Repatriation problems and reverse culture shock are likely to plague you for a while. The effects of reverse culture shock are rather similar to the phases of culture shock you went through when you slowly became accustomed to living abroad. At first, during the honeymoon phase, you are simply happy about returning to a place you used to call home.
Then, however, comes the inevitable rejection – the sudden and persistent home-sickness for the expatriate lifestyle. Ideally, this should be followed by recovery and adaptation to your “new old” home. Unfortunately, this might take years for some.
Most expatriates will mainly focus on the hands-on issues that come with moving back to their home country – packing boxes, cancelling the rental agreement, sorting out flight tickets. Unfortunately, they often neglect emotional and intellectual preparations, often causing severe repatriation problems.
When Ingrid (47) had to repatriate for the second time, she wanted to make up for everything she had failed to do at the end of her family’s first international assignment. She had realized what an important part of repatriation saying farewell to your host country was:
We didn’t think about saying good-bye to Abu Dhabi when we returned to Oslo for the first time, and I suppose this was a mistake. Different repatriation problems hit us pretty hard. But now, after almost three years in Japan, we really wanted to get it right. I tried to buy presents for all the friends I’d made, to show them I cared and that I’d miss them. We also made definite plans to stay in touch, like a fixed date for a phone call once a month, not just a vague promise. And my husband and I as well as our three kids threw a big farewell party before cleaning out the flat.
Before Ingrid and her family actually left Japan and sent their belongings on the way, they also took the time for a brief holiday. “It was great to re-visit some of our favorite spots in Tokyo and Yokohama, off the beaten track, and to see some other, more touristy places we’d never managed to explore before. It eased the repatriation process a little bit and helped us all get away from the major and minor problems we had encountered.”
Moreover, Ingrid began to keep up with daily news and cultural developments in Norway when it was obvious that their repatriation from Japan was just around the corner. In this way, she started easing back into Norwegian culture and society before she actually arrived there. The transition was then less abrupt and the repatriation problems less severe. She and her husband Ansgar (50) also considered themselves lucky that their three children took the upheaval in their lives quite well, although there were a few teenage temper tantrums before and after their return to Oslo – but all in all, her family’s repatriation problems were minor thanks to the preparatory steps they’d taken.