thinker might not have been discussing relocation as an expat, but his words seem appropriate for the subject. It’s sometimes assumed that serial expats will adjust more and more quickly to each relocation. But each experience is always different and people’s priorities and needs change, too. A family could even be expatriated to the same country, five years after being repatriated, and discover it’s more challenging the second time around.

There’s no autopilot switch

It’s not unusual for some expat families to be more willing to seek new experiences and volunteer for relocation rather than return home. But this willingness doesn’t mean they can click the autopilot switch and make a seamless transition. In fact, if a family has been leading a rather cosy existence in one host country, having to find their feet all over again can be more of a shock than their first assignment.

Global mobility journey

A more traditional version of the expatriation journey would result in repatriation. End of story. But in an increasingly fluid world, expat families might find themselves living in multiple locations before returning home, where the journey does not necessarily conclude. Take Lena Hagberg for example, an expat partner who had relocated five times in 13 years before repatriating. But just a few years later her family were ‘re-expatriated’.

Growing awareness

The good news is there’s a growing awareness among mobility specialists that these kinds of serial expat journeys need to be supported – and serial expat partners shouldn’t be afraid to ask what kind of support is on offer to assist their relocation. It can’t be assumed that serial expats find it easier. There’s always a risk of burnout. For example, annual home-leave might become more important as the years go by for serial or long-term expats. On an open-ended global voyage, a trip home could be the vital port of call that contributes to another successful assignment.

Photo: Karl Wilfing – Flickr

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