Wednesday 29th June 2011

Returning home can be as stressful as moving overseas

When they first hear that they will be moving overseas many expatriate parents spend a great deal of time planning their move abroad and ensuring that every member of their family is mentally prepared for the challenges that await. However, while they dedicate a great deal of time and attention to ensuring that their children have a positive experience of life overseas, as soon as they become aware of the fact that we will be returning home they often make the fatal assumption that the challenges are over. Are they?

Repatriation can be just as emotionally demanding and stressful as moving overseas and parents who overlook the impact that it can have on their children’s emotions do so at their peril. Many children suffer from severe reverse culture shock when they are planted back in their home environment and symptoms associated with expat child syndrome can resurface in the form of depression, withdrawn behavior and difficulties at school.

In order to assist you children to re-assimilate it is important that you begin by recognizing that your children have changed. During their time overseas your children may have altered their perceptions of the world and, in some cases, may even have changed their fundamental belief systems. Meanwhile, however, life at home will largely have remained unchanged and your children will face the significant challenge of trying to fit their new personae into their old environment.

How to spot that your child is having difficulties repatriating

Look for the following symptoms and behaviors:

  • Your child complains that other children tease of make fun of them.
  • Your child feels frustrated that they can no longer do the things they did in their host country.
  • Your child maintains close ties with their friends in their host country but doesn’t seem to be able to make new friends or reignite old friendships back home.
  • Your child becomes quiet and no longer gets involved in some of the school activities that they have typically loved.
  • You child continually criticizes their home country yet talks fondly of their life in their host country.

5 ways you can help your child to deal with reverse culture shock

  1. Encourage them to talk to their new friends. It is unreasonable to expect your child to return home and leave a large experience in their lives behind without further reference. It is therefore important that they are provided with an opportunity to share details of their life overseas with their friends. Ask their schoolteacher if they can give a small presentation or invite their classmates to a small party that is themed in the style of their host country so that they can celebrate their experiences in a positive way that will hopefully interest their classmates.
  2. Encourage them to talk to their friends back in the host country. Keep communication open with their old friends via email and phone. Don’t attempt to suddenly severe all ties as this may delay the pain. If your child feels that they can talk to their friends when they wish they will be less likely to spend time dwelling on what they are missing.
  3. Tell them to keep a diary or journal. Encourage your children to talk about and write about their feelings. If you are able to identify how they are feeling you will be better placed to offer advice and tackle negative emotions.
  4. Encourage them to practice their language skills. If your child has learned a language while living overseas encourage them to continue to practice that language. Consider forming a language exchange with children who are originally from the host country so that your child can continue to practice their skills while also being provided with an opportunity to maintain culture contacts.
  5. Help your child to write a book. Encourage your child to write a book about their experiences overseas that contains practical advice for other children who will be making a similar move. This will allow them to reflect on their experiences without feeling frustrated.

In the same way that you needed to mentally prepare your child for a move overseas you need to also consider their feelings and emotions upon returning home.

Have you repatriated with your children? Do you have any experiences you can share with our community? Please tell us how you dealt with the challenges of returning home with your family by leaving a comment below.

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