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Expatriates returning home : how to handle the blues ?

| | Read : 4 min

Not so many people –and certainly not the candidates for expatriation- suspect the potential “tsunami” that is awaiting them after they spent a few months or a few years away from home in a foreign country, when it’s time to come back home.

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One often believes that the hardest part of the journey is to leave your native country, your home, your family and friends for a country whose customs and habits you do not know. One doesn’t always suspect that the way back might be difficult to cope with.

Professionally going home might also end up being a challenge.

How do you anticipate this and the blues from returning home?

What’s the blues from returning home?

It might sound like a trendy expression for human resources magazines but it depicts a reality for thousands of expatriates when it’s time to come home. But what is it exactly?

It comes from a combination of several aspects

  • You are leaving a country you grew fond of, people you are attached to

Even if it was difficult in the beginning, there is a fair chance that you have found friendship and maybe even love (who knows?) in the country you got detached to.

You have created some habits, an intimacy with them that it will be tough to leave behind, even if new technologies (Skype and all) will allow you to stay in touch.

  • Red tape (administrative hassle)

You will have to handle all kind of requests and paperwork. You will have to register again, make copies of numerous official documents, nothing’s worst to get on your nerves or even to make you feel depressed!

  • You go to a country that is not the same as you left it

We often figured that while we were gone to follow on a wonderful journey, nothing changed at home.

But actually many details might have changed from our favorite coffee shop to the subway fare. We might even feel stranger on a strange land ! This accumulation can be quite disturbing, added on to the rest.

What is the blues from returning home ?

  • Your friends have moved on

Friends! They are like a beacon in the night, something to hold on to. You can’t wait to get back to those dinners, brunches, picnics, training sessions at the gym.

Except that Dyane and John have moved in another city, Sean and Sophia just had a baby and are not willing to go out, Denise is now going to her yoga classes with Kate and it does not match with your own timeline.

They have also managed to live their life without you.

  • Possibility to end up in a stripy hole at work

A poorly anticipated return might leave you with the same position as before or a so called prestigious position but with no real ownership or power of decision when you expected a great promotion.

You just left an expatriate assignment where you were diligent and successful so frustration is around the corner.

How does it manifest itself?

  • From simple nostalgia to being depressed to a real breakdown

You miss your friends, your home from over there. You are a bit lost. This feeling can be shaken off easily or can become overwhelming when you want to spend all day in bed in your PJ’s feeling sorry for yourself.

More seriously, you should not take lightly a potential depression, so if you feel any sign of manifestation, you should consult a specialist.

  • The feeling that everything back home is boring

Grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. And if you have lived the exciting life of an expat in a foreign country where everything seems shiny and new, coming home might feel like everything is déjà-vu and pointless.

This feeling might not be completely false but is certainly not totally true.

  • Irritability

We accept many things in a foreign country for the sake of cultural differences. We consider that we should adapt ourselves and not the other way around.

Misunderstanding and awkward situations often end with laughter rather than anger. But back home we might not be as tolerant, our fellow-citizens’ peculiarities and bad habits can really get on our nerves!

  • No one really cares about the great things you have been through, you might feel isolated

You thought that everybody would be dying to hear all about the story of your far away assignment but actually no one really cares or almost.

Everyone is absorbed by their own day-to –day routine, love stories, work issues, family matters and they don’t necessarily have the time to watch the hundreds of photos from your stay.

Your impulse is stopped right there and you might feel isolated as a consequence.

  • Work isn’t satisfying anymore, you feel like changing

As mentioned before, the work back at the office can be very deceiving. You don’t have the position you wanted, neither the glorious return you hoped for.

Many expatriates actually leave their company for a new one a few months after they got back home.

  • Feeling of frustration for the spouse

If you left with your family, there’s a great chance that your partner had to sacrifice his/her own career and leave behind a nice position to follow you.

Nothing awaited him/her –when everything had been settled and arranged for the expat employee- in the new country and it would usually take a while for him/her to find a new job.

After all these efforts, here comes the time to go back home and start all over again! This idea might be very frustrating even distressing.

How do you handle this blues?

Tips to prepare yourself for your return to home.

Let’s face it, based on the numerous testimonies, you won’t be able to avoid it! It’s quite normal actually so you just need to prepare yourself the best possible way.

Coming home should even be considered as a new expatriation.

Personally

  • Make a checklist

You will find all kind of ready –to-go checklists online but you should make your own so you can have a better overview of all the administrative things to take care of both in your host-country and back home.

  • Find a mentor

He/she can be a family member or a longtime friend who can help you to handle all details from your home country while you are still in your host-country.

For instance he/she can visit your future residence to make sure it fits your needs and taste.

  • Find people who had a similar experience

You can look for a club for impatriates, websites or blogs which relate stories similar to yours.

It’s always comforting to know that others have been through the same before and you could also get some useful advice.

  • Make plans

Small projects, big ones, with your family or solo, you must recreate your own dynamic path in your home country by looking towards the present and the future, by setting new objectives, satisfying new wishes, exploring new aspects of your life!

Professionally

  • From an HR perspective, don’t oversell the expatriate experience

An expatriate assignment is usually the promise of an acceleration of career, a better salary but if the return back to the office is not up to the promises, it might create a huge deception.

So it’s better to give the employee some honest outlooks. A good surprise is always better than a bad one.

  • From an HR perspective, stay in touch with employee through his/her expat assignment

As said before, many employees finally leave the company which sent them away when the whole idea was that their experiences strengthened their skills back to their home country office.

By doing regular interviews with the expat, you can follow up on their evolution, their expectations and prepare their return the best way possible and find the most suitable position.

  • From an HR perspective, establish a “resettlement” planning

It should be prepared upfront so to make sure the expatriate employee does not get bored or feel his/her position is undersized once she/he is back home.

It’s becoming common to do that in more and more companies to optimize his/her reintegration.

The contract must fix the bases of this return but depending on the duration of the assignment, those can become outdated in practice so the situation of the company as well as the employee’s must be regularly reassessed.

  • Find a sponsor in the company

It could be your direct manager or a close colleague.

He/she can give you news from the office so you don’t feel clueless when you come back but mostly he/she can keep you informed about the objectives, issues, success of your department so the transition will be smooth and you can go back to work quickly and efficiently.

  • Support your partner

There are a dedicated website and ongoing agreements between companies to facilitate return to work for the spouse in the host-country and then again, back home. http://www.idcn.info/

  • Hire a coach

You can find coaches specialized into helping expatriates to return home. You can have him/her financed by your company and he/she will help you find a place to live, get done with all the paperwork, handle your return to the office, etc.

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