Friday, 4 November 2011

"We're not in Karlsruhe anymore, Toto". - or repatriation shock pt. 2

Part two my repatriation story. So what did I find out (/Google)?

"Repatriation shock lasts three times as long as the culture shock endured by new expatriates."
-eek! That's a bit of a shock in itself. Why is that the case? Surely it should be just as long as the initial culture shock if not shorter because you know what you are going back to?

"For many expatriates repatriation back home often becomes the most challenging relocation experience. They arrive back to discover that not only things have changed in their home country – but also that they have changed and they no longer feel like they belong at home. They feel disconnected both from the country and from the people that used to be their friends and acquaintances; they miss the status of being a foreigner and being special; they struggle to fit in; and they often feel as if they’ve lost some degree of freedom." - Global Coach Center.

That's a worry for me. I haven't kept up with what is going on at 'home'. Not only do I know very little about current affairs in the UK: if I am honest I have thoroughly enjoyed living in my 'bubble' where I don't watch the UK news (beyond occasional glimpses of BBC World News, which is a bit more global than British) or read newspapers, or even for that matter watch the German news, so what news I do get is gleaned mostly from the internet and what I hear on the radio in the car. Not only that, but I haven't got a clue about what has been happening in a social or cultural sense. I haven't seen a 'Big Fat Gypsy Wedding', can't talk about the people on Big Brother (though I stopped watching that years before I even left the UK, so that's not really an excuse), and haven't been much to the cinema, and I don't know whether all my children's friends are busy having sleepovers and talking make-up and Nintendo DS games or ....well, doing something else.

Some common symptoms or situations that repatriating families encounter*:
  • irritability/ resentment
  • sense of difference and disconnect
  • disappointment
  • inability to concentrate
  • low morale
  • change in values/attitudes
  • marital conflict
  • fatigue
  • parent/child conflict
  • educational/adjustment problems for children
  • depression
  • feeling unappreciated personally/professionally
  • decreased productivity
  • loneliness
*Source: 'Reverse Culture Shock (or Why Do I Hate Being Back Home?)' by International HR Forum

The reasons given for 'reverse culture shock', as it is known include the fact that most people plan pretty thoroughly for their move abroad. You are in the mindset for moving abroad, and if, like my family you are moving abroad because your company wants you abroad then you may get some assistance with the move and settling in. Often when you move back home there isn't the same kind of support for settling back in - it's just something you are expected to get on with. More and more companies are starting to recognise that they need to support their employees more with their return, as the statistics for employees who end up changing their career or returning to a life abroad are higher than you might imagine. From personal experience, we know three couples who have worked in other countries and have returned back to the UK in the past year. All of them have said that they would either like to move back to the country they had lived in or were hoping that they would be able to get another foreign assignment in a different country. 

From the various articles I read I've read that around 25% of people who have moved abroad because of their employer resign within 2 years of repatriation. And I am pretty sure that I read that this percentage increase to 33% within 4 years. 

The big factor seems to be the unexpected changes that you notice on your return. Whether it's a change in politics, or the dynamics or structure within your previous group of friends, or work and school, these things all seem to make a difference. And of course, it can be the feeling that you've changed while those around you haven't. 

"I noticed my frustration levels rising with people who have never worked or lived abroad, or worse, with people who travel regularly but have never lived abroad." - Trevor Hall comment on the Repatriation article by Global Coach Center

Making friends with other expats, even when you return to the UK because they are the people who 'understand' "people who hold a similar world view"

"When we return to our ‘home’ culture we will more often than not connect most easily with people like ourselves who have lived overseas as that is what sets us apart from others." Ruth Forsythe - Global Coach Center

Yikes! It makes me come over all uneasy... enjoy the links below and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this too.

Repatriation shock by Shelter Offshore
One woman's experience of repatriation in the UK by Shelter Offshore
Repatriation & belonging by Global Coach Center
Paper on problems with repatriation for employees and their families by by Andreason, Aaron W, Kinneer, Kevin D


  1. Fiona. This is a great post.
    I've got to say returning to the US after almost a decade abroad is MUCH more difficult that I could ever have imagined.
    I'm sure you will make great decisions for your own family, and I'm so impressed that you're already considering the effects of re-entry. I figured there would be an adjustment, but I really underestimated it.
    It's feeling much like I imagine it would if you were in the space shuttle re-entering the earth's atmosphere!!
    I look forward to reading all the links you included in your post. Thanks for sharing all this, it's come just at the right time for me.
    Best wishes from your friend formerly in Germany,

  2. Oh TJ, I hope it's going well. I'll be looking forward to hearing more about your *new*/old life!! xx

  3. Fascinating, though it all does make quite a lot of sense.

    "One of the main issues is a feeling of displacement, of not belonging and of ultimately having nowhere to call home which can result in feelings of panic and depression." Yeah, that is how I imagine it. Probably also a large part of the panic I feel when I even start thinking about what it would be like to go back.

    Interesting though, as I didn't in any real way prepare myself for expatriation, I wonder if all the thinking and fretting I would probably do about repatriation might work to my advantage.

    Either way, if you guys do end up going back "home" it'll be really interesting to read about your experiences doing so!

  4. Completely interesting blog! Even though I have nothing in common with any of it. :) Except I have a child. I can't even imagine moving abroad...hell, I could barely take a two week vacation away from my son without somewhat of a breakdown. Good luck with everything, and I hope you end up happy, wherever you end up.

  5. Great post! It's funny that I've just written a post about difficulties of integration and you've written one about difficulties of re-integration!

    I reckon the answer to all this is that you guys should just stay in Berlin :)

  6. We all want to be part of some group somewhere, don't we?

  7. It took me ages to settle back in. I found supermarkets really scary bewildering places. Also found that whilst I'd been away, I somehow thought that everyone elses children would remain the same age that they were when I left.

    Have you repatriated? How have I missed that?

  8. No, we've just had a bunch of things crop up that have made us look at what it might be like if we do go back. Like the idea of perhaps staying on, which means putting Orla into a German school which then seems impossible, which then gets us thinking about returning to the UK. At the moment we are due to return in June... but hoping for a bit longer here.

  9. This is really interesting reading! After living here for nearly 5 years, I feel somewhat a stranger in my own country. It may even be that I feel more at home as an expat.

    The thought of going back makes my toes curl- I'm in it for the long-haul, baby! Lucky me that someone else's job isn't the deciding factor as to where we live.

  10. Here's a question for you Cuppa, as someone who is completely fluent in the language, do you feel just as (I can't think of a better word)comfortable with German friends or do you still feel a strong need for expat friends? If you feel sometimes like "a stranger" in your own country, do you feel like you fully fit in with Germans, or do you feel like you belong to a 'third culture' of expats?

    I'm interested in how long it takes to fully integrate and I suspect that I have a bit of longing to be a serial expat, but wonder if that means that I will never quite feel at home anywhere.


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