According to a recent article published in The Telegraph, coming home after a long stay overseas can be just as stressful as moving to a foreign country. While expatriates expect to experience some level of culture shock when they go on an international assignment, most repatriates do not expect any reverse culture shock and therefore do not seek any support in the form of repatriation training or coaching for themselves or their family.
This reverse culture shock is all the more distressing because no one sees it coming. Expatriates fully expect to be confused and frustrated in a new cultural environment, but not in their home environment where they know the local customs so well. Returning to their own culture of origin can be more stressful and have more unexpected consequences than a transition into the unfamiliar.
When reality sets in and repatriates realise that things have changed, the initial excitement of returning home quickly disappears and is often replaced by feelings of anxiety, stress and a sense of loss. These negative feelings can stem from a number of different factors including :
Social Step Down
Many expatriates living in another country experience life at a higher level than they may at home. In other words, they may have a cleaner or a nanny or they may have opportunities for adventures, shopping or treatments that they would not have been able to afford at home. As such, readjusting to their normal standard of living upon repatriation may create negative emotions.
Lack of Interest from Family and Friends
Most expatriates have lots of opportunities for some really amazing adventures. They explore another part of the world and may have funny stories about what they ate or people they met. After some time the level of interest that people may have had in your adventures may decline, leaving many repatriates feeling inadequate and or irrelevant. This is especially true for those friends and family members who have no experience of cross-cultural interactions and therefore struggle to understand the true dimension of life in a foreign culture.
Expatriates often expect things at home to be the same as they left them so are often surprised or disappointed when they discover that things have changed. Their home culture may suddenly seem simple or unsophisticated after experiencing a wider multicultural world. Issues that previously seemed important may appear petty in comparison to the overseas experience. Repatriates need to remember that while they have changed significantly during their international experience, it is likely that their home country would have changed too.
Reverse culture shock is often exacerbated by the lack of information available to repatriates. There is a large discrepancy between the amount of information and assistance available to prospective expatriates and that available to repatriates. While there are countless books and websites devoted to giving advice to expatriates about adapting to the host culture and dealing with culture shock, there is not very much information available about reverse culture shock leaving many repatriates open to the challenges of adjusting to life back home.
Readjusting to their former way of life may take some time and returning expatriates may experience various stages of reverse culture shock as part of the readjustment process. Repatriates may go through a period of maladjustment characterised by high levels of irritability and nostalgia for their ‘new’ culture. Specialised repatriation training can provide the necessary skills repatriates need to cope with their return to their country of origin. Repatriation training will also highlight what returning expatriates can expect in terms of their own feelings as well as some of the possible scenarios they may encounter upon their return including:
- Recognising a change in their own personal values and attitudes and how they now differ from what people are used to
- A lack of appreciation by friends, family or colleagues for the knowledge and skills they have developed while abroad
- The low level of interest from friends, family or colleagues in their international experiences and adventures
- Change in status and lifestyle
It’s important that expatriates mentally prepare themselves for their international assignment, but it can be even more important for them to prepare themselves before returning home. Being aware of and expecting reverse culture shock and the time it will take to readjust to their home culture can help repatriates to develop more useful coping mechanisms. Participating in a repatriation training course will ensure that repatriates have a smoother reintegration into their local culture and a better chance of being able to apply their new knowledge and skills to their social and professional life. With the right preparation, repatriates can really feel like ‘there’s no place like home’.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2011