Repatriation: Returning Home for Another Shock! - Expat Nest e-counselling


Repatriation: Returning Home for Another Shock!

While many expats expect to experience culture shock when moving to a new country, few of us anticipate the shock of returning home. We assume we will transition smoothly because we have grown up and are already familiar with the culture.

However, repatriation and expatriation are two sides of the same coin – just as it takes time to settle into another culture, it takes time to settle back into “home”. After investing so much energy into adapting to the culture of a host country, it makes sense that we now have to re-adapt to home – and that we might have forgotten certain nuances of home.

Reverse culture shock, as it’s commonly called, can be worsened by the expectations of friends and family, who may expect you to transition back seamlessly or expect you to be the same person you were before.

Don’t despair though: reverse culture shock is common and completely normal. With preparation before your repatriation and with some support (personal or professional) during the process, things will get easier.

Home, the same but different…

While away, we all keep an image of what “home” is like, but often these are memories of a different time, and a different you. Now you may suddenly be faced with a disconnect between how you saw home and how it really is. Perhaps home has changed or perhaps you have changed – or both!

You may also feel disillusioned with your home culture and question things more than before. This can lead people to become irritated and annoyed rather than accepting of the new you.

Understanding reverse culture shock

So how can you move more easily through this transition? Firstly, by recognising that reverse culture shock usually follows a cycle:

Stage 1: Disengagement

This stage can start even before you board the plane. Repatriating can feel bittersweet – it’s hard to leave behind the friends and experiences of your host country. You may have mixed feelings or doubts about returning. 

Stage 2: Euphoria

You feel a rush of excitement about being home again and seeing old friends and family. It can be thrilling to revisit favourite places and to know instinctively how certain things are done.

Stage 3: Irritability and hostility

You notice things are not the way you left them or expected. You feel out of touch with your home life and all you want is to go back to the life you’ve just left. In this stage, people often become bored or frustrated, tired and uncommunicative. While it’s easy to feel stuck here, perseverance is key.

Stage 4: Re-adjustment and adaption

By using effective coping strategies and giving yourself time, you can start to feel okay again. Though things are not the same, acceptance comes and you adapt to a new way of being. You have managed to overcome reverse culture shock!

As with culture shock, these stages are not necessarily linear and you may cycle between them, even returning to a stage for a while.

Ways to settle in at “home”

Here are some useful tips to make your repatriation smoother:

  1. Remember your expatriation process and the lessons learnt. The same ‘rules’ apply for your repatriation – and you’ll get through this too.
  1. Maintain your international network
    Take advantage of technology and social media to keep up-to-date with friends in the country you’ve left. This will give you an important sense of continuity in your life.
  1. Reach out to friends and family
    Reverse culture shock can be challenging to explain to those who have never experienced it. Expressing your feelings to friends and family can be especially difficult if they are hurt by your reaction. They may also be reluctant to offer support, or not know how to, if they don’t understand what you are going through. Let them know how they can best support you.
  1. Stay positive and see the funny side
    Don’t let the shock get you down and try to keep your sense of humour. You will find yourself being more positive then, too.
  1. Seek out internationals back “home”
    Serial expat and author Diane Lemieux advises “creating your global village”. Begin to make new friends or professional contacts with other internationals at home. They may have experienced, or be experiencing, the same things you are.
  1. Write about your experience
    Sharing your experience – on a blog, for example – will help you and others. You may be surprised at how many people resonate with your feelings. Or you may prefer to express yourself privately, in a journal.
  1. Accept change
    Recognise that change is constant. Come to terms with the fact that you have changed and perhaps your friends and family have too.
  1. Be a traveller in your home country
    This is a great way to scratch that expat itch of needing to be on the go. Explore new areas around your home… you may find out or experience things you would have never have known before!

Be patient with yourself as you go through this process. There is no right or wrong way to experience reverse culture shock! In time, this will pass and you will emerge stronger, happier and with an enriched understanding of yourself and your home country…

Have you ever repatriated? Can you identify with any of the challenges above? How did you cope? We’d love to hear what you think!


If you like this article, subscribe to our newsletter and share these tips with a repat who would appreciate the support.


© Vivian Chiona

FEEL FREE TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR BLOG OR NEWSLETTER. We ask only that you attribute and link to Expat Nest (


ps. Thanks to Thomas Tischhauser for his contribution to this article.

Photo: StockSnapp / Pixabay




  1. Tina Quick says:

    I think the biggest challenge is not fitting in back home again. I constantly hear expat women say that while they have developed a large network of acquaintances, they have difficulty finding those deep connections.The best analogy I’ve ever come across in this regard is the blog post “I am a Triangle” by Naomi Hattaway, who very adeptly explains in a series of elementary drawings why it can be difficult to fit in back in your home country.
    She basically says that when adults move abroad (she uses the example of a ‘circle’ person from ‘circle country’ moving from ‘circle culture’ to ‘square country and culture’) they become a blend of their two cultures. They unconsciously lose a little of their ‘circle culture’ and take on more of their ‘square culture.’ They don’t lose their ‘circle culture’ completely but they don’t become 100% ‘square’ either. They slowly and unconsciously, over time become something totally different – a triangle! When they return to their home country – in this case, ‘circle country,’ they don’t turn back into circles. They will always be a triangle. And the pointy parts of their triangle don’t blend so well with the smooth lines of the ‘circle people.’
    The thing I find most useful to remember when feeling I am not fitting in, is that I do not have shared experience with my home-country peers. This is a problem we often see with TCKs who repatriate. And by the way, children do not become triangles when they move abroad like an adult does. When an adult moves abroad for the first time, he or she has already developed a sense of personal and cultural identity. In Hattaway’s example, the adult circle person knew he was a circle person from circle country and already had his core values and core relationships already formed. But when a child changes cultures they are doing so before they have established who they are and where they belong. Because they have many sets of cultural influences on them while living abroad (a whole other story to approach at another time), they become “Stars!”
    I can’t seem to be able to find the actual blog post any more, but there is a Facebook group Naomi started called “I Am a Triangle.” Check it out. It certainly has helped me understand myself.

    1. Dear Tina,
      Thank you so much for your comment! It is great having you here and I am so honoured. I admire your work and love your books!
      I joined the ‘ I am triangle’ FB group. I also googled Naomi’s article and I believe that this is the link:
      Every week many readers come here for insights an inspiration and I am sure your comment and your description of the ‘I am triangle’ theory serves this purpose. Indeed it is a valuable insight and it can help us understand ourselves better and our expat/repat experience which often comes with lots of confusion, unfinished business and questions to answer (this can be part of the beauty of this experience as well)
      Once again many thanks!
      Best wishes,

      1. Carli says:

        The paragon of understanding these issues is right here!

        1. Thank you so much Carli!!!

  2. Tina Quick says:

    Thank you for your kind words, Vivian and for finding the link. I read the blog post once and never have been able to locate it again. To me it is a real eye-opener.

  3. Helen Watts says:

    Hi Vivian, great article. I have posted it on the Re-Entry / Repatriation Stories FB group so others can see it – do feel free to post on there other resources / articles you have about re-entry, it’s great to have lots of perspectives!

    1. Hi Helen,
      Thank you so much for your comment and sharing this article with your audience. Glad you find it valuable.
      I just asked to join on the Re-Entry/Repatriation FB group. Thanks for sharing the link here so other readers can join too.
      Best wishes,

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