Reverse culture shock can be the worst thing about returning from a stint abroad, but nurturing a continuing relationship with your expat country can help in surprising ways.
Zoey Ilouz, a native Californian, has been an expatriate in Israel twice.
Keen to experience her father’s country, she first moved there post-university (and post-break-up) to work for a non-profit. After three years she moved back to the US, in part because she craved the comforts of home. But repatriation, at the time to New York City, wasn’t smooth sailing.
It’s my country and I felt that I shouldn’t feel strange and out of place here – Zoey Ilouz
and within six months she was on a flight back to the Middle EastNow, at 30, Ilouz has decided to return to America and will be moving to Seattle to work for Hillel, a Jewish organisation that arranges trips to Israel. Based on her prior experience, she’s apprehensive about reverse culture shock, and she’s especially nervous about moving to a new city, where she won’t have a support network.
She advises asking yourself what elements of your expat experience and your new self you want to retain, and then working to incorporate these into your new daily life.
There’s much you can do to retain links with your former, short-term home to retain your new bicultural identity, Sussman says. “You can read the foreign newspaper, you can watch foreign movies, you can Skype with your friends.”
Several of those interviewed for this article met their spouses, had their children or experienced other significant life events while abroad.
The three stages of repatriation
You can go home again, but it takes some adjusting
1 Enthusiasm and excitement: you’re glad to be home, to reconnect with loved ones and colleagues and you create a buzz when you enter a room after a long time away.
2 Reverse culture shock: you experience stress fitting back into your old life, which can last six months to a year.
3 Acceptance and adjustment: you’ve established new routines, made some progress at work, re-established relationships and feel like you belong.
When it comes to children, Sussman says maintaining some sort of connection to the former host country might be especially important for some “third culture kids.” For many of these children, it’s important to remember that the time spent abroad might account for even more significant and formative portions of their lives and identity.
“When you’re an expat you generally have much more independence and responsibility than when you get back home and there’s a whole floor of people that you have to report to,” he says. “The position they go back to can feel diminished and lead to a lot of frustration. At the same time, other companies might love to hire someone with that experience.”
He ended up taking a job at a company that is looking to branch out into Asia, with his experience making him a more attractive candidate. Another perk? It will allow him to travel back to Hong Kong in the future.
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