We’ve talked about several practical aspects of re-entry during the last few posts. We’ve looked at friendships; talking about your time overseas; making your house your home; and rediscovering your home country. Now we’re going to think a little about mindset during re-entry. The attitude you approach your re-entry and its ups and downs with can make a massive difference to your experience. We all know that beating ourselves up about being in a difficult place or recognising stress in ourselves and not taking action are not very helpful. But how pro-active are you at putting positive mindsets in place, rather than just trying to be aware of or avoid certain things? Here are a few mindsets you can adopt:
# 1 Mindset: Curiosity
One of the top mindsets that most expats take with them on a new assignment is curiosity. Curiosity about the culture, new places, the language, the food,… Why is it then, that we rarely think about this in re-entry? There is still this image that going home just going home. But it’s not as simple as that. You have changed and home has changed as well, so in some senses you are going to an entirely new location. Rather than assuming everything is the same, or that you have changed and they haven’t, take an expat view. Be curious.
What is this word you thought meant evil that now seems to mean amazing? What’s led to a people who never used to talk about politics to suddenly talk about it on the streets? How are parents coping with the increased usage of smart phones in their children? Where do people to go to hang out or relax?
Take a curious approach with an open mind to everything when you return (you can even add an apology with it, saying you’ve been overseas and are trying to work out things that have changed). It stops judgement coming to the fore; it provides a way of finding out what you need to know in order to function properly; and it helps you rediscover your home country. A bit like being a tourist.
# 2 Mindset during re-entry: Sense of Humour
Learning to laugh at yourself , the situations you find yourself in and (quietly) at other people’s lack of understanding of your re-entry are all really important. The more you can laugh in daily life (like any time in life, really), the more you reduce the stress and tension of change. It’s the same when going overseas – you learn to laugh at your mistakes, your cultural and language gaffes, and it makes the learning process lighter, less serious.
You would do well to apply the same during re-entry. When you don’t know which way to put the bank card in the machine, chuckle to yourself about how you feel a bit like an alien. If you can’t find the right aisle in the supermarket, pretend to be a detective on a mission and laugh inwardly at the thought. When someone says something very insensitive, smile later as you reflect on your inward reaction. Share with others your gaffes and misunderstandings. And laugh together. Laughter lightens the mood. It brightens the day and stirs up the right hormones. Use it!
#3 Mindset: Sense of Adventure
Treat going home as a new adventure. I’ve said this already – all of these mindsets are the same mindsets that we adopt when going overseas in the first place – you treat going abroad as an adventure, so why not going home?! Why does going home have to be the end of the adventure? It doesn’t! It can be the start of the next one! Take time to re-envision your life, to look for new purpose, to plan for a bit of fallow time… there can be all sorts of new opportunities in going home, but if you just let it happen and don’t try to be intentional, adventures rarely happen. Be intentional: dream, plan, explore, be open to new possibilities.
A word of warning though: I am not advocating taking yourself off to live in a different country again because you are finding re-entry hard. That is escapism. You still need to process and work through the different emotions associated with re-entry and the transition you are in. When the time comes, maybe working overseas again is the right thing for you. But make sure it’s intentional and motivated from the right place.
#4 Mindset during re-entry: Gentleness / Grace
Above all else, treat yourself and everyone else with gentleness and grace.
One of the definitions of grace is: “A period officially allowed for compliance with a law, especially an extended period granted as a special favour.” In re-entry, this looks like giving yourself time: time to adjust, time to get things wrong. Giving yourself the special favour of not judging yourself or others harshly for making mistakes.
Give yourself grace when you are feeling sad or overwhelmed by everything that needs to happen. Be gentle with your well-meaning friend when they inadvertently try to fix you and tell you to move on. Grace for your spouse when they seem more settled than you do and you feel like you’re tearing your hair out. Gentleness for your child when they have a temper tantrum and tell you they hate you for bringing you to this country and they want to go home. Grace for your extended family when they make demands of you that you find too much.
Be intentional about being curious during your re-entry. Laugh at yourself. Be adventurous. And give yourself some grace. What mindset do you need to adopt today to help you through?
1st November 2017