Chaos: Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse culture shock came to me as a surprise after being an expatriate in another country for almost four decades! I left what I considered to be my home. My home country didn’t feel like home. I was confused, my life was in chaos, and I didn’t know how to live in my own country anymore!

Repatriation is not easy, it’s chaotic, and that’s the hard truth. I know it’s unlikely I’ll ever recreate the same type of life I’ve had in my host country. Over time, I have learned to embrace my continuous learning in how to enjoy my new life back home. It happened after I accepted it, believing in faith that life will be normal and better again.

Whether unexpected or planned or whatever the reasons, e.g. downsizing or termination, political uncertainties and instability caused by war or threats of war, medical or family need, reaching retirement age, expatriates ought to be realistic enough to strategize/plan in advance their move back home. Whereas before we were called ‘expats’, once repatriated, we became known as ‘repats’.

A little planning can go a long way to facilitate homecoming. Here are some key repatriation points to consider:

  • Plan your ‘coming back home’ the same way you carefully planned in making the decision to live and work in another country.
  • Be prepared to deal with ‘reverse culture shock’ which is very much a real thing. Mixed feelings of anxiety, melancholy, sadness and depression might affect you when you return to your home country.
  • Pray for the grace of calm, be kind to yourself, accept the reality of the situation without getting despondent.
  • Think positively, be ready to be confronted with a period of re-adjustment upon return to your home country. Even if you know your home country very well, a strong network of family and friends is still there. Still, you have to remind yourself that life went on while you were away, that time and distance could have possibly changed those old relationships.
  • Do not have high expectations. Least expectations, the harder it is to get disappointed. Be open to pleasant surprises!
  • Patience is a virtue. Give yourself 1 ½ years of an adjustment period after living in an expat bubble. Consider it your grieving process over losing something you cared about so deeply, your overseas job and your expat lifestyle. Be kind to yourself, give yourself sufficient time to sort through the emotions.
  • Do not dwell on the negative; take the good out of it or focus on the positive. Nothing lasts forever in this life. Everybody loves the expat life, no doubt about it. However, there are many positive things to focus on after you return to your home country. Re-discovering the innate goodness of your countrymen, the local food, traveling around to re-discover the natural beauty of your home country. There is always something good and encouraging to focus on.
  • Repatriating can often be a very isolating process. Maybe you know some people who were recently repatriated like you. Network with them via social media, e.g. Facebook, etc. To get through depression feelings, talk to someone who has experienced the same, who has been there. Someone who understands, someone who could validate your feelings. It feels good to know that’s exactly what everyone goes through upon their return. One author describes repatriation as “you just got off the Ferris wheel and now you’re just wandering around the amusement park aimlessly.” 
  • Once you repatriate, make new friends in your current community. At the same time, seek out old friends via Facebook or any other social media platforms. Be welcoming, open-minded, reach out to people to find new and old friends. With just a click of a finger using social media, you’re bound to communicate with great people in every corner of your country and the world. Be patient, keep on trying and never give up.
  • The most effective way to cushion both ‘culture shocks’ (reverse or not) is to stay connected with your friends & relatives at home or continue to keep in touch with your friends you left abroad. Share your experiences with them via Facebook, Skype, e-mails, etc. It will not only strengthen your friendships, it will also make transitions easier & smoother.
  • Do volunteer work with a similar organization that you worked with abroad.
  • Find employment in a global industry. The options are endless, you’re surely find something that works best for you.

Truly, it is so good to be home and to be in my element again. Simultaneously, with a grateful heart, with not a tinge of rancor or bitterness, I keep those memories of years spent abroad tucked safely away in a special place in my heart. I make it as my reservoir of valuable experiences and lessons learned, which come in handy for my next journey in life.


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