Expat Visits: Resetting Relationships

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People choose to go and live overseas for many different reasons. In the beginning, some people may have gone overseas to further their education, search for financial opportunities, and seek romance or to simply search for adventure. The desire to travel overseas can come from a variety of different sources. The desire to travel abroad may come from someone we admire, a book we may have read or even a movie we may have seen. So as you see, the reasons are countless and sometimes can be left to the imagination. For some, the search for something missing in their lives maybe the reason they look and travel abroad.

In this episode, I would like to talk about the times when an expat returns to their home nation for short visits; like for a vacation or for attending a family event like a wedding or funeral. I am not talking about repatriation. Which is when a person returns, more or less, permanently to the nation of their citizenship. Returning home for most expats is usually for reconnecting with parts of their past. However, returning home for a lot of expats is often met with detachments and occasional misunderstandings.

It maybe necessary that some expats, especially for those who are returning to their home nation after a long absence, to reset their relationships with relatives and friends whom they haven’t seen and communicated with for a long while. The reasons for this are many and often hard to categorize. Long absences, distances and changing social-economic conditions at home and abroad can be contributing factors to relationship disconnections that occur between someone who has been living abroad and his or her family and acquaintances back home.

In order to continue their relationships, all parties involved may have to go through some type of readjustment or rekindling period and unfortunately, in some extreme cases, some relationships may simply be beyond salvaging.

Some expats, who have returned home after a long stay abroad, may find themselves unfamiliar or out of touch with friends, family and surroundings that were once familiar to them. Some may just need time to reacquaint themselves. Some returning expats may withdraw and begin to feel that they have developed a split personality. One personality for when they are in their overseas environment and the other for when they return to their country of origin.

Upon their return to their home nation, visiting expats may not totally understand some cultural references made by friends and family members. For example, references to the latest television show, video game, pop song or dances may not draw the same expected responses from a returning expat. References to the newest hangout, club or social event may draw a blank in the mind of a visiting expat.

When expats return to their home nation for a short stay they may need to remind themselves that, as their lives have been continuing outside their home nation, the lives of the people they know back home have been changing as well.

It is quite normal for expats who return home after a stay abroad to be excited about sharing their overseas experiences with friends and family. However, the excitement to share experiences may frankly cause some unpleasant side effects. Visiting and even repatriating expats may encounter different points of views when in conversations with folk back home about almost everything. These perspectives may include the way relationships, lifestyles and politics are interpreted and even the way the physical environment is seen.

The topics a visiting expat may bring up about their experiences overseas in casual conversations may not be totally understood or even accepted. Much of which could become overwhelming and confusing to some family members and friends. Some views and opinions an expat may have developed while living abroad may even go against traditional beliefs held by people in his or her home nation. If not handled calmly and objectively, discussions can become quite confrontational.

Responses to events in certain situations may become confusing to not only the returning expat, but also to friends and family members who are trying to become re-acclimated with the visiting or returning expat.

In the end, long-term visiting expats may find it hard to admit that relationships back home may never be as they were before. This is just one reason why a visiting expat shouldn’t assume that people back in his or her home nation would be able to understand or relate to their overseas experiences. People back in an expat’s home nation aren’t going to stop living their lives just because they’re not around. This could make the visiting expat appear as he or she is arrogant, bragging or, in some cases, condescending.

On the other hand, there may be a few people in an expats home nation who knew the returning or visiting expat before they decided to move abroad. They may place him or her on a social pedestal. To some people, living abroad sounds like a romantic endeavor or simply out of reach. A visiting expat may suddenly become the “point-to-person” for insights about exotic overseas experiences and locations, which, at lease in the lifestyles of the expats I engage with, simply isn’t the case.

Being able to live abroad outside one’s home nation does take a certain type of personality and persistence. The truth is, the overseas lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Living overseas in a different culture does force an expat to be flexible and develop a different mindset. However, living outside of the familiar is probably the best way to familiarize yourself, …with yourself.


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