You’ve gone back to your home country. It’s where you lived before, right? So why write an article on getting to know your home country?
I think that half the problem with re-entry is exactly that: most people still have the mentality that you’re “just going home.” You probably register that you’ve changed massively while you were overseas. In all sorts of ways: mentally, emotionally, spiritually, politically, physically,.. you name it, there’s probably been some sort of shift. But when you go home it often seems like nothing’s changed. After all cultures don’t change that quickly, do they?!
Well yes, actually, they do. It’s not normally the massive obvious changes (like changing form the Krone to the Euro or a change of government) but the subtle just-under-the-surface changes which can surprise you.
A few possibilities from my own experience, I’m sure there are many more:
- Language can change. New words enter the vocabulary, especially among the younger generations. Words that once meant evil (wicked) now mean cool; a blackberry is no longer just a fruit but a gadget; a wii is something you play on, not just something private you do in a bathroom. It can be confusing!
- Greetings change. An obvious one we noticed was the response to the question: “How are you?” – when we left the UK, generally the answer expected was: “Good” or “Fine.” By the time we came back to the UK ten years later the answer had changed to “busy” or “tired.” Subtly different – and almost with the assumption that if you weren’t one of those two things, then there was something you were missing…
- Banking procedures change. In the time we were away people went from using cheques (checks) to using chip and PIN. It was confusing being back in the UK and I always felt stupid not knowing which way to put my card in the machine. Now it’s moved on even further to contactless too. Basic interactions in daily life can throw you!
- Taboos change. Brits have never been people to talk much about politics, in fact, you mostly didn’t tell anyone which party you were likely to vote for (even if you knew). With the referendum, suddenly the taboo seems to have lifted (and with the advent of Donald Trump, even more so!). Things that were unmentionable suddenly became mealtime conversation starters.
- People’s lives move on. I often thought my friends and family really hadn’t changed while I’d been away – they’d just been in their world and continued much the same. But that’s just not the case – people have been born and died; struggles have come and gone; jobs have been lost and started; they have continued to grow and change just as you have.
Be a tourist again
All this to say: it’s time to get to know your home country again. Consider this another expat assignment. Play the detective game of working out the cultural norms, visiting places, finding out about local history. You may find you get to know things about your home country you never knew before because you are seeing it through new eyes! Take the time to do that! Be a tourist. Explore. Discover. Ask questions. Yes it can feel a little bit silly at times, especially as people can look at you and wonder if you have come from Mars for asking such a bizarre question, but just go for it!
Find out about fashions. Be an observer of vocabulary and expressions. It’s what you would do in another country as part of your cultural learning. You can do it at home too. Get family members / friends to tell you about changes they can think of. Ask mums at the school gate what their kids wear / play with / watch. Visit places you haven’t ever visited despite it being your “home.”
Get to know your home country
What can you do this month to get to know your home country some more?
- visit somewhere you haven’t been yet, or haven’t been for years?
- ask someone questions about things you don’t understand?
- watch a lifestyle programme on TV?
- listen to young people’s vocabulary and ask about the words you don’t understand?
At times you will feel a bit like you’ve descended from Mars, but don’t let it get to you. Take time to be a tourist.
11th October 2017