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It’s common to pine for home when living abroad; wishing that you could pop open a proper British newspaper, sip a perfect cuppa (where your people actually understand what a cuppa is!), and tuck into a piping hot Sunday roast.
But what happens if you are actually sent home? I’ve repatriated twice now, and I’m sure I will do it again at some point. There are things to be aware of—small nuances that people don’t tell you about when going back to your homeland. These may or may not happen to you, but be aware, they could happen to anyone.
“Home” can’t be the same
Life continues moving; it continues shifting—and changing. The old concept “change is the only constant” stays true even regarding the place you’ve always called your home. Perhaps the shops will stay the same; perhaps your GP will still be serving the community; and hopefully your parents will still be together and happy. However, you will be different. Your view of the world will have changed, and therefore your view of home will as well. It might be subtle—you can no longer help tipping anyone who helps out in the slightest. Or it could be more drastic—you no longer identify with the workplace politics of England, or you can no longer keep your opinions to yourself within your family. But one thing is for sure, your childhood memories and idealistic notions of home can no longer be reality.
It’s bittersweet because we all want to go back to what we remembered in our youth as idyllic and comforting, but the truth is that once you’ve moved abroad, you may always feel a bit of an outsider to those who never left. The sweetness comes with all of the experiences and breadth of knowledge you have that your British friends and family may never understand.
Reverse culture shock
Everyone speaks about having culture shock, but did you know about reverse culture shock? For me, this was way worse than what I had come to expect from normal culture shock when entering a foreign country because it was unexpected. I wasn’t prepared for this. I was back in my country; this wasn’t a foreign country. Why did I feel so off-kilter back in the country where I was born and bred?
You may not even realize it, but you change.
Returning home, you may get the occasional question about how it was to live back in America; the occasional joke about you turning all Yank on your friends or family; and perhaps even an evening discussing America, but most people just want you to be the person you were before. Shortly, you begin to understand that it isn’t possible to forget the experiences you’ve had.
For some people, reverse culture shock consists of colors back home being brighter or even fuzzier than they remembered, or an eerie upset that they can’t quite put their finger on. When you are living abroad, you know you have to act differently, and over time, you assimilate and actually become someone different. However, as I mentioned before, the adjustment one must make when returning home isn’t readily acknowledged, and the values you deemed as normal growing up may no longer be familiar to you.
It’s bound to happen. You’re hanging out at the local pub where you had your first pint, and out slips the phrase: “Can you point me to the nearest bathroom, please?” Or you’re at work back in England on the phone to a new client, and out slips “Thanks for reaching out!” in a tone that is much too chipper for any seasoned Londoner. Or, the worst possible fear, your children come to you after spending their first 10 years of life in America, and you don’t bat an eyelid when they run to you asking: “Mommy, can we go play some soccer?!”
Your American friends’ eyes may have crossed for the last ten years of your life when you’ve blurted out phrases like “much of a muchness” or “that ice cream is just too moreish,” but there is no denying that some phrases in one culture have no literal translation in the other. And now that you’re bilingual, why not use your entire vocabulary when you can? In any case, you won’t be able to remember where you learned which phrase now that you are truly a citizen of the world, so may as well just go with it.
“Water” will never be the same again
It’s painful for any British person to ask for water in most American restaurants. It’s so painful that most British people adapt just for sheer survival, changing and molding their accents to the point where their own countrymen/women wouldn’t recognize the word any longer. “Wawta” has now become “waw-der”, and there is no turning back! The amount of time wasted repeating that one word over and over so that you keep true to your accent just isn’t worth it, especially when it comes to just wanting to quench your thirst. One must eventually allow the “a” vowel to take shape in a strictly American way.
In conclusion, repatriating won’t be easy but recognizing the changes that may take place is the first step in the process.
What do you think will be the most difficult to adapt to back at home?