What’s changed more: you or your hometown?

When expats move back home, they might feel there’s something different about the place. Is it them? Or everything and everyone else around them?

Green, green grass of home

When the American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald returned home after years of expatriation in Europe, he felt out of step with everything and everyone: “It’s a funny thing about coming home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You realise what has changed is you.”

When home has changed, too

But for some, Fitzgerald’s observation might not ring true. Many repats can feel out of kilter when they discover their homeland (friends, family, popular culture, politics, etc) isn’t  the same. When they encounter ‘change’ in an otherwise familiar place, they can be unnerved by the experience.

A glorious homecoming?

That’s why at Global Connection we wish to highlight the emotional complexity of repatriation. There is still a common tendency for outgoing expats, and HR / Global Mobility departments, to devote plenty of time and energy to prepare for the assignment while assuming repatriation will be a straightforward affair (if not a glorious homecoming). As a result, individuals and families can have a much harder time repatriating then they did expatriating.

Mental readiness

So what can expats do to mentally prepare for repatriation? In the Harvard Business Review, Professor Andy Molinsky writes that returning expats should firstly anticipate and prepare for the return home in a similar way that they prepared for their overseas assignment. “This means seriously considering how your home country might appear to someone from your host country – and recognising that in some ways, you will now be seeing it through these eyes,” says Molinsky.

Living a ‘blended lifestyle’

Molinsky also advises repats to think about how they can incorporate the cultural styles they’ve learned and come to appreciate as expats into a ‘blended lifestyle’ that they can live at home. In other words, they shouldn’t neglect or suppress their new internationalised mindset or multicultural preferences. Repat partners need to be proactive in finding ways to feel fulfilled, just as they did when they went on assignment. “You have changed. It’s critical to own and accept that fact,” adds Molinsky. To which we would add, remember, your home country may also have changed, even if the ‘green, green grass of home’ looks, smells and feels the same.

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