Just as astronauts endure tremendous impact when re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, re-entering your own culture can make you wonder what hit you.
The first time I moved back home from abroad, I was unnerved by how poorly I fit in my own life. I’d been eager to get back home. Homesick, even. Yet I landed to find the place I’d always called home no longer felt like home.
There are ways to ease the transition to life at home. I’ve learned what to expect. Here’s how our family is preparing as our re-entry to Canadian life approaches (for the third time):
- Keep in touch while you are away.
Faraway faces are familiar thanks to Skype and FaceTime. Each child stays in touch with a few friends. We travel with Canadian stamps so when a co-worker heads back to Canada, we send along Christmas or birthday cards. Even one or two points of contact over the year makes reconnecting easier. Touch base with friends and school so your return is expected and anticipated.
2. Know What to Expect – and talk about it.
Don’t expect to walk off the plane and resume your old life. As Nelson Mandela observed, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
You’ll need time to process. Finding your place and your rhythm will take some time.
Know that feeling disoriented is normal. More on this next week.
3. Leave well
We have a list for each family member of the people we need to connect with before we go: coffee, dinner, playdates, sleepovers. Minimize “should haves” by seeing the people who matter before you leave. Make sure your kids see their important people.
4. Plan Ahead
The first days back home are for reconnecting and resettling, not for phone calls to receptionists. To that end, we’ve already signed up for summer soccer and swimming lessons. Appointments to doctor, dentist, and orthodontist are already on the calendar. Don’t forget to arrange insurance, taxes, and banking.
5. Schedule alone time
OK, this isn’t on the schedule yet but it needs to be! This season makes even a relatively extroverted introvert want to crawl into a shell and hide. Leaving, traveling, and arriving all involve a lot of people time and little sleep.
Plan time to recharge, exercise, read, or just stare at a wall. Seriously.
6. Schedule Couple Time.
There will always be people to visit. Plan some breaks to be together as a couple. Get out for a walk. Hang pictures, sans kids. Check in on how each of you and the kids are doing. Take time to get on the same page.
7. Plan Food.
My mom starts asking me three months out what we want to eat when we land. (The kids want tomato soup and grilled cheese! Yup, we missed canned salt. But I digress…)
This used to annoy me. I have a million decisions to make before I need to worry about that! I’m learning (finally!) to see meal planning as an opportunity to involve grandparents and friends who want to help.
They want to see you and be involved, yet not impose, so delegate. Have a ready answer when people offer, “If there is anything I can do…” “Why, yes, I’m so glad you asked. We’re eating at this time, can you join us and bring a rotisserie chicken and a salad?”
You have to eat anyway. Visit then.
Just as you put time and thought into preparing for your time abroad, take some time to prepare for your move back home.
Here’s to a smooth landing.
Have you experienced cultural re-entry before? What helped? What was hard? I’d love to hear your thoughts.