Research Paper By Moraima Ferradas Reyes
(Life Coach, PERU)
The objective of this research paper is to look into the specific challenges faced by people who repatriate to their home country after living abroad and to analyze if and how coaching can support them in this particular situation.
Definition of Repatriation
The word repatriation comes from the Latin repatriare, which means to go home again.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of repatriation is To return to the country of origin, allegiance, or citizenship. 
In order to be clear on what we are talking about when we refer to repatriation, I want to make some remarks on its definition:
- It is important to notice that the definition –an also the latin word- includes the fact that there has to be a return. We can only repatriate when we go to live to a place where we have lived before. There has to be a going back.
- The definition offers more than one possibility for a repatriation to be such. You can go back to your “own country” or your place of origin, allegiance or citizenship. In today´s mobile world, these different possibilities make the definition of repatriation quite complicated. For example, some people may have never lived for long in their country of origin, so going to live there may not feel like a real repatriation. The same can happen with citizenship: you may be a citizen of a country you have never lived in. The third option, “returning to your country of allegiance” means you get to choose the country you consider home.
So, for the purpose of this paper (and of the survey that I conducted), repatriation means returning to a country you call (or sometime called) home.
Lot has been said (and written) about expatriation and its challenges. About the adaptation process, every expatriate has to go through before feeling at home, before having this sense of belonging to the place that hosts us. However, less is said about the process of going back. What about when we do not feel at home in the place we call –or used to call- home? What about not belonging to the city where we came from? Doesn´t this second scenario sound even scarier? I certainly think it does and that sole fact makes me wonder why hasn´t this situation (which is very real as I will show in the following pages) gotten so much attention?
Everybody always assume that repatriation is something easy, a simple move, “just” going back “home”, an environment that is not only familiar but also well-known and understood. However, the reality is quite different: the process of repatriation reveals a considerable number of challenges and difficulties individuals should acknowledge and plan for (which most people never do). The truth is repatriation is not as simple as it seems.
When living abroad, we learn about our host country’s culture and practices, we accept and practice new customs and behaviors, we begin to see the world from different angles, we widen our view of life and the world in ways that are sometimes even difficult to explain to people who do not share our life style. This learning process we go through during expatriation changes our beliefs and also our behavior, it changes us as persons in the broader sense of the word, it makes us evolve and grow. And while are going through all this changing and growing process, our country of origin, family and friends back home also undergo many changes in our absence. Internet, Skype, social media are indeed great tools to stay connected to people and things we care about but we shouldn’t forget that “being connected“ is not the same as “being there”. Home is no longer familiar and understood.
Therefore, what we feel when we go home and find ourselves in an environment that is basically unfamiliar is called reverse culture shock. Moreover, this shock is felt more intensely than the usual culture shock, fundamentally because contrary to when we expatriate, these emotions and thoughts are unexpected. This may create a lot of frustration. Numerous surveys indicate that about a quarter of expatriate employees resign from their job within a year of the return to the country of origin. A sizable number of returning expatriates report considering new assignments or opportunities abroad.
In addition, surveys also point out that, in the case of expatriated families, the success of an expatriation depends on a very high percentage on the ability of the accompanying partner and family to adapt to the new city. This could also be applicable in the case of repatriation.
So, my hypothesis in this paper is that coaching, to all the members of the repatriated family, both in terms of the workplace and private life, could be of help in facilitating a speedy and smooth adjustment to the “home country”. It could bring awareness about the challenges to come and support in overcoming them, turning them in a rewarding and meaningful growing experience.
To illustrate the main point of this research paper I want to share with you my experience with a repatriate client.
Silvia is Costa Rican and lived in Madrid for her master’s degree. The masters was 18 months long and she defines it as one of the most enriching and life-changing experiences she has ever had until now. In Madrid, she had no problem adapting to her new circumstances as a student (after several years of being out of university) and found in her classmates the support and friendship she needed to make the most of her experience abroad. Silvia is a very flexible and adaptable person, used to travelling the world.
Her coaching journey started after several months of her return home. She had had trouble finding a job she liked (she had decided to try to change career paths) and she had broken up with the boyfriend she had been with while on her MBA. She was sad and without any motivation, had gained weight, and had clear symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock (even though she did not know at the time that such thing existed).
