It’s inevitable part of the expatriate experience: that first trip back home after months spent in abroad. You can picture it – the joyful reconnections with friends and family, time to relax and forget about the everyday the stresses of your new life and job abroad. It’s going to be great, right?
Well, yes, there’s no reason to believe your trip home won’t be great, but that doesn’t mean it will be idyllic, or without its rough patches. Going home to reconnect with your former life after time away can mean unexpected emotions, unfamiliar experiences, and even (worst case) feelings of confusion and hostility. With a little planning and foresight, you can make the most of your trip and avoid most the these difficulties. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of useful tips for expats visiting home.
1. Wait at least six months
That’s right, we’re suggesting that you stick it out in your new home country for at least six months before you head back home, and longer if you are having a very difficult time adjusting. It takes a long time to begin feeling like your new location is your true home. Becoming comfortable with a new culture – making new friends, finding outlets for your interest and hobbies, adjusting to climate, landscape, food, the list goes on – is an ongoing progress that only strengthens with time. If you go back “home” too soon, you are only making the process harder on yourself by re-enforcing your relationship to how things used to be, and starting from square one when it comes to missing the family and friends you left behind. We know it takes strength, but withholding your home trip is truly for your own good. After at least six months, expats visiting home are more likely to both enjoy their visit, but also look forward to the prospect to returning to their new city and country – and that’s the goal!
2. Visit on your own terms
Let’s face it, no matter how much fantasize about your home visit being a leisurely vacation and getaway from daily stresses of life and work, your trip is bound to be chaotic and stressful if you don’t put on the brakes. Coming home, you’ll have something of a celebrity status. Your family, friends, even acquaintances will demand your time and energy. Although you may be happy to see them, be stern about doing it on your own terms. Don’t let yourself to be dragged to events you have no interest in. Instead, invite these people to accompany you to the activities that you want to do, whether it be visiting your favorite restaurant, taking a leisurely stroll in your favorite park, or putting on the tourist hat and doing some sight-seeing. If you try to please everybody, your stress levels are bound to rise, which can only result in a less-than-relaxing experience.
3. Dare NOT to compare
No matter you are feeling about your new home, going back to your old home can release a floodgate of emotions, and instigate a desire to compare the two locations. It’s completely healthy and interesting to think about cultural differences, but the moment you begin to place value judgements, you’re putting yourself at emotional risks. If expats visiting home start to dwell on how much more fun the nightlife is, how much better the food tastes, or how much more friendly the people are in their former city compared to their new one, they are setting themselves up to feel depressed, and perhaps even hostile as the time to go back approaches. On the other hand, if their new city fares better, they may find themselves spending their whole visit judging the people around them, which can anger friends and family, and isolate expats.
4. Minimize family disputes
Going months without seeing close family members can do strange things to your perception and expectations of them. During your months away, you may have really missed loved ones, which can cause you to idealize them, and what it’s going to be like to see them again. It’s important to remember that you are only human and so are they. If you don’t, you may be disappointed when your mother can’t stop nagging, or your little brother refuses to let you borrow his car while you’re home. When you leave your expectations at the door, you’ll be making room to really enjoy your family and friends for who they really are, not for who you imagined them to be. If you do feel yourself getting too heated, don’t hesitate to take a step out for some “me time.” Take a deep breath, relax, and remember that compassion and understanding are keys to enjoying your time spent with family.
5. Expect to feel…different (and take time to reconnect)
When you move abroad, you are surrounded by so much newness and change that it may be difficult to identify all the ways in which you have changed. It’s likely that your time spent away has broadened your understanding of the world, and shifted your views. You may have changed your clothing style or hair to fit your new hometown, or maybe you’ve even shifted some of your views on political issues. Visiting home provides you a great opportunity to reflect on your own personal growth and development. It also provides a chance to reconnect with your home culture after many months away. Whether it’s eating your favorite traditional meals, taking part in local sports and activities, or just enjoying local entertainment and media, taking this time to reconnect will strengthen your sense of cultural identity.
6. Shop and stock
Here’s a fun one. Since you don’t travel back to your home country and city very often, now is your chance to do some massive (and guilt-free) shopping. Expats visiting home should make the most of the trip by stocking up on the clothes, food items, and anything else you love, but just can’t find in your new location. You can also focus in on items that are less expensive in your home country than your new one. You can make the trip even more meaningful by inviting friends along to help you find your must-have goods. If you don’t actually enjoy shopping, pre-ordering online can help keep shopping time to a minimum.
7. It’s okay not explain everything
Chances are, your friends and family back home will have all sorts of questions about your new life. They’ll want to know how it compares to here, what people are like, the weather, etc. It can be fun to talk about our adventures, but many expats visiting home also find it can also be overwhelming and challenging to find words that accurately convey experiences. It’s important to understand that you don’t have to talk about everything. Maybe you just can’t find the words, or perhaps you are worried about causing jealousy, or coming off as a show-off. On the other hand, maybe you want to avoid talking about the negative aspects of your new home, because you don’t want to fuel the fire for loved ones trying to convince you to move back. Know that, no matter how much or little you choose to explain, it’s okay!
Learn more about Settle-in.com’s services, expert relocation professionals and innovative online platform.
Read more fun articles about Expats in Canada:
- Toques, Mickeys and Runners, eh? A Transferee’s Guide to Canadianisms.
- 11 ways to cut heating costs in Canada
- The Boom of Condos in Toronto