I have read many, many posts and group comments on Facebook this week about re-entry to one’s passport country. It is an emotional experience and it seems many people don’t realize that the emotions they are going through are experienced by so many in the same situation. One group I am part of has had an enormous spike in membership following the Repatriation Blues article by Debra Bruno in the WSJ Expat blog. It’s a fantastic read.
Transitioning between places is different for everybody depending on their circumstances. Here’s the link again to a talk I gave at the Families in Global Transition conference this year titled “Home is Where the Air Force Sends You” based on Nancy Schlossberg‘s transition theory which looks at the many factors which influence how we experience transition and begins to explain why different people experience it differently, or why the same person can experience transition differently at different times in life.
Over at The Culture Blend there are some great articles on relocating. In the article “The Expat Exodus: 10 questions every repatriating expat should ask themselves” point number 2 about leaving well or leaving happy really hit home. With a re-entry in the not too distant future I know I won’t be leaving happy but I am now trying to focus on leaving well. It can also be difficult for those expats left behind when others leave and The Culture Blend has an article about that as well.
There is also another aspect of being left behind as well, the idea of which was triggered when I heard Chris O’Shaughnessy talk at the FIGT 15 Conference last month. Chris was talking about how a group of US Air Force personnel who had been posted to Chris’s town in the UK (and who Chris became close friends with) relied heavily on him for support as they tried to readjust to life back in the USA. Chris’s point that his friends needed to forge their new life back “home” was extremely valid. To quote Chris (as many others have done because he was so insightful) “Home must become less a passive retreat and more an active pursuit”. Chris also warned of the dangers of relying too heavily on social media for human connection; likening it to junk food in that it feels good short term but lacks nutrients for long term good (I told you he was insightful!).
When listening to Chris it occurred to me how those who are “left behind” at the post location can use social media (although it’s certainly not limited to the use of social media) to be a bridge for those who have left, between their lives at post and their new lives. It’s not going to help the person who has left to continue to “live” virtually in their old life but neither are they yet settled in their new life. Those of us who are left behind can be a bridge by gently encouraging them to move ahead in their new life while at the same time being a safe place for them to come back to when they need support, or to talk to someone who understands because so many of the new people they meet won’t.
Transition is a process, not an event (unfortunately I can’t remember the source of that little pearl of wisdom). No one moves to a new location and instantly adjusts. You may be physically in location but your heart and mind sometimes have difficulty keeping up. Having a connection to those who you have left behind is an important part of transitioning. Just as important however is moving forward. If you don’t want to leap and would prefer to gently make the transition find yourself a bridge. And if you’re not the one leaving try and be that bridge for someone who is.
If you have recently repatriated you might like to read this article here by Rocky Reentry. I found this to be a heartfelt note to those who have recently returned to their passport country.