The hardest aspects of re-entry

It almost goes without saying: everyone has a different experience of re-entry. But perhaps you think that others are handling it better that you are? Maybe you think you are the only one finding it this hard? I’m pleased to be able to let you in on a little secret: the vast majority find going back to their passport country trickier than leaving it in the first place. What are the hardest aspects of re-entry? Why is it so hard going back to a place that used to be called “home?”

According to the results of our survey, the things people struggle with most are: processing the complex emotions associated with re-entry; articulating what they learned and how they changed during their time abroad; sorting out their career path after returning; making friends and connecting with other expats, getting to know their home country again; and to a lesser degree, financial issues. People were surprised by: how hard it was fitting back into their old networks, town and life; how many choices were available to them back home compared to living abroad; and how disinterested people back home seemed in their life abroad.

hardest aspects of re-entry

These are just a few of the issues associated with going home, the ones that came up in your answers to the survey – and I haven’t even mentioned identity struggles, lack of confidence in being able to make your way back home, fitting back in with extended family, bureaucracy,…

I will do another post on some of the more external struggles of re-entry. This one focusses more on the internal.

What is going on during re-entry?

On the outside, during re-entry, you are “simply” shifting from one location to another. Moving. Re-locating. But on the inside, it is definitely not so simple. William Bridges outlines these issues in his book, Transitions.

You are no longer receiving the cultural cues that gave a structure and a sense of belonging to life abroad. Back in your home country, you are having to learn new ones whilst still in some senses looking for those familiar cues.

You have left behind an old way of being and engaging with the world that you learned in your adopted country. Now you don’t know who you are in the new place – or perhaps you thought you did because you’re going “back” – but you’re not the same and neither are they.

The ways you defined yourself in your host country don’t apply in your home country. You are no longer the expat or the traveller; instead you have quickly become part of the furniture, your status gone or changed.

What was real to you in one place doesn’t feel real in the other – the two are literally worlds apart and you can begin to question whether your experience was in your head or actually real.

You can feel lost and confused, a bit like a ship-wrecked sailor. you don’t know where you are and whether you’re stuck or going to find the right way up again any time soon.

It’s no wonder re-entry can seem like the hardest place. And pretty isolating – because unless someone else has been there and done it, few people understand the nature of the confusion.

Two pieces of advice to end this post:

  1. Find people who have already been through re-entry to share your journey with – either online or local. It always feels great to be understood
  2. Give yourself a lot of grace. It’s ok to be confused and to find it hard work – it’s exhausting re-adapting. Don’t give yourself a hard time for finding it difficult. You’re in good company.

If you are feeling very lost, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via my website or through my Facebook group, Global Repats / Returning Expats.

18th July 2017