One of my most profound and interesting life experiences occurred when I spent six months living and working in Dublin. Participating in the activities of daily life in an unfamiliar culture and forming close friendships with Irish colleagues and associates, I began to see the world from a different perspective. I felt that I was constantly learning new things, and I was eager to bring as much of this knowledge back with me as possible.
Yet coming home, as I was about to learn, would not be so easy. Indeed, reconnecting with friends and family after an extended stay abroad can be one of the difficulties of repatriating, along with other psychological and practical complexities of beginning a "new life" at home.
Coming home can seem deceptively simple-after all, the culture is familiar, as are the basic functions of moving back into one's home, enrolling children in school, and the like. Yet, many repatriating families experience a sense of alienation in their own country. The following timeline offers practical and psychological preparations as early as a year before repatriation to ensure a relatively smooth transition back home.
9-12 Months Prior to Repatriation
6-9 Months Prior to Repatriation
- Confirm the date of your repatriation (and your family's, if different) with home and host supervisors and HR, then inform colleagues, family, and friends.
- Notify HR of any dissatisfaction with vendors used in the initial move and your reluctance to have them assist you again.
- Discuss your upcoming repatriation with close friends at the host location; fellow assignees or those who have traveled extensively may have helpful insights.
- Plan ways to savor and celebrate your final months abroad.
- If suitable, keep a journal of changes and challenges you and your family experience.
1-6 Months Prior to Repatriation
- Schedule an exit interview with your host supervisor.
- Initiate a preliminary discussion with your home-country supervisor about newly acquired professional skills and how your experience will affect your job at home.
- Make a financial plan for your return (consider your out-of-pocket expenses in each location), and keep records of all reimbursable items for expense reports.
- Discuss with HR when to stop or reduce host-location salary payments to avoid accumulating host currency you will be unable to spend (and on which you will lose when converting back to home-country currency).
- Consult your tax adviser and HR regarding any tax requirements and other compliance issues to be resolved before you leave the host location.
- Discuss with HR any housing-related preparation-notifying the landlord, vacating your foreign residence, having the property inspected, reclaiming the security deposit, disconnecting utilities, and selling furniture and appliances.
- Notify the home-country property manager to vacate your residence of any tenants, or contact home-country HR if real estate services are necessary.
- Notify host schools of departure, recover deposits and fees, and obtain copies of records, recommendations, curriculum descriptions, and so forth. Likewise, notify home-country schools of reenrollment, fill out documentation, make deposits, and handle related activities.
- Cancel local club memberships and recover deposits or dues.
- Inform your spouse's employer and volunteer associations at the host location, and recover any unpaid salary. Also notify similar parties in the home country regarding availability to resume work or other activities.
- Arrange for return shipping of household goods (and pets) and removal of goods from storage.
- Confirm with the property manager that your residence will be ready for occupancy (or consult a home-finding service, if appropriate). If needed, arrange for temporary accommodations in both locations, according to company policy.
- Reserve seats and purchase air tickets for the trip home.
- Arrange to close local bank accounts and transfer funds to your home-country bank, but cancel renters' insurance on current local goods after you repatriate.
- Halt mail forwarding from home and begin mail forwarding from overseas when ready.
- Notify home and host supervisors, HR, and your tax adviser of home-country work and residential addresses, telephone/fax numbers, and e-mail addresses.
- Take advantage of available repatriation counseling.
- Set aside time to say goodbye to local friends and colleagues, making plans to stay in touch with those with whom you wish to keep in contact.
- Write a summary of your personal and professional experiences, considering how they apply to your "new" home life and affect your personal and professional goals.
- Gather mementos and photos to share with family and friends and to remind you of your experience.
- Discuss with your supervisor the overall assignment and its effect on your current job and future career, and how you now bring added value to your work.
- Complete and submit expense reports for relocation items.
- Stay in touch with your host-location friends and colleagues, as you wish.
- Seek out coworkers with similar experiences and consider forming a support group or seeking a mentor. Volunteer to give advice or meet with colleagues going abroad. Attend follow-up repatriation training and read about reverse culture shock.
- Continue language study begun while abroad. Subscribe to an international periodical. Investigate local organizations with a global focus to meet others who have lived abroad. Volunteer with immigrants, foreign nationals, or exchange students.
- Reflect on your individual and shared family struggles, successes, and things that now seem "foreign" at home. Share some of your journal observations with your family; write a memoir or a travel article for a local newspaper.
- Submit to HR a critique of your assignment, highlighting the best parts, along with constructive suggestions for program improvements.
Above all, treat repatriation as if you are embarking on a new assignment-to your own home! All the same practical preassignment details require your attention again, as everything done previously needs to be undone. Be aware that reverse culture shock may lead to a feeling that your home country is also a bit foreign. By planning ahead, keeping in close touch with key company personnel, and recognizing some of the practical and psychological challenges, you can prepare yourself to make the most successful transition possible.
Alexandra Tanski, a former senior expatriate representative for Global Employment Solutions (GEmS) at Ernst & Young LLP, is now an editor in the U.S. Equity Research Department of Salomon Smith Barney.
The article first appeared in Organization Resources Counselors, Inc.'s Expatriate Observer.