GOING HOME SERIES: 5 expectations to explore before expats return home

“How was your trip over there?” a sweet but not close friend asked me.

It was the fall of 2009, and I had just finished my two-week visit back to the states. Little did she know that for the 100th time, she asked me the same questions everyone else had. Even harder still, she had used the word ‘trip.’ This was my first visit back to the states after living 13 months abroad. In my mind, while not all of my earthly possession had accompanied me, I had entirely moved to another city and established myself there.

I learned early on not to be offended by the use of that word. In most people’s mind, my expat life and living arrangements were/are temporary. And in their minds, expats will forever belong to their native country and that time living in another country could be considered ‘extended travel.’ It can be hard to grasp that, just like Americans move to other states and it is not a ‘trip,’ so is moving to another country.

That story above is just one example of the vast amounts of interactions you will have with others as you visit your native country. Learning to manage your expectations for your return ‘home’ will be a significant benefit to you, and it doesn’t take that long.

Taking a half hour, evaluate the areas listed below, and consider how they apply to your life, family and friends and home country.

  1. Don’t expect your family will understand you.

    I write this being thankful that we, for the most part, have understanding, loving, and interested parents and family members. But I also know that most have NOT been to Turkey and for them to understand what our lives look like is not fair. You may find yourself frustrated or short tempered if they don’t remember things you have shared. Do you remember everything they have shared from their lives? Have grace and patience and consider starting from ground zero, re-explaining your live and stories you may have already shared. This allows for lots of room for understanding and especially room for them to hopefully tell you, “I remember you telling me about this!”
  2. Much has changed in your life, but maybe not theirs. In return, perhaps you are 3-4, 5, even 10 years into your expat years, but a lot more has changed for your friends back ‘home.’

    You may find yourself overloading the conversation with all your stories, triumphs and woes of moving abroad, but consider asking questions about their lives as well. While their lives look different, it is still as relevant. You may find that your friends back home have moved on and your ‘home’ country has drastically changed with time. For us, we visit my home state for two reasons, my brother and a couple of friends we consider families. But for the most part, our time is now spent in another state 14 hours away by car because our friends and rest of the family live there.Consider your ‘whys’ of visiting that area and make the most of the people who are left there. Otherwise, consider planning to visit those close, #1 friends that have moved away. I find seeing where they live and their lives in their new cities help keep a friendship going and deepens the relationship!
  3. Prepare for cultural and political transitions

    New presidents, rulers, political parties are bound to change out over time…as well as your opinion of them since moving abroad. Or perhaps, your expat country has had some interesting changes that others want to ask you about! Ask yourself how you feel about these new changes and how you will respond questions about it.
  4. Prepare and expect there to be uninterested parties.

    There are some reasons for this. Some people just don’t have interest in travel and other countries. More possible, they may not have the context or background to understand the culture and country. For others, and I hate to write this, returning expats may face jealousy from friends and loved ones. Consider how you will help others understand. How can you love those people even if you never discuss your life abroad? Interestingly enough, there are people I considered close friends who didn’t care at all about my overseas life. Eventually, I had to face the hard truth that maybe those friendship were great for a season, but aren’t great for this new season of life.
  5. Added family members change the atmosphere, maybe a new in-law or added children.

    Adding to your family will always change the dynamics! Consider when the best time is for you to travel home. Is it best to travel around the holiday, will everyone be able to get together, or are other times less stressful times?

How do you counteract this? Great question! 

Here are a few other tips to help you manage your expectations for reentry:

  1. Have you already notice friends or family that communicate last with you? Make a list of those who may need a little extra background to understand you better.
  2. Tell your life in small doses. Use images and stories to help others understand where you live. I use the phrase ‘show me, don’t tell me’ when trying to explain your culture to family and friends.
  3. For those family or friends who seem to be uninterested, figure out what you do have in common and start from there. Perhaps your words are changing their perspective on the world and will create a curiosity about your life!
  4. If you can, find a mentor couple or another family whose has previously lived abroad who wants you to share everything. Jason and I are fortunate to have a few families that have lived overseas, even in Turkey, before. We have found it much easier to express our joys and frustrations with them because they have once been where we are!

Bonus: Tell people how much you care for them. Yep! Seems a weird one on this list, but how many times do we forget to share how much others mean to us?

Here is your FREE worksheet to make sure you cover your expat visit home well!

Questions for you:

  • Are you an expat living in a foreign country? If so, where?
  • What expectation has been the hardest?
  • What would you add to this list?


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