Navigating Relocation

Stress-free relocation? Hardly!

What do you associate with the word “relocation”? Or indeed: repatriation or re-entry? Logistical nightmare, stress, confusion, grief, excitement, going home… So many mixed emotions can be associated with a move.

On the whole, although stressful, a move to a new country can be exhilarating, a new opportunity, challenges expected and relished. But that’s not always the case with the return to your own country. Many people don’t appreciate quite how hard the transition back into one’s own culture can be. The expectation is that “oh, they’re coming home, they’ll be excited to be back, they can slot in as they did before!” But it is often not so straightforward.

When you accept an overseas position, you go with the knowledge that you will have to work hard at fitting in, working out new ways of doing things, learning a certain amount of language and culture even to do the most basic of things. When you return “home,” of course those things are not necessary… or are they?

Depending on how long you have been away, how immersed in the culture you have been, and how much your home culture has changed over your time away, the depth of change can be quite colossal. Fashions, political correctness, taboo-subjects, youth culture, technology… and those are just the external changes back at home. Maybe you have changed radically too – physically, socially, mentally, politically, emotionally, financially, spiritually…

As a Coach / Debriefer, I see huge value in coming alongside people when they return from overseas. Quite apart from the practical aspects of relocation – which are obviously essential in a smooth transition – there needs to be emotional support. Research shows that those who receive a personal debriefing within a few weeks of their return have a much better chance of adapting and adjusting without the need for therapeutic intervention later on. Hence the investment in debriefing on return can save a huge amount financially as well as emotionally. Many things are out of control, and therefore this chaotic stage can feel very overwhelming. Coaching in this setting brings an added sense of control over areas of life that can be changed or impacted upon.

One tool that I use in my coaching is the “wheel of life” – looking at fundamental parts of a client’s life and comparing each to where the client would ideally like to be (0 being awful, 10 being perfect). When change comes to us in our home culture, it is normally just a couple of those areas which are out of kilter (for example a redu
ndancy leading to less than ideal career / financial situation, stress in the family; or illness, with its impact on health and possibly career). But when you change cultures and return home, many more of the fundamentals of life are put out of joint.

Friends have been left behind in the move; old ones may have moved away or changed situations, or you may have moved back to a new location where you don’t know anyone

Family life might be all over the place because of the move, finding new schools for the children, new friends, different working times, being back near relatives, etc.

Career may have taken on a different meaning, or your salary may be much lower now you’re based in the UK compared to when you were overseas; the standard of living may be higher than you have been used to, so normal treats become longed for but impossible extras.

Personal / spiritual growth may feel utterly impossible with the frustrations of being able to see things wrong with your own culture and having been used to another culture, and yet being like a prophet unwelcome in his own land.

Accommodation may be your own; you may have to move around; tenants may have made your own house unlivable or in need of repair…

Health… may be fine, or you may be near burn-out.

The foundations of life have shifted violently and suddenly as you re-enter your home country, which provides a feeling of disorientation and confusion, which can last for many months, if not a couple of years. Being in a coaching relationship means being able to address these issues in a safe environment. Setting and meeting small goals help to bring back a feeling of control – which in itself can be hugely important in allaying anxiety and depression on re-entry.

Stress-free relocation? Hardly! But it can be done, and it is possible to help people grow and thrive through the transition!

© Helen Watts, September 2013