You’ve anticipated this moment. Your people are here, expecting you with open arms. After months or years away, you are coming home!

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Now you can just slip back into all that is familiar. Except all that is no longer familiar.

Do not make this mistake: Expecting life at home to be exactly as you remember it will make for one rough ride.

Thinking through your expectations and experiences can help ease the transition to life at home. Today, let’s talk expectations. Here are 8 things you should see coming:

Don’t expect easy.

You expect hard when you don’t know the language. You expect hard when social norms are foreign and you need a GPS to find your own apartment.

Coming home can feel just as tough as going away. And it’s much worse if this fact catches you by surprise.

You now see your home through a different lens than before you left. Expect that getting your bearings and feeling settled with take time and effort. Journal, talk to a safe person. Process your experiences. Debrief. (Tsh’s free book Travel With Kids  includes helpful questions for debriefing.)

Expect that you have changed.  You have. You’ll see things about your own culture you’ve never noticed before. The subtle teaching of values. The way people parent. The portion sizes! The hustle. The crowds. The empty space. These observations may leave you feeling annoyed, frustrated, judged, judgmental, or just out of place.

Expect re-entry to take time. The first time I moved back home, I was a single twenty-something who had been away for two years. I was used to being the outsider in the Caribbean. I didn’t expect to feel so out of place in my home and native land. I found myself wondering, “If I don’t belong here and I don’t belong there, where in the world do I belong?!”

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By all appearances, home is where you fit in. You are no longer the foreigner, and yet you may feel like an outsider more than ever.

You’ll need time to process. This is normal.

Know you are not alone. Thankfully, the first time I moved back after two years abroad, an older, wiser traveler handed me this book. I still felt crazy, but was reassured to learn I was not alone. Read about other expats, missionaries and travelers.

Don’t expect others to understand. Your friends and family are interested to hear about your adventures, but they have not shared your experience. They may expect your return to “normal” life to be easy. Even if you wanted to explain your struggle, you probably won’t be able to. (See earlier point – you’ll need time to process.)

Expect that you will not fit exactly as you did before. Friends may still be friends but they probably won’t have held a weekly slot in their calendar waiting for the moment you drop back into their lives. It’s not fair to expect them to.

Don’t expect kids to figure this out on their own. Help them process. Avoid surprises where possible by involving your kids. Talk about differences between your home here and your home there. Let them help plan activities and visits during your first weeks home. Make sure they know what commitments you’ve made that include them.

Expect some overwhelm and plan time for recovery.

Travel, leaving, and arriving all involve a lot of people time and not much sleep. Know that you will need time to recharge. More so if you’re an introvert.

Before leaving, there are goodbyes, visits, meals, social time. Then comes the travel. For us, this means

  • 40 hours in transit, always together. Two parents and four kids.
  • Two nights on planes.
  • One day in a hotel. (Sleeping, we hope!)
  • Being always alert, counting heads and counting bags.
  • Constantly checking where we need to be and when and who needs to eat or drink or pee before we board the next plane.

And upon landing? “Good heavens. People.” (to quote Donald Sutherland’s Mr. Bennett)

People we have missed. People we are eager to see. And we want to be kind to them. Lest sleep deprivation and social overload get the best of me, I need some respite. Alone. Even a 20-minute walk or a nap can do wonders.

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Plan something that lets you recharge. Exercise, take a nap, go outside, watch a movie, visit an old friend, go hide at Chapters.

Preparing for these challenges will make them less daunting. One last reminder:

Remember the awesome privilege of travel.

Re-entry can be an uncomfortable and difficult process. And yet, during this time, you are uniquely able to question norms and values that you could never consciously observe before. This is a rare and precious gift.

Most cultural values exist in our subconscious and we assume they are correct. Until we are confronted with a different way.

Anita Desai said it this way, “Wherever you go becomes part of you somehow.”

During re-entry, you have this amazing opportunity to choose, to some degree, how you will be changed, and which parts of your two cultures – home and away –  you will carry with you going forward.

Yes, you are forever changed in some way. And this is a rich and awesome privilege.

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