Repatriation – Easy? Not really

My intention for this blog initially, was to focus primarily on writing, but each week, I find myself reflecting on my family’s move back to Sweden. I have read several articles on the subject of repatriation, one in particular from the Wall Street Journal, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123745981080883001 in which it makes clear that most people find moving back home to be more difficult than moving abroad. This was echoed in the cross-cultural course that my husband and I took prior to our move three and a half years ago.

The problem is that those at home, who haven’t experienced the same, tend to think it’s no big transition to move back – after all, it’s home, you should be used to it. Of course, when we first arrived, most people asked the proverbial, “how does it feel to be back?” However, as the weeks rolled past, the question disappeared altogether. Certainly no one has asked five months later. Why? Don’t they realize it’s only a honeymoon stage when you first return? No, of course not. They don’t know that. They haven’t gone through it themselves unless they’ve lived abroad. Perhaps this is why very few people have asked us how we’re doing now.

I’m beginning to understand that in order to combat the loss that is creeping into your skin as the months roll past, you begin to crave interaction with others who have experienced moving back home. Perhaps this is why we’ve noticed our son shifting his attention to classmates who have also moved abroad and finding a natural connection to them.

BUT — and it’s a big but. Although I have found several articles on expats and what to do when you return home, I have yet to find a single article on what to do if you are returning home to a country that really isn’t your home at all. Rather, it’s the home of your husband, the home away from home, the place you thought was home until you stirred things up by moving abroad again — only to come back and find that what you thought was home, you’re not so sure about anymore. The length of that sentence surely mirrors the confusion of it all. Yet if you go back to your real home, your birth country, the country you grew up in, you know darn well that you’ve lived away so long that it doesn’t feel like home either. So, again the conundrum returns. You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Hence, my blog post last week. Perhaps I need to keep in mind Pico Iyer’s words that “Where you come from is becoming much less important that where you’re going.” Though this is one way of looking at it, we all crave being understood. I had tea recently with an American who had just returned to Sweden after several years of being back in her homeland. Prior to that, she had lived in Sweden. Like me, she is married to a Swede. The simple joy in that meeting was in not having to say a single word about the experience if we didn’t want to, we knew. We knew how the other felt. We knew the tiny losses that snowball into something more. Even though both of us are happy with the choice to move back, that lingering feeling of sadness, sitting there like a wallflower at a high school dance while the perfectly satisfied parts of you are dancing up a storm, doesn’t go away.

Is there a cure to this dilemma? You can’t make the people around you understand if they haven’t moved abroad. Certainly, no one wants a sourpuss at a party. Somehow over time, you gravitate toward others who have been through the same. It’s not a question of misery loves company but rather a soft place to settle. I am blessed with such a diverse set of friends, many who are living abroad permanently, who have, like I had, settled into a comfortable life. I have all the best ingredients; a happy marriage, great kids and wonderful friends in just about every port so it seems. So why all this disorientation? I suppose it comes with the territory, it comes with being vulnerable. I suppose in some twisted way, it’s what keeps me ticking. It’s what keeps life exciting and fresh for me – always trying to find new bits about me.

Looking out my window seeing the first snowfall this season, I can’t help but compare myself with one of those snowflakes out there, happily falling but just a little confused in finding the right place to settle.

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4 thoughts on “Repatriation – Easy? Not really

  1. I understand. 16 years ago I came “home”. I think it was made a little easier by coming to a new city and making new friends. It was almost like a new expat world again.

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    • That’s a really good point, Susan. By moving to a new city in your “home” country, that period of adjustment would be cushioned as the family relies on each other in the way you do when you first move abroad. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. Beautifully and poignantly put, Susan! What huge adjustments you and your family have had to make — which, of course, are full of excitement, but also many losses.

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    • Thank you, Steph. I think it must be quite difficult for those who cannot pinpoint their frustrations when they return “home”. Everything might feel fine or normal, but with a tiny nagging itch they can’t quite reach. It’s helpful to reflect through writing though.

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