Home-coming blues can be a surprising problem after living overseas

Returning to your home country after living overseas for years can be more difficult than settling in to a country where you moved. It is a sort of reverse culture shock that actually most people experience when they move back to their home countries. A survey indicates that even 80% of people returning home had harder time readjusting to their home country than to the country where they had moved earlier.

couple moving in to an apartment, packing boxes around BBC has interviewed experts who have researched the problems with repatriation. For instance, Nan Sussman, a professor of psychology at the College of Staten Island, says: “Prepare before you come home by talking about how you’ve changed. Sometimes change and adaptation happen gradually and it’s helpful to spend a little time reflecting on the changes you’ve made during your time abroad.”

It is remarkable how many corporations that send professionals and managers to overseas assignments, typically for a couple of years, have training programs for coping in the new home country. There are programs for family members as well, who may get language and cultural training. I have never heard of a program that would prepare expats to cope with the problems of returning home.

Experts recommend keeping in touch with the friends and colleagues of the overseas home country after returning home. This way, adopted things and customs, like food or language, bring positive memories to the life in the home country after settling in.

The fact is that your original home country feels a little strange even if you are away for a couple of years. The longer you are away, the stranger it will feel. It won’t help much if you occasionally visit your home country while living overseas, because a visit is not the same as actually living in a place. Many people returning home would love to talk about their overseas experiences, but it is amazing how few people pay any attention to the stories from abroad.

A survey indicates that 80% of Japanese, 71% of Finnish, 64% of Dutch and 60% of American managers had a harder time readjusting to their home country after returning than settling in their host country abroad. Home-coming blues is very real and can lead to depression according to the experts.

Another consequence from returning to the home country, especially for corporate expats, is that they tend change jobs. It is common that the home organization doesn’t quite realize the value of skills and knowledge an expat has picked up while working overseas. Other companies may be looking for those skills, and are keen to hire a professional who has learned, for instance, the culture of Nordic countries, or basics of an Asian language.

What can a home returning traveler or expat do to avoid homecoming blues?

    Maintain connections and relationships to the country where you lived.
    Find work that lets you use the skills and knowledge you learned overseas.
    Re-establish relationships with friends, relatives and colleagues in the home country. This can be very difficult, and eventually, a few old friends will be lost.

Surprisingly many travelers and expats who have lived overseas, make the move again after living in the home country for a while. BBC has interviewed a New Yorker who stayed only six months in her home city before embarking on another period of overseas work. She moved back to the country where she had lived before, but many move to another country that is familiar to them.


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