Why Do Expats Fear Coming Home?

Living the expat dream is a lifestyle choice that many people would seize if they had the opportunity. The chance to experience different cultures, climates and lifestyles is a prospect too exciting to ignore, and with international travel and trade opening up employment opportunities across the globe, the global expat population is estimated to rise from 66.2m last year to 87.5m in 2021.  

Written exclusively for Expat Network by Caroline Walmsley, Global Head of HR, AXA – Global Healthcare

 

But what happens when the adventure comes to an end and it’s time to go home? For many, it’s an experience which can prove just as challenging as relocating in the first place. Many often overlook this feeling – why would someone be worried about returning to a lifestyle and a country in which they’ve happily lived before?

Below are some of the common worries those returning from a spell abroad may encounter, and how expats can address these.

 

1. Logistics

While many would expect the process of moving abroad to be difficult, returning to your home country can be just as challenging. With a to-do list that might include reclaiming a property that was rented during your time abroad and shipping clothes and furniture back home, as well as updating financial arrangements and securing access to transport, the process can quickly become overwhelming.

If you’re returning from a work assignment, many companies will offer support, so it’s worth checking with HR to see what help, advice or processes are in place to help make the transition a little easier.

In any case, investigating your options sooner rather than later will help you to organise logistics and get a grasp of everything you need to arrange.

 

2. Re-acclimatisation

Returning to something you’ve left behind can be surprisingly challenging. It’s easy, if not comforting, while living abroad to imagine that things at home are just as you left them, and expats can be surprised to find that time has marched on when they return. Friendship groups may have changed, colleagues might have moved to another department or even to another company, the working environment may have changed, and family responsibilities will evolve. Don’t rush the process, give yourself time to adjust to your new surroundings.

Before you return, make a list of all the things you enjoyed about the country you’re about to return to and make a conscious effort to embrace those once you’ve settled back in. You’ll soon fall back into a routine.

 

3. Cultural differences

Even for expats who spent their whole lives in their ‘home’ countries before taking on an international assignment, coming home can still require some adjustment. Even old commutes, for example, might suddenly seem more demanding than before – if you’ve got used to using the MRT in Singapore, returning to the Tube in London will be a very different experience. Likewise, driving in snowy weather can suddenly seem more daunting than it used to be after a couple of years’ driving in a warmer country. These challenges can ultimately contribute to a sense of ‘culture shock’, causing you to feel distracted as you re-familiarise yourself.

Speak to family and friends back home about some of these differences to remind yourself that it isn’t so unfamiliar after all. If you’re concerned about how these changes could affect your wellbeing or mental health, try to make sure you have a support network in place, whether that’s at home or someone you can speak to in the workplace.

 

4. Political changes

It’s difficult to imagine now, but just three years ago, nobody had ever heard the word, ‘Brexit’. Whilst returning to a country with a markedly different political environment to that which was in place when they left might not have a significant impact on your day-to-day role. But, if you haven’t been keeping up to date with political changes, consider putting a bit of time aside to research what’s changed in your home country and how it might impact you on your return.

Politics is, of course, a matter of personal opinion, but it’s worth speaking to your employer about how any government announcements might impact your role or the company.

 

5. Job concerns

Returning to an old workplace can be daunting. Whilst you may know the role and the culture, colleagues move on and team dynamics change. There’s also the role. If you’ve been away for three or five years, will your old role still be there? Will it have evolved? Will it be as fast-paced or carry as much responsibility as it did before? Have an open dialogue with your new manager so you can understand what job you’re returning to do. This means any potential issues can be ironed out in advance, lessening the impact of change. Once you know exactly what role and team you’ll be returning to, you can start to look forward to getting stuck back in.

Whilst it may seem easier to return home than leave in the first place, the process can come with its own challenges. The reality is that the fear of change can be stronger than that of the unexpected. My advice would be that communication is key. Keep talking – whether that’s to your friends, family, colleagues, managers or HR leaders in both countries. Share any concerns or questions straight away so you can start to prepare for your return. Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations and never leave them to the last minute. It will pay off in the long run.