When my family and I first moved back to the U.S. after living in London for five years, people would often speak to me as if I had just spent the past few years of my life on a cruise ship. "Now that you're back, get ready to start driving your kids to practice all week." Get ready to start? When did I stop? I had not only been doing the usual sports practices, orthodontist appointments and trips to the ER, I did it all while driving on the left side of the road.
Some would equate my move back to their return home following a week in Florida the previous month. "I bet it's good to finally be home, right?" I would just answer with,"Yes, it is" and then proceed to ask the butcher for minced meat like someone who had just finished binge watching Downton Abbey. I'm sure people had the best of intentions but the truth was that it didn't feel like home to me. I had just left what I considered to be home. Not only did it not feel like home, I didn't even know how to live in the U.S. anymore. I was like a foreigner only I held a U.S. passport and spoke with an American accent.
Reverse Culture Shock after repatriating is very much a real thing. If you are moving back with kids, you'll face even more challenges. If you are moving back with teenagers then I suggest you keep your wine rack fully stocked. The expat life is an amazing gift we give our children but returning home has its share of hurdles. The challenges will differ for each person but the level of support that's needed upon the return home remains the same. Here are a few tips from someone who has been through it and came out the other side.
Give It A Full Year
Be patient with the adjustment period. Know that it takes at least a full year to adjust after living in an expat bubble. It's a mourning process in the truest sense of the word. You lost something you cared about and it can't be duplicated. You need to give yourself ample time to sort through the emotions.
Focus on the Positive
My Grandmother would say, "Take the good out of it." This is sound advice. No matter how much you loved the expat life, there are plenty of positive things to focus on after you return to your native country. Maybe it's the food, conveniences or shopping options. Maybe you were in a rented property abroad and can now enjoy the benefits of homeownership. There is always something positive to focus on.
Lean on Expat Friends Who Have Recently Repatriated
Repatriating can often be a very isolating process. Sometimes when you are in the midst of a really bad day, the only thing that will get you through is to talk to someone who has been there. Someone who "gets it." I remember I called an expat friend one day to get me through a particularly tough day. After explaining to her what I was going through she said,"I totally get it, it's like you just got off the Ferris Wheel and now you're just wandering around the amusement park aimlessly." That's just what I needed to hear that day. I needed my feelings validated. I needed to know that it was what everyone goes through upon their return.
Don't Give Up on Making New Friends
How easy is it to make friends in an expat community? It's so ridiculously easy to meet people that you can quickly get discouraged about the challenges of making new friends once you repatriate. I assure you that you will find new friends. Great people exist in every corner of the world. They are out there. If you don't connect with the first few people you meet then just move on to someone new. You just need to keep trying.
Stay Connected To Some Part Of The Expat Life
Find a way to stay connected to some aspect of the life you left behind. For me, my travel writing has been that resource but there are countless ways to stay connected. Join a women's group in your area, do volunteer work with a similar organization that you worked with abroad, find employment in a global industry or pursue a career related to international relocation. The options are endless. You'll find something that works for you.
Repatriating is no easy task, I'm not going to lie. It's unlikely you'll ever recreate the same type of tribe you had in the expat community. I assure you that over time you'll learn how to enjoy your "new" life back home while always keeping those years spent abroad tucked safely away in a special place in your heart. I'd love to hear what's helping you through the repatriation process. Please share your experience in the comments section below and just as we once helped one other make the adjustment as expats we can do the same as repats.
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