The homecoming experience, which is part and parcel of the whole expat experience, doesn’t generate the same excitement and thrill of the new that you feel when you’re embarking on an adventure, but the emotions are no less powerful. Your return home will spark different reactions among family and friends, just like when you told them you were moving abroad: joy, relief, disappointment, sadness or anger…it’s another change that will require careful planning!
Planning your departure: the first stage of the return home
The circumstances of your homecoming will influence how you feel about it. There are three key factors that will make the move easier or more difficult:
Whether or not it’s your own decision to come home
The length of time you’ve been living abroad
How well you’ve kept in touch with the friends and family you left behind.
Each homecoming experience is different, depending how these elements come together.
Leaving a place you’ve lived in is a kind of separation: it’s good to be able to mark the goodbyes or adieux and create affectionate memories that you can hold onto. The leaving party, for adults as much as for children, is highly emotional and symbolic. As a social and emotional indicator of what you’ll be leaving behind, it can help you prepare for feelings of loss and compensate for absence through valuable expressions of gratitude and gifts that you can take with you.
Preparing to feel different
You and your family will have changed, as living abroad tends to stimulate changes in identity (to varying degrees depending on the length of time spent abroad and the cultural differences you’ve embraced) but life in your home country will have evolved too. Friends and family will also be different and feelings of not quite being on the same wavelength, mixed up with a lack of understanding, may be strong and hurtful. The inevitable feeling of “foreignness” when you experience it for the first time in your own country always comes as a surprise. That’s why it can be helpful to talk to children, at a family meeting for example, about how they might, quite naturally, experience a sense of not belonging in the early days of the homecoming. By understanding these feelings, the children will come to accept their situation.
The homecoming as a family project
Planning a homecoming project as a family can generate positive energy. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages, the hopes and fears of each family member. You should also talk about the feelings of happiness it will bring, about looking forward to seeing friends and family again and the end of a life cycle, if this is the case. Encourage them to be curious to learn from others but also to share aspects of their old life with them. And if your return home wasn’t by choice, decide how you can work together to make a success of this period of transition. What can you do to help with the feelings of missing the life you’ve left? It might be a weekly meal of the “local” cuisine, joining a cultural association or a language or sports club linked to that country or organizing practical ways of keeping in touch with the friends you left behind ... Sometimes relocating to a place with an international feel can make for a softer landing.
Live in the now
The important thing is to be satisfied with life as it is now, while holding on to all the precious memories of past experiences and taking strength from them in more challenging times. The return to your home country may be one of the most challenging stages in the expatriation cycle, but it’s fortunately short-lived. The ability to adapt, which you developed during your time abroad, will help you get your bearings and invest in your day-to-day life.