The Art and Science of Repatriation
Repatriation (from the Latin term repatriare) is the forgotten phase of expatriation. With excitement, future expats plan for the big move and prepare for culture shock. What most expats don't expect is the culture shock of returning home. No longer living the exotic and glamorous life of an expat, every day is not only NOT an adventure, it is composed of tedious details like bills, commutes, and routine.
Most companies already have a detailed plan in place for employees going "home", but it is well-known that repatriation continues to be a difficult adjustment period. And if you absconded of your own free will, there are few resources and very little sympathy to be had from friends and family. The truth is, repatriation hits every individual in a different way and even members of the same family can have a vastly different reaction to the change. The key is to understand the phenomenon and prepare for it.
Defined by the Miriam-Webster dictionary, culture shock is:
"a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation"
Though the phrase dates back to the 1920s, it appears that Canadian-born anthropologist Kalervo Oberg popularized the term in his writings in Rio de Janeiro in 1954. Dr Oberg had lived all over the world and had undoubtedly experienced the symptoms of culture shock first-hand. He sought to define the process in stages.
Stages of Culture Shock
- First stage- After arrival most people experience initial euphoria. This is sometimes called "the honeymoon period". This period can last from a few weeks to a few months, but it will almost definitely end.
- Second Stage- Sudden disenchantment, irritability, confusion, maybe even resentment toward your adopted country. Differences between your new home and place of origin become sources of frustration. This is where people often note "culture shock". This is the toughest part of the process, so expats can be comforted that if they hang in there things will get better.
- Stage Three- A gradual adjustment into foreign life. Almost imperceptibly you will find that you are comfortable with things that were difficult and you may stop generalizing about your adopted country and countrymen. You may even concede that some things are better.
- Stage Four- This is the final stage, where you are truly experiencing adaptation or biculturalism. Rather then losing a part of yourself, you have become a more multi-culture person. You have successfully passed that barrier of immigrating in the mind.
Though expats returning to their home country are already familiar with their culture and society, the new experiences have often changed the individual. Things feel different because you are different. Just as the new country was experienced, the home country has become foreign and must be newly discovered and adapted to. That is why repatriation is sometimes called "reverse culture shock".
Steps to Repatriate
These basic dos and don't should help you get in the right mind frame to tackle to problem of repatriation. There are still many important and practical steps to make your repatriation a success.
Plan Your Return
Once you know you are to return, it is a time of careful planning to create the least disruption for your household and to facilitate a smooth transition. Establish a time line considering your work requirements and children's school schedule. In some areas, it may also be beneficial to consider the time of year. There is nothing quite like moving back to New York City in December in a snowstorm!
Think about where you would like to settle. If you already own property this decision might be easy. It also important to consider family and their location. If you don't have any concrete ties, research the areas that spark your interest. Consider your values, interests, and goals and if they can be fulfilled in a particular location.
Begin making contacts in your new country of residence. Both for business and social reasons, you will need to expand your circle. You might do this through social and professional networking sites, sports clubs, or for groups focusing on newcomers to the city. You might even find a group of expats to help you settle in. A vacation back home before committing to the full move may help you make these contacts, as well as prepare a property you already own, or start the search for a house.
If you have children, prepare them for the change. Explain the reasons for the move, discuss any concerns and issues they may have, and share your excitement.
Shut Down Household Abroad
In the time you have before the big move, you will need to start making changes in your life abroad.
- Giving notice at your current position or working with them on your transition back overseas
- Ending your current lease or selling your home aboard. Note that ending your lease early will usually result in a penalty so try to time your departure so that it coincides with the end of your contract. If selling your house, employ an estate agent and start early as selling a house can be a very slow process.
- Cancel your utilities upon leaving your residence
- Provide contact information so all important contacts can still reach you
As soon as possible, create a transition fund. There should be enough to facilitate what you expect the move will cost, as well as some extra to ease the stress of any hidden costs. Use a cost of living calculator to get an idea of the amount necessary.
You will also to need update your banks. If you are keeping the bank abroad open, you will just need to update information with your bank. If you are closing this account, you should contact the bank directly and find out their procedure. In addition, you may need to open a bank in the country you are repatriating to. If you have kept an account while you have been away, this can be useful for your line of credit. You will just need to update them with information about your move. If you are needing to open a new bank, you will need to investigate different banks and compare their fees and services.
If you are moving with the help of your company, there should be advisors to help you find out what paperwork is necessary and how to proceed.
If you are moving independently, it is in your best interest to contact your local embassy. They should be able to supply with the proper paperwork and give you information on documentation and processing time. The site, http://www.embassyworld.com/, can help you locate the appropriate embassy nearest you. Make sure to start the process as soon as possible as visa can take a considerable amount of time to acquire.
Prepare your goods to go through customs by making a detailed inventory and securing proof of change of residence. A moving form attestation can be secured through your Consulate. If using a shipping company, they should be able to handle most of this paperwork and advise you on procedure.
To secure the lowest taxes, you will usually need to have held a residence abroad for more than 12 months and have had use of the possessions in a private capacity for at least 6 months. Again, consult your embassy for specifics.
What NOT to Do
Once you return home, there are many things people do to try to adjust that may not be helpful.
You may feel more worldly and more cultured, but your friends and family are expecting the old you. It might take a little time to get re-acquainted. Relax and give yourself time.
As much as you want to share your experiences and your loved ones want to hear it, there is a point where talking about all the fabulous things you did and the exotic lifestyle you led is just bragging. This will not help you adjust as it will only increase your "homesickness" for your adopted country and alienate you from the people around you.
Being back is an adjustment. Even if you move back to your hometown, the place you grew up, it may look, sound, smell, feel different. Complaining about these differences will, again, only set you against where you are now and make the people around you defensive. Embrace your new place! What did you miss? Discover what made it special to you in the first place.
What to Do
Make friends! Just as it was vital to create a new social circle as an expat, it is important to resurrect your group of friends to make you feel included in daily life. It is also helpful to make friends with other expats. While your old friends may not be too sympathetic of the foreign complaints about European checkers at grocery stores or traffic laws in Asia, other expats can commiserate.
Enjoy the sense of belonging. Perhaps not as exciting as being an expat, revel in the fact that this is your place. As an expat, you can frequently be torn between places. While you now have an expat edge to you, you belong here.
Look into creative ways to use your new skills and knowledge. If you picked up a new language, keep up your skills through formal classes, language exchanges, or by assisting new immigrants. You have an unusual expertise and can even help other expats to adjust to your city. Forums are an excellent place to share knowledge and make expat friends.
Make your new life incredible. The sense of adventure, spontaneity, and discovery you are missing doesn't have to be absent from everyday life. Many ex-expats get bogged down by the tedium of daily existence. Decide to make everyday exciting by doing something different. Learn a new language, get a pedicure for the first time, discover a new restaurant, go skydiving- the list is endless.