What is “Expat Shock” and How To Deal With It

We tend to associate culture shock with countries that are very foreign to us. You’re sure to experience culture shock when moving to China, Brazil, or France; after all that’s part of the expat experience. But rarely do we consider the culture shock that can come with moving back to your home country after years overseas. Sometimes repatriating can feel like more of a struggle than moving to the other side of the world once was! Are you considering moving back home? Have you moved back and found it hard to explain your struggle to fit into what should be your native culture? Then read on to learn more about expat shock and pick up a few tips for how to deal with the inevitable migration back to your home country.

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Going home and spending time with your family and your real friends keeps you grounded. – Jennifer Ellison

There are things about home that we expats will always look at with a certain amount of nostalgia. Whether it be a type of food you can’t find overseas, or the feeling of driving in your very own car, we all have the things we miss. However, when we’re suddenly thrown back into our native culture where these things are at our beck and call, we find we’re not so sure we really wanted them all too badly in the first place! One of the best ways to make sure you aren’t completely derailed by this sort of expat shock is to go home regularly.

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? And it is! You may choose to buy a property in your home country and spend your holidays there, or simply travel home to stay with friends or family whenever you’ve got the time. If you visit your home country as frequently as you can it won’t feel as if you’ve really gone away, and this can make moving back a much easier transition.

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“You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed with sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes.” ― Ernest Hemingway

No one says it better than Papa Hemingway who was perhaps one of the most famous expatriates of the Lost Generation, right? But then, maybe there’s no need to be this dramatic. Living abroad certainly won’t ruin you, but it will make it difficult for you to assimilate back home. After moving back you may find yourself plagued with any of the following expat shock symptoms: boredom, feelings of alienation, feelings that no one understands, reverse homesickness, and the struggle to apply knowledge you’ve picked up abroad. If you feel any of these things, there’s no need to despair, you really just need to talk it out!

Find a supportive friend or family member who won’t mind lending a listening ear to your reminiscing of life abroad. You can also write articles about your experiences or start your own blog so you have a place to vent about the many emotions that come with moving home again. Even better, find other former expats who are going through exactly what you are and swap war stories. It’s a good feeling to know you’re not going through this alone.

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“Sometimes I long to forget… It is painful to be conscious of two worlds.” ― Eva Hoffman

Something that can be incredibly detrimental to expats returning home is the feeling that they’ve somehow been left behind while the world has moved on. There’s a great temptation to expect everything to be the way it was when you left it all those years ago, but the reality is that friends and family will have moved on with their lives much in the same way you did when you moved abroad. The best solution to this problem? Don’t have any expectations.

Approach moving home the way you would when you’ve moved to a completely foreign country. Plan in the same way you would if you were moving to Tokyo or Delhi or Munich for the first time: expect culture shock, expect to feel isolated, expect to struggle with not understanding how the system works. Don’t harbor any expectations for your new life, instead take it as it comes and understand that moving back home can be just as foreign an experience as moving anywhere else in the world.

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Are you a former expat who has repatriated? If so, what are some tips for dealing with expat shock?