Steps for Successful Repatriation


Steps for Successful Repatriation 

By Helen Watts 

Global Living Magazine – Issue 16 | Jan/Feb 2015

You’ve made the decision: you’re going home. It may be only a few hours away, but it can seem like another planet. As recently as the 1960s, chances are you would have traveled back home by boat – 4-6 weeks to think about how your posting had been and what you’d be going back to. Not such a bad idea, if you ask me. Now it’s changed: you get on a plane, and within a few short hours you’re back in your home country, and after a few short weeks everyone except you has forgotten that you were ever away.

The thing is, you haven’t forgotten! Being an expat, even for a short time, changes you from the inside out. Yes, you become adept at adapting to a new culture, but does that mean that adjusting back to your own will be easy?

Back on the boat, you would have had a chance to think. To re-evaluate and take stock: what have I gained from this experience; what am I taking with me; what is next? Unfortunately, you are denied this chance by modern transport, so you need to build it into your life before, during and after you return and adjust. In fact, I think moving back home provides a massive opportunity to do just that – re-address who you are and where you’re going next. Most people in our fast-paced world aren’t given the chance to stop and think and perhaps even step out of the rat race, even just for a short while. This puts you in a pretty unique position.

So, how can you make the most of your transition?

The first step is to look back.

How has your assignment been? What have been the challenges? How have you changed (emotionally, politically, mentally, spiritually, materially, etc.)? What have been the highs? What do you want to take with you from your time away? What do you need to leave behind? There are so many questions you could ask yourself; I’m sure you can come up with more. If you want to do it in a more structured way, find a professional to give you a personal debriefing. The military and mission sectors have been doing this for years, recognizing how much needs processing when someone comes ‘home’. Many other people could benefit too – debriefings are about giving people the chance to process the ups and downs of their placement in a non-judgmental space. They normally last 1-3 hours and many people find them invaluable.

The next step is to focus on the present.

What responsibilities and priorities do you have in your life – now that you’re back – that need attention? Perhaps there are extended family members who need reckoning in to your time and schedule, or elderly parents who you came back to help. Career. Finance. Health. Accommodation. Kids’ education. Friends. Leisure. If you move within your own country or change jobs, it’s likely that one or two of these priority areas will be imbalanced. When you return home after being overseas, you suddenly find that most areas of your life have been thrown into disarray – which is why it feels so unsettling and out of control at times. So take time to look at each of those areas and figure out what would you like them to look like, and how close you are to that ideal.

When my husband and I returned from Central Asia four years ago, we took time every couple of weeks to look at where we were and what was demanding our attention. We then thought about what we could do in each of these areas to make a small difference, so that we felt more in control and that we were moving in the right direction. We even set ourselves dates and times by which time we wanted to have done those things. It made a massive difference to how we felt about being unsettled – we felt purposeful and saw the chaos start to subside, while also acknowledging that some was exactly that: chaos.

The final step is to look to the future.

Coming home provides an amazing opportunity to mold what comes next – treat yourself to some dreaming: what do you want to do or have, and who do you want to be? Spend some time working out the life you had always dreamed of and work towards it. Try something new; make some changes. Find ways to make use of the new skills you’ve acquired. Invest in working with a life coach to help you work out the next phase. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the chance to rethink and make sure you’re on course to be more fully you in the next stage of life – even if you end up doing the same thing you’ve always done – but knowing that is the best place for you.

Before you even step on that plane, you can be looking back on your time abroad (ha, ha! I hear you cry, no time for that, packing and sorting to do!) – but even letting it mull in the background is a start; then make time and space once you’re back to be fully present to your priorities and look towards the future. Give it time – it will likely be exhausting and unsettling for a while – but seize the day. Make the most of this opportunity.

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