Repatriation and the Reverse Culture Shock

Imy Clarke - On behalf of Alchemy Recruitment, May 7, 2014

Repatriation is something many expatriates can view with mixed feelings; excitement, happiness, anticipation, nervousness. Going back should be easy, but often it’s not what we expect.

There’s family and friends you may not have seen since your assignment began, which could be years ago. The places you used to live, grew up or spent time at will be near you once again. Coming home can be as much a cultural shock as going away.

Global assignments can often last for years, sometimes even decades, and when this is the case repatriation can have as much of the psychological trauma as expatriation. After such a long period of time things will change; places will be different, people’s relationships will have moved on and home might no longer feel like it once did. This can lead to Reverse Culture Shock. Suddenly expats who had grown so accustomed to new cultures and lifestyles, find their own difficult. There can be feelings of alienation, homesickness and even boredom. Local sports teams, TV personalities, shops and road networks can be very different to when you first left. Since this was a place you used to know so well, these changes can be very unnerving.

Most often, reverse culture shock only comes about if the repatriation isn’t expected and happens earlier than planned for professional or personal reasons. Whether expected or not, there are ways to prevent reverse culture shock.

By keeping close contact with family and friends while away, moving back to them becomes easier as you already have an established network of people waiting for you. The repatriation process also becomes much easier if you have a place of your own, somewhere that you can fill with familiar items and allows you to reintegrate into home life on your own terms. Ultimately deciding to go back is through choice, even if you feel compelled to return, so upon repatriation don’t live like you’re still abroad. Embrace culture; food, music, sport or anything else that defines where you live. By maintaining a sense of your own culture while living as an expat, returning home is far less daunting.

If there’s proof that repatriation can be a smooth process, then you need look no further than UN adviser Ruth Bamela Engo. She made the move back to Cameroon after 20 years of life in New York. Despite missing basic essentials, such as constant water or electricity that Westerners take for granted, her move back home was enjoyable due to the family and home already waiting for her. She still maintained close contact with her culture, particularly the African Cup football. She made a difficult repatriation from metropolitan New York to third-world Cameroon with complete success; a role model for any expat moving home.
In her own words: “The knowledge we acquire from other parts of the world is useless if we do not invest in our own communities. Whether we live here or there, the commitment to our own base boosts not only national, but personal, dignity.” Food for thought.

Posted in categories: Culture & Languages
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