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Returning home: The hardest journey?

Expats often say that repatriation to your home country is the hardest part of the adventure. Shani Bishop shares her repat journey with us.

Photographs: iStock

Text: Shani Bishop

When you arrive in Denmark or another new country, there is so much excitement and many new things to learn. When you return, you generally know the systems and have friends and family there, which is great, especially after a long time away, but the sense of difference is absent.

Why we left Denmark

We always planned to return home, so it was more a matter of when. We have a house in the UK, close family ties and established friendships groups. The main reason was so our son could start secondary school with everyone else. Joining an international school at any point is easy because it’s a welcoming environment; we feel that joining a ‘normal’ school after it begins can be more challenging as friendships will be set. Once we made this decision, we had interesting conversations with friends who had lived as expats as children. They said moving countries halfway through school as children had been the most challenging part for them.

Those who went before…

To see how friends had fared with returning home, I canvassed mums I know in Denmark who have returned home. Covid has made the transition much harder. The process and arrival have added extra layers of complexity to a process with so many moving parts. Most families have moved to countries with higher infection levels, and settling during this time has been challenging. One mum said, “We were welcomed home with open arms. All our problems have been Covid related.” Denmark has handled the corona crisis very well, and I think foreign nationals in Denmark have been glad to be here.

Why the choice to go is important

When I spoke with those who returned home to various countries, a pattern began to immerge. Those who had made a positive choice to return home had generally had a much better transition than those who had left for other reasons. For example, if people had left because of a loss of job or end of a contract, they seemed to struggle more - when you think about this, it does make sense. On the other hand, if I have made an active decision to do something, the path becomes smoother because I can plan more and ease the transition. Our planning involved an 11-page document hoping it would make our transition more manageable and smoother.

"Those who had made a positive choice to return home had generally had a much better transition than those who had left for other reasons."

Not my first time

This is not my first time experiencing reverse culture shock. We noticed cultural differences after arriving in Denmark, so I fully expected it returning home. Five years is a long time, and I will be faced with many changes. In my twenties, I lived in Japan; in those days, I was single with no commitments and so returning home just meant packing a box, a few suitcases and getting on a plane. My job helped me with the paperwork, and it was all very straightforward. My concerns in those days were very different to now. Japan is exceedingly organised, and I wondered about how I would find a less organised country. I had a heated toilet seat in my flat in Japan, which heated the room (I lived in the north, where they have lots of snow). I loved that seat and wondered how I’d cope without it! Once a week, I went to Karaoke boxes with my friends, which was brilliant fun, so I wondered how people entertained themselves without them. It all turned out well, and I’m sure it will be fine this time, but I am interested to see the differences. These days my concerns centre on how quickly my kids will settle and how life will be different once we are back in the UK. Next time, my first impressions!

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