It’s already been firmly established that re-entry is not the easiest of transitions (understatement). The vast majority of the 200 people who completed our survey faced common issues during re-entry: grieving and missing their life abroad, feeling a loss of identity, restless, unsettled, and misunderstood. When you go on an overseas posting, most people now get extensive orientation programmes and briefings to prepare you for what is ahead. How does that compare to when you go home again? What sort of support do you get / have you had during your re-entry? This post aims to raise the issues we found in our survey about finding support, but also to flag up some things you can be doing to help yourself during re-entry.
Out of over 200 people who took part in our survey on re-entry, only 7% of respondents received any support from their employers either before departing, or once repatriated. 7%!! There would be outcry if that’s how many had support before they went! Interestingly, if we look just as the mission community, that figure rises to 40% getting support before or after their departure. So why is the mission community doing so much more than all the others? More on that later.
How did respondents cope when they went home?
If support wasn’t offered, how did people cope? 37% of repats sought out support for themselves – mostly from other expats and other emotional support service providers. Over half reported they coped with the transition by talking with friends and family and 29% joined on line support groups such as Re-entry Stories. Fifteen respondents hired coaches. A further 28% didn’t receive any support, and didn’t understand that they would need it.
It strikes me there is something missing here – perhaps part of orientation before you ever go on an assignment should include some training on re-entry. Perhaps re-entry doesn’t start when you go home so much as when you leave home? If you look deeper into what the mission community do, you find that there is mention of re-entry during orientation; debriefs are encouraged when people come back (opt-out, not opt-in); and part of the best code of practice includes support when staff go home at the end of an assignment. Perhaps then we need to encourage companies to see re-entry support as part of the whole package – and that message needs to come from as many places as possible!
What strategies can you use to cope?
These are the strategies that respondents to the survey found most helpful:
- Talk with friends / family
- Join an online support group (see above)
- Read a good re-entry book (see my resource list here)
- Journal / blog about your experiences
- Participate in a course / webinar / workshop
- Work with a coach / therapist
What have you found to be helpful to you – what would you add to the list above?
As far as supporting expats when they go home is concerned, companies are not yet taking it seriously enough – but we as repats can help ourselves to cope and adjust – and at the same time bring pressure to bear on the companies / organisations that send us to improve things for those who come after us!
28th June 2017