What we talk about when we talk about repatriation

After repatriating, you might find it challenging when chatting with friends, family or colleagues, who don’t seem to ‘get it’ – or even ask about your expat life. If you’re struggling to readjust, this can heighten anxiety in basic social interactions. So what can you talk about? And who should you talk to?

A tricky re-entry

The experience of living abroad can change our perspective in manifold ways. But although expanding our horizons is generally seen in positive terms, expats can struggle to relate to friends and family when repatriating. One American repat said his expat life felt like “a secret that isn’t a secret”. It was a subject that he and his peers / family awkwardly avoided as nobody seemed to know how to talk about it.

Repatriation anxiety

It can feel strange when people express little interest in your time abroad. Just one month ago, you called another country home. You may have developed a real affection for the culture and made many wonderful friends and memories. But it’s not really about being denied an opportunity to tell heady tales of your expat life. It’s about knowing the other person understands you’re feeling out of place and struggling emotionally.

Short-term salves

While you may miss the expat life dearly, and feel at odds with your own culture after such a long time away, there are two short-term salves. The first is seeking out others, who have lived abroad and / or friends / neighbours / colleagues, who came to your home country as expats / immigrants. They’re more likely to be curious about your time abroad. They’re also likely to be empathetic, if you want to chat about the oddness of readjusting to your own culture – or even your own weather system.

Fundamental similarities

Regarding friends and family, rather than telling them grand tales that underscore the contrasts of your expat life compared to being home, focus on the fundamental similarities. Don’t assume nothing has changed for them. Ask about their lives. Visit their houses. Ask what they’ve done (or want to do) with the garden. Be curious about them and what they’ve been doing. One of the best questions might be: “Where have you been on holidays in the last couple of years?” Let them be the ones to gush and laugh about experiencing another culture unlike home.

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