Repatriate With Resolve

FamilyRepatriation. Not a neutral word. It illicits a response. Eyebrows raised in curiosity. Bristled hairs on the back of the neck in panic. Hands over ears in avoidance.

Quotes from expatriates who have been there and done that:
“Coming home was more difficult than going abroad because you expect that you know what it’s like. I felt like an alien in my own country. I had changed. Friends weren’t interested in our experiences. Emotionally I was fragile. I felt like I had Alzheimer’s because I couldn’t remember things. I kept thinking ‘this can’t be me’.” Accompanying spouse from 3 year assignment in Malaysia to USA

“I felt a sense of loss when we returned to the UK. I miss the mixing with different nationalities. I was no longer a part of a small community where everyone looks out for each other. The kids went through a messy time and I wondered if I’d ever get my life back!” Expatriate wife and mom

“I stayed with the same company, but lost benefits. They gave me less responsibility at a lower management level and didn’t recognize or seem to appreciate the tremendous experience I had as a senior manager or the skills and expertise I had gained. I felt demoralized.” Employed partner transferring back to Canada from China

When we returned from Cambodia to Canada, I’d stare blankly at the aisles of choice in the grocery store and go home empty handed and overwhelmed. Decision making was hard. Worry consumed me – Would the kids be safe? Would they do well in school and make friends? Would I find a job? We longed to share our experiences with others, but found within minutes their eyes would glaze over. As a family we called it ‘lizard eyes’ and at the dinner table would ask, ‘how many lizard eye looks did you get today?’! Deeper than that was the tendency to judge, the emotional rollercoaster ride, and the sense of ‘misfit’ that seemed would never end.

Hints on repatriating with resolve:

1. Communicate

• Discuss these questions well before your move:

Partnerso Why are we repatriating? What beckons us? What might we be running from?
o What fears do I have for repatriating? What do I look forward to?
o Is this a joint decision? If not, the result could be devastating. Negotiate through this issue until you come together. Keep communicating throughout repatriation

2. Learn to make requests of each other

•It sounds simple. “I need…” or “I want…”. Your partner can’t read your mind! This simple negotiation tool brings unity and understanding.

1. Be proactive in asking for assistance from your company

•For job options, financial planning, career counseling for your spouse, training and coaching for “re-entry shock” and the repatriation process.
•Request that your international experience be used to benefit you and the company. Help them understand you have a very different profile now then when you left the company.

2. Find a mentor, preferably prior to repatriation

•The best mentors have clout (higher positions) and have gone through the expatriate experience themselves. They can be invaluable. Ask to debrief your international experience.

1. Learn all you can about ‘re-entry’ shock.

•Robin Pascoe (author, speaker) defines it as: “…the shock of being home. It’s the reverse culture shock you experience in your own country when you visit places that should be familiar to you, but aren’t; try to interact with people you should feel comfortable with, but don’t; or face situations you should be able to handle, but can’t. …Re-entry shock is when you feel like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right”. Learn tools to deal with re-entry shock and experiment with them.

2. Lower your expectations.

Home•On everything! If you think you’ll adjust in 6 months, change that to a year. Notch down your expectations for extended family, your own family readjustment and timing for you to feel ‘normal’ again. Give yourself grace and space.

3. Think ahead.

•Though it may not seem like it, the unsettledness will end. Value your international experience. Take time to realize who you have become. Think outside the box when it comes to what you now want to do, either professionally or personally.

1. Hook up the technology.

•High priority! Especially for teens. It helps them stay connected.

2. Find a “mentor to enter”.

•Before moving, find someone in the neighborhood and/or school who can be a ‘buddy’. If that’s not possible, ask the teacher once at school for a responsible peer role model that will help show your child the ropes.

3. Get involved.

•What is your child good at? Sports? Music? Art? Sign them up! Summers can be challenging, however camps work well. In these subgroup communities, they find kids with similar interests and make friends easier.

1. Be intentional.

•Be there for your kids emotional ups and downs. They will go through re-entry shock too. Validate their feelings. I strongly suggest one partner take a minimum of 6 months to help resettle the children. Their esteem, like yours, will take a beating initially. They are sad because they’ve left friends. Remind them they can make friends again but don’t discredit the feelings of abandonment and loneliness.
•Teach them that ‘alone time’ is a good thing and what they can do about it.
•Advocate for your child at school and within the community.
•Take the initiative to have a new child over to play so that friendship can develop.

2. Model healthy grieving.

•Your attitude and the way you handle repatriation will rub off because children take their cues from you. No matter what, be positive and optimistic around them – do your depression thing when they’re at school. Be real with your emotions but don’t dump on them when they come home.

3. Be available to listen for feelings.

Mother Daughter•A game we play often is called “HI/LOW”. Go around at the dinner table and have each member of the family share their high and low experience for the day. It’s amazing what we learn. We connect. We pray for each other. Inevitably the stress and strain turns to laughter. Try it.
•Go beyond what’s being said. All behavior communicates. Watch for any ‘out of ordinary’ behavior from your kids and then use it as launching to ask what’s going on in their heart and head.

4. Explore your new environment together.

•Until friends are made by your children, your family is all you have. Make it fun by taking in tourist attractions and other outings in the area. Encourage your child to bring along someone they have already met

There is no such thing as an easy repatriation. That’s reality! As you learn to handle it in a healthy way, it will be a stressful experience from which you learn and grow. A time of transformation both personally and as a family. You’ll look back one day and see your family’s resilience.

Becky Signature 2 (Matchullis-PC's conflicted copy 2014-11-13)



  1. bonnie burnett says:

    Excellent article! I’m saving it for the day we repatriate!

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