Repatriate With Resolve: Know Your New Self
Most expats understand the value of cross-cultural training. They recognize the need to connect effectively with their host cultures in order to maximize success. But do expats feel similarly about repatriation integration coaching? After all, they are presumably returning to a familiar environment. Why should they interrupt their packing to learn how to function effectively in their native lands? Intercultural trainers frequently wrestle with these questions from dubious assignees. How do we communicate the program’s value to assignees who do not see the need for reintegration support?
Experiencing Reverse Culture Shock
For some, repatriation can be like abruptly removing a blanket that provides warmth and security. Loss of the blanket causes shivers and a desire to rush back beneath its familiar feel. This is how I felt upon returning to the U.S. after three years in Peru. I had grown accustomed to a new life in South America, and different cultural idiosyncrasies had become familiar and comfortable. Although I often missed family, friends, and the cultural norms of my homeland, I grew to depend on my professional and social networks in Lima. Increasingly, the Peruvian perspective on life began to seem like the right one for me. I soon favored the importance of social graces and family obligations in Peru over the idealized pursuit of individualism in the U.S. Eventually, it was time to return home … to what I thought I knew. Leaving the newly familiar for the once familiar felt almost like returning to a whole new country with strange customs and values.
Embracing Change Through Repatriation Coaching
Reintegrating successfully became possible only after I reflected on my old self, accepted the new (a mixture of Peruvian and American values), and applied it to my relationships. For some expats, repatriating may be a welcome and anticipated change. They may feel “ready” to embrace their old life back home and leave the international assignment far behind. These returnees might view repatriation integration training as unnecessary or a waste of time. Recognizing the value of repatriation training requires us to fully understand our needs and where we want to go—and grow. Repatriation coaching explores this reflective exercise in detail and gives assignees the tools for success. For example, assignees will learn best practices on integrating their global skills into their next role. They will also discuss strategies to effectively transfer their new market insight to their home locations. Lastly, they will develop a transition plan for personal and professional success in repatriation, guided by the program coach.
Repatriating employees often assume that returning home will be easy and comfortable. They may fail to recognize the value of working with a repatriation trainer, feeling instead that they are adequately prepared to confront changes both professionally and personally. Some will say, “I’ve been visiting home frequently on assignment and feel confident that little has changed back there.” This assertion shows a lack of experience with cultural readjustment. It also demonstrates a failure to consider that home visits reveal only superficial realities of life back home after an assignment. And even if this were true, one thing that will have changed, regardless, is the expat himself. The assignment process by its very nature results in some shift in value systems, relationships, and professional and personal expectations. It is nearly impossible to have been through the assignment experience and not be subtly (or not so subtly) colored by it.
Improving Relocation ROI Through Successful Repatriation
Relationships with employers, family, and friends often must be renegotiated after an assignee returns home. This is due to changes occurring in parallel, where an assignee must reconcile a new self with the old as perceived by those in his or her circle of contacts. Regardless of whether we have adjusted well to our new environment, returning home will likely feel a bit jarring at first. This will vary depending upon length of assignment and individual experiences. In any case, wouldn’t it be valuable to capitalize on our new adventures and new ways of seeing?
Employers spend a lot of money on international assignments. Assignees repatriating with increased self-awareness through coaching will likely add more value to their employers. Reintegration coaching can help assignees reflect better upon how they have changed and grown and how to apply this “new identity” to success at home.
Three Tips for Repatriation Success
- Consider your personal and professional goals prior to repatriating, much as you did before your initial move.
- Make a list of all contacts in your host country with whom you wish to remain connected, and stay in contact with them!
- Consider all the ways in which you have changed and how you might apply this knowledge to your home environment.