By Sherry L. Read
Leaving home? Surely this is a mistake; repatriation is about going home, or even coming home. Or is it?
If you expatriated with a major multinational, it is likely that the company sent you and your family for relocation orientation. Only recently have firms begun to arrange for h repatriation orientation. After all, why should they? You're going home. You've probably been home at least once a year during your assignment. This should be easy.
Study after study indicate that more than 60% of repatriates find reverse culture shock, the shock associated with returning home, equal to or greater than the culture shock at assignment. Linked with this is the staggering proportion, typically quoted in the range of 50% to 75%, of assignees who move to another company within 18 months of their return.
Planning for your repatriation, reflecting on your experiences and clarifying your expectations will help you reduce reverse culture shock. You can "leave home" and "come home" with new perspectives and energy.
You settled into your host country. Generally, this occurs after the first home leave. While you may have continued to be intrigued or baffled by the cultural and business differences, you were no longer doing battle against them on a daily basis. You may even have reached the stage where the flip answer to "Where is home?" was "here". Your host country became your home.
Moving back to your home country represents another disruption. In a family, responses often range from "how soon?" to great sadness. More often, each family member will have a range of feelings as they consider what they are looking forward to and what they may seem to be losing.
Consider the following steps to ease your repatriation.
1. Take time to acknowledge what you have learned or done.
Post a timeline covering the announcement of your assignment to your return date. Place markers nearby. Ask family members to write or draw on the timeline key events that had meaning to them. Examples might be going-away parties, visits home, visitors, vacations, school/work/sport milestones, language blunders, new skills, and friends moving away. Try to involve everyone. Set aside a time to look at, talk about, laugh about, and even feel sad about what has passed.
2. Recognize what will change.
Create a chart with two columns - "I Will Miss ..." and "I Look Forward To ...". Invite each member of the family to add comments, pictures and graphics. Set aside a time to talk about what is on the chart. Brainstorm ways to address the things that will be missed. Develop a specific plan to ensure that losses are handled in some way within the first 90 days of your re-entry.
3. Identify elements of your expat life you want to hold onto back home.
The expatriate lifestyle may have allowed more leisure time, more interesting travel, more varied food, or less home responsibilities. Hold a family meeting to consider what you want to hold onto back home. When appropriate, solutions should be offered for consideration. When everyone has contributed, work together to find a solution. Make sure that everyone is prepared to listen respectfully and keep an open mind.
4. Plan your Good-byes.
Time passes quickly with preparations for the move in both countries. Spend a few minutes individually and as a family to consider who you want to see to say good-bye, who needs to be involved, and when it can happen. Otherwise, you will find yourself on a plane feeling like there were areas left undone. Take time within your first month to re-establish contact with your friends and colleagues. You are the one that moved, you must be the one to reach out.
To recap, repatriation is not as simple as getting on the plane and going home. Reflection, planning, noting the changes in you and your family will go a long way in helping you avoid reverse culture shock.
Copyright 2007 Sherry L. Read, all rights reserved