In a recent article published in the Telegraph, Annabel Kantaria, a British expat living in Dubai, talked about the delight of coming back home from an international assignment. From the reassurance of being on streets with more disciplined drivers to the joy of seeing the milkman delivering milk bottles every day, Annabel’s joy of being back in the UK is genuine.
Coming back home will often bring with it the joys of comforting things like Annabel’s examples but there are many challenges as well that returning expatriates need to overcome. Re-adapting to their home country after being away for a year or more can be difficult and confusing for former international assignees.
Catching up with friends, rediscovering familiar places and enjoying things such as food or weather can be a true joy for international assignees that have been away from home for a while. However, this feeling of joy can be dampened by challenges which often surface after this initial period of uninterrupted bliss.
Developing cultural skills and knowledge before an international assignment is increasingly recognised as a necessity in order to effectively deal with the cultural differences. After an international assignment, however, most people don’t think about the changes or cultural differences they will find on their return home and therefore they don’t do anything to prepare themselves for them.
In fact, most expatriates returning from long term assignments find that the environment they were so familiar with has changed while they’ve been away. This often results in feelings of confusion or frustration when they see that they have missed things during the years of their international assignment.
Simple things like not seeing friends who have moved away or being unable to go to a favourite pub because it no longer exists can have a major impact on returning expatriates. Re-adapting to the cultural habits, traditions and even values in the home country after experiencing a different culture on their assignment can also be challenging and make them feel like a stranger in their own country.
Many returning expatriates also face challenges getting back into their professional life. Former international assignees sometimes find it hard to get recognition for the success they have achieved abroad. Often the skills they have developed by working with other cultures are also underestimated and unappreciated by their manager. The lack of recognition and under appreciation can lead to frustration and hinder the re-adaptation process.
How can returning expatriates cope with these challenges of re-adjusting to their home country after being away for so long? Staying in touch with their friends, families and former colleagues through virtual communication can be a good start to ensure that they are not forgotten. Too often the expression ‘out of sight, out of mind’ holds true for international assignees on an expatriation. Returning home once in a while is another good way to avoid a challenging reverse culture shock.
Professionally, returning expatriates can also assess their skills and discuss the experience they have gained with their manager on a regular basis so they see how they are developing throughout the assignment and are ready to welcome them home and harness their new skills and knowledge.
Communicaid’s cross cultural repatriation training programmes can also help returning expatriates to cope with reverse culture shock and the process of readjusting to their personal and professional life in their home country. Repatriation trainingwill help former expatriates and their family members discover the hidden challenges of coming back home and any aspects of the culture which may have changed since they lived there. Cross cultural training provides excellent opportunities to discuss any specific concerns about coming home and provides a full update on any changes to the home country since leaving.
Staying in touch, returning for home visits and cross cultural repatriation training courses are just some of the key things returning expatriates can do to reduce the impact of reverse culture shock and ensure their experience of coming home is filled with more joyous things like seeing the milkman every morning.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010