7 Tips For Surviving Life After Being An Expat

Remember why you came home.
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A View Over Hong Kong
Nikki Thomas
A View Over Hong Kong

As a career performance coach I work with a lot of clients who work globally and with that usually comes expatriation… and commonly repatriation.

In fact, I am a ‘repatriate’ myself after spending a stint in Hong Kong and now returning to the UK.

For two years I was in my element living the expat lifestyle, forgetting about the people I left behind. But when I was shipped home I found that I struggled. While I was away I imagined my friends and family at home to be frozen in time, but now they had children, new relationships, had changed social circles and effectively moved on without me. One friend didn’t invite me to her wedding because she had ‘forgotten’ I was back in the country.

I became very low once I got home realizing that the place I always considered as my ‘real home’ was no longer familiar. It was a huge culture shock.

As my expat friends started moving back to the UK I realized that they were all going through the same cycle as me. And that actually, this this is a common issue with all expats when/if they move back to the place they consider ‘home’.

I have 7 tips which I now always share with my clients to prepare them for the emotional journey they’re about to embark on:

Tip 1: Accept you may need to rebuild/cut relationships.

This can mean your Significant Other, but really this relates to friendships and acquaintances. You have changed… and so have they! No matter how much you may have had in common – even if you were Besties that Skyped every month – when you return to the motherland, things will never be the same.

You have different priorities and so will they. You may have made time for each other each month via Skype but when it comes down to you being in the same country or even same town it becomes harder to meet up. It doesn’t mean your friends don’t care, it’s just that you are so easy to see these days that strangely enough it also makes you easy not to see… if that makes any sense.

So you need to start again. Do not take any friendships for granted. Get to know your friends again. Listen to what they have been up to while you have been away and try to make time for them… but accept they need to get back into the routine of making time for you again.

Also, with getting to re-know your friends you may also now realise you have NOTHING in common. In that case accept that you are different and move on.

Tip 2: Be mindful of boasting.

When I came back to the UK I liked to remember the good things from Hong Kong. I must have driven my friends crazy with my tales of champagne brunches and boozy junk boats.

The thing is, everything you remember is glamourised and rose tinted. You may have had a wonderful time while you were away and want to tell anyone who will listen about how much better your old home was and why your new home doesn’t compare, but it gets old pretty fast to your listeners. In fact, most of your friends and family will inevitably ask you why you came home if it was so good being an expat… and that will make you question your return as well.

Which brings me to...

Tip 3: Remember why you came home.

It couldn’t just have been because work told you to. Think about it ― was it for family reasons, to settle down, to slow down, because you were home sick, because you love your home country, or maybe even the weather?

Think about it and write it down. Repatriation brings on a roller-coaster of emotions. They call it reverse culture shock for a reason! I came home because I loved London, I was home sick, I even missed having seasons… I was missing the UK weather!?

Having a notebook handy with reasons why I wanted to come home really helped me during the low times. It reminded me that I had made the right decision.

Tip 4: Explore your country again.

If you are struggling finding reasons for moving home then I suggest moving around the city and even the country. The UK is known for its beautiful countryside so I made a special effort to travel around to see friends in Dorset when I moved back. Just being near the sea and having time with people from my ‘old life’ made me grateful for being home. I also suggest becoming a tourist again. Go on a sightseeing tour or visit a museum. Read blogs or use Yplan and Fever apps to find events in your local area.

Tip 5: Speak to other Repats. Although pick ones who returned over a year prior to you, if possible.

As a happy repatriate I now speak to others who have just moved back (hence writing this article) and can give advice on the emotional rollercoaster. There are many of us around and we are all happy to help a fellow returner out.

However, be careful of this because if you speak to someone who has just come back themselves, chances are you will enter into a dialogue about how much your home has changed, how home sick you are and how much you want to go back to the expat life. This will then become a completely pointless exercise.

Tip 6: Make new friends.

There is nothing wrong with making new friends. In fact, as an expat you will be a Pro at this.

Also, if you have had to let a few friends go (after Tip 1) you may have some extra friend spaces to fill.

Websites such as Meet-Up (all expats know that one) are great for meeting new people and building a new community so don’t rule it out. You’ll meet so many new people aligned to your personality and hobbies.

Tip 7: Be true to yourself.

All of these tips are here to help you survive life after being an expat but it’s not a miracle cure.

It’s hard and it’s emotional but I knew I wanted to come home and it’s the best decision I made. However, some of the people I know hated coming back and after a year hopped back on a plane and went back to the expat life.

There is no right or wrong answer, so after a year (always try to give it a year) ask yourself if you are happy. If you really find that coming home was a big mistake then be honest with yourself. Accept it, we live in a world where many of us we can effectively (subject to the correct visa) live anywhere we want. We are so lucky and the most important thing is your happiness.

Good luck! And if you want to get in touch (as we all need support when going through repatriation) then please do feel free to contact me.

For additional career insights download Nikki’s 7 Super, Simple Secrets To Creating Your Dream Career cheat sheet HERE.

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