December 8, 2015

Thoughts on repatriation

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photo: Matt Cornock, source Flickr

Repatriation Support

By Ruchita Puri

The Oil industry has been undergoing a challenging phase with the dipping oil prices. For all companies including Shell, it has been a challenging time. To meet this challenge, Shell has been proactive in streamlining its business mandates to manage all the expectations of the stakeholders. HR is a major stakeholder in a company. This information is intended to help understand international mobility and repatriation with a balanced perspective. 

Repatriation- a word that should be as exciting as its antonym, - expatriation, can instead be a word that puts people and families to the test.  To be fair, some find it exciting to go back home to family and friends. Others find it a little deflating to be in a position of being homeward bound, because they feel there is no “newness” to look forward to.

When all is said and done, repatriation is actually just another adventure. If it is taken in the same light as your expatriation, then depending on the locations you go to, there is always a challenge to face. Just as with an expatriation process, you look forward to learning the nuances of a new culture, learning a new language perhaps and resizing your life and expectations to the new location, repatriation, requires similar steps of preparation.

Steps to prepare for repatriation:

  1. Discuss with your partner about each other’s expectations and be realistic about potential changes in financial and family circumstances
  2. Talk with your children about going back home and explore what ‘home’ means to them
  3. Encourage children to see the positives of being able to see family and friends more often
  4. Find out about schools where your children will feel most comfortable and at-home. It can be a challenge when children feel out of place at school. They will take longer to adjust to the relocation.
  5. Teenagers in particular need your attention – note that open discussions help to manage expectations for the whole family
  6. If you have a house to go back to - great. However, if new housing solutions are needed, a good study of what is really out there is important. What are the current best neighbourhoods for you? Where can your family fit in? Thinking about this is a good step to avoid surprises. For example, after an expat life, would you feel most comfortable in a more cosmopolitan environment?
  7. Gather information about homes and standard living spaces from local Outposts to help decide if you need to take back everything you have acquired during your travels.
  8. When you’ve had  a chance to settle, seek out clubs and associations   to help with making new friends back home and finding your way again.
  9. It is a good idea to have regular family meetings to review how everyone is settling in. This can just be an informal ‘catch-up” session. 
  10. If partners plan to go back to work, be aware that the job market may have changed – your local Outpost can help with career and development advice.

Beware of what other people say!

It’s important to find your own perspective on moving back home. By all means, read about it and talk to other repatriates but don’t assume your experience will be exactly like someone else’s. Look for a balanced view.  Media stories may focus on the negative – but is that the complete picture? There is no doubt that it will be difficult to adjust but rather than scaring your family into believing this is the worst move ever, look for both the pros and the cons.

The song “Homeward Bound” by Simon & Garfunkel comes to mind here. There is indeed a joy to being homeward bound. The emotional part of the process certainly takes precedence but there are of course practical issues to consider, like contractual and financial matters.

So to begin on a positive note, repatriation begins with a whole list of things you already know ….whereas the expat phase begins with a whole list of things you do not.

There are family and old friends to reconnect with in person.  To give some perspective:

  • You have some knowledge of the healthcare system in your home country ….and even if you are not up-to-date with current practices; you can rely on friends and family for guidance.
  • You can have fun rediscovering good places to look for essentials.
  • You know the schools somewhat, but you can relook at them to fit the current needs of your children
  • You know people to call and ask for help - although you might feel shy calling them in the beginning. Don’t worry - being shy is not unusual. It is always more uncomfortable for the person coming back home because your family may have stayed the same, while you have changed because of your experiences. This can be a challenge – but it can also be an opportunity. If we share our “new selves” we will be accepted as the “new us”. The “new” you is back from an adventure, has stories to share and has overcome the hurdles of language/culture/hardship.  Family might be quick to judge sometimes, but they will always accept you.
  • You know the culture, the traditions and the language. Maybe your children will not. So that could be a challenge. Preparing them for this should be a priority for parents.

It is a comfort to know all this, yet daunting when you return after a few years since the dynamic has changed. If we acknowledge that it will be different coming back, we can manage our expectations better. Failing to manage expectation is one of the key factors that cause problems for a repatriated family. Because we think we know it all, we expect everything to be the same but this is not the case.

While you have changed being away, your home base, the city and family, may also have changed a bit. So there is still the learning curve of new things in your hometown as there was in the expat location.  Thanks to advances in modern media, people are better able to stay in touch with family and keep abreast of their news, which makes moving back less daunting than it would have been 10 or 15 years ago.


Some things to watch out for:

  • Will you still fit in? Things at home may have changed, but so have you. It will take a while. But this may be an opportunity to find a better fit with new hobbies and new careers for partners.
  • The homeward bound journey loses its charm when you face resistance from your children who find it hard to adjust.  Children are one of the primary concerns for returning families. They miss their friends and their old school and they may talk differently to other children at home. It is important to prepare them for this and give them lots of support. Perhaps talk to their teachers at school to help them through it.
  • Space and living conditions; during expat assignments, people are always adjusting their expectations to the country they move to. The same will apply here. The challenge occurs because when we consider “home” we expect it to be larger than life emotionally. Home is where all of you are. Focus on your family unit and taking a few valuable things that give you the feeling of “home”.
  • The feeling of being special in a society might change. This could be difficult for the children since they are used to special treatment socially and at school. It is a task to manage the expectations of your children.  You might have to be the person/infrastructure to include specialness in their lives.
  • Partners’ support for each other. Recognition of each other’s part and credit for success plays a huge role in keeping relationships going during the difficult part of the move and aids in finding a rhythm for yourselves and the family.
  • Trying to fit in with only old friends and family may lead to disappointment.  Finding your own place with new friends as well existing ones is a better way. This allows you to continue being the new person you have become. Old friends and family might try to box you in to their old perceptions.

Managing the family environment becomes a very big part of tiding over this phase for parents. If energies are positive, children will respond to that positivity. An adverse family environment brings challenges to the entire family.

Apart from managing your move and your expectations, there are financial matters that would need your attention. A good discussion and understanding of the situation between partners, gives a full picture of the expenses vs income scenario.  The bigger picture strategy is a good one at this point so that we see our future in perspective.

Financial concerns are a big part of living, like it or not. Repatriation may or may not bring challenges on this front:

Things to think about:

  1. Will schooling be paid for?
  2. Can you continue spending on a monthly basis as much as before?
  3. Can you make it work if you just cut down some extra costs?
  4. Does the partner need to work and what options are available?
  5. Consider costs of services like childcare, insurance, housing, internet etc
  6. A balanced perspective on accounts is a good way to keep a good outlook.

As with any situation, to keep on top of things deal with issues positively and reflect on learning from the experience.

You might initially feel a dip before you find a normal rhythm of life. But that is to be expected.

I leave you with a line from another song, a new one, called Reality by Lost Frequencies…..

“Decisions as I go….to anywhere I flow….”

Great song to get a perspective on moving for the job!