I first heard the word reentry after I returned from my third international assignment. I realized it would have made a huge difference for me if someone could have said, “Don’t worry, everything you are feeling is perfectly normal. You are still in transition and reentry is part of the process”! Even after I learned about reentry and understood why I was having difficulty, I still needed to be reminded to allow myself time to adjust!
So what is the big fuss about reentry? When you accepted the opportunity to live in another country, you expected some degree of “culture shock” or disorientation because you were living in an unfamiliar culture. But when you return “home”, you expect things to run smoothly! After all, you are returning to a familiar way of life, surrounded by people you know and love. These people share a similar set of values! Or do they?
Home may now feel more foreign than living abroad. You have been off on a life changing adventure! You have shifted and changed in ways you may not even be aware of—until you return home. While you were away, “home”, along with friends and family members, also were shifting and changing.
When you came home to visit, you were likely met with “rock star” attention for the short time you were there. Returning “permanently” is different. It means settling into a day-to-day routine which can be a bit of a letdown.
After what may be a short “honeymoon” period, you can find yourself becoming frustrated with friends and coworkers. Initially everyone seemed interested in your pictures and stories but now they seem to have lost interest, changing the subject or cutting you off. What is going on? How do you fit in with these people? What has happened to them? When will life return to normal?
Even going out for dinner can be a frustrating event that leaves you wondering what is happening. While living in another country, you may have become accustom to going out to dinner “for the evening”. You sit and have a leisurely conversation without interruption and the bill only arrives after you request it. If other customers arrive without reservations, they are asked to return another evening because “the restaurant is full”. In the US “good service” in a restaurant is often equated with quick service. The wait staff is expected to check in frequently to see if everything is fine and to quickly remove individual plates that are empty. They then quickly deliver the bill so the next party can be seated. Quite a contrast in experiences and expectations!
Just knowing that “reentry’ challenges are a normal part of the transition process can be very helpful. Tricia and her team at Collaborative Connection can help you reframe what is happening. They can help you draw upon the many skills you developed overseas to manage the experiences and feelings you are having at home. These are just a few of the factors we can explore as we plan together for your smooth reentry.
- How long were you away?
- How different was your host culture from your home culture?
- Did you pursue the opportunity to live abroad or were you assigned?
- Did you request or plan to return home or did someone else make that decision for you?
- How immersed were you in the culture?
- Did you stick mainly with an expat community?
- Were you deeply involved in the host country’s culture?
- Were you located in a small rural village with limited language skills?
- Were you living in a large city like London where you understood the language?
- What was your status abroad? At home? (i.e. Sometimes leaders are free to make autonomous decisions abroad, yet return to positions that require minimal problem solving skills, etc.)
How can you incorporate all you have learned into your future? What are some possibilities for using your language skills or cultural knowledge? What is the best way to nurture new relationships and rebuild old ones? How can you utilize your newly acquired cultural competencies at work or school and at home? The Collaborative Connection Team has both insight and experience to support your through the many challenges of reentry.