What to Expect When Returning Home

A lot goes into planning for an assignment abroad. Most people are aware of potential culture shock, research possible pitfalls, and are eager to gather information about their new home.

Often, the other side of the coin – repatriation – comes up with much less fanfare. When an assignee is returning to their home country, how could there be problems? It’s their home, after all.

Surprisingly, reverse culture shock can hit as hard as the initial surprise of living in a new country, and it may have even greater impact because often people don’t prepare for it. You may feel out of step with old friends and their latest accomplishments. You yourself may have changed during your time overseas and feel frustrated that others don’t seem to appreciate your new outlook. Moving back to your native country may even have you seeing your previous home abroad with rose-colored glasses, and your native country measures up unfavorably.

I dealt with all these things when moving back from Japan. I missed the food, my friends, the wonderful public transportation. I missed the international community of Tokyo. In some cases, I even missed knowing what was going on:  popular U.S. apps like Venmo and hit T.V. shows that weren’t licensed overseas weren’t a part of my life. But gradually I adjusted. Being unable to see friends was balanced by being able to see family. I found Asian grocers so I could cook the food I couldn’t find. I don’t think I’ll ever get over not having good public transport, but it’s something to look forward to when I go back to visit.

Another thing that’s helped is getting involved in local intercultural events. You may wish to volunteer teaching ESL or your second language if you’ve become fluent, reach out to international friendship societies, or offer to show local scouting groups souvenirs and pictures from your time abroad. As a global citizen who has experienced not just visiting but living in a different culture, you can bring a valuable perspective and help others find a place in our international world. Giving back is one of the best ways to turn the negatives of reverse culture shock into a positive for both you and your community.

If you’re preparing for repatriation, or just want some ideas for when the time comes, Living Abroad has you covered with “Cultural Adjustment” resources, one of many valuable sections in the International Relocation Center.


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Written by Kate Havas, Content Manager