The initial goal for her coaching journey was to support her in her job hunt, to motivate her and help her regain some self-confidence. She did mention how “out of place” she felt being back but, initially, it was not the main topic she wanted to discuss.
At the very beginning of our sessions when discussing her goals and potential actions to take in order to find a job that suited her, her discomfort and Reserve Culture Shock became more and more a matter of discussion. Somehow, she would always bring it out. Even if not out loud, when active listening I could always feel her sadness and lack of overall motivation.
I decided to dig deeper and ask powerful questions in order to support her in finding out her real goal for her coaching journey, what was really bothering her. It worked well and we started exploring more her feelings: she felt left out, missed her previous life abroad. She felt her friends at home have moved on without her during her year away, she missed her MBA friends and felt more like talking to them than to her home friends, clear symptoms of reverse homesickness. She also felt stressed about the fact she had gained weight so her self-confidence was also suffering on that side. She was not feeling good about herself, on many fronts: professional, personal, body image.
She did had friends that tried to cheer her up and support her but she was not letting them in. Her family was also supportive.
After carefully exploring her feelings and current situation, she became more self-aware and concluded that the cause of most of her problems was her “re-entry shock”. Her feelings of not belonging had created a snowball effect that was affecting everything: on one hand, she wasn´t putting her heart on her job search and was not moving on after her breakup. On the other, those same feelings were making her compensate by over eating. All of these things were undermining her self-confidence. She realized she had to reframe her perspective about the current moment of her life, try to look for opportunities for growth and take advantage of all she had learned –not only in the classrooms but also outside of them- during her MBA year. She understood she had to adapt again and think of her move back home as just another move (like the ones abroad) where she had to overcome some challenges as well.
She decided she had to move into action and create an action plan. She had to start somewhere and decided to start with what she considered was the easiest to do and to control (and that would bring results faster): her eating behavior. She immediately enrolled in a 6-week fitness program, started losing weight and feeling better and more confident about herself. She created some structures to support this first step: involving Friends and family in her program so they would help her get through. This first boost of self-confidence also had a snowball effect: her motivation and optimism started peeking again; she reported not only looking better but feeling better and people noticing her new attitude (besides her new “shape”).
As another part of her action plan, she also decided to share her feelings with other people who had relocated as well only to find out that they had gone through the same process. Shortly after, she found a job, a temporary one, not the dream one, but this sole fact made her gain a little more confidence on her professional value and the market appreciation of her profile.
When our coaching sessions ended, she had regained her usual enthusiasm and had taken control of most aspects of her life. She still had not found her “perfect” job but she was looking at the obstacles in a different way, she was taking advantage of the job she did have to do some networking and spend some more time readapting to her home city.
For me as coach (and as an expatriate myself), this coaching process was very revealing and gave me the idea of exploring repatriation as a matter that could be supported by coaching. It made me realize the fact that all the challenges faced by my client were unexpected and that it was this what made the adaptation process so hard and complicated. It also made clear to me that the support she got from me, as her coach, helped her gain awareness and realize where all her obstacles were coming from (from her and her culture shock).
After my experience with my repatriate client and as part of the research leading to this paper, I have conducted a Repatriation Survey which was meant to give me some light regarding the main issues repatriates face when going back home.
The people that responded to the survey are from different countries, ages and had lived abroad different number of years and for different reasons.
A big majority (around 75%) mentioned having had some kind of cultural shock when repatriating. The very few ones that said they did not feel any were the ones who were living abroad for very short periods of times (1 or 2 years) or the ones who repatriated only temporarily. It is important to mention that almost all of them found different things as the most shocking ones when they went back home. Some of the more commons were seeing that life (and their friends) had moved on in their absence and finding that their city had changed while they were away.
Almost the same 75% that admitted having felt some kind of culture shock said that they did not prepare themselves for their return. Out of this 75% the big majority said they did not expect to feel so out of place in their own city.
Regarding pre-expatriation friendships, 50% of the respondents said they did keep their previous friends, 30% said they did not, that they had grown apart and 20% said they kept some but not all of them and/or not with the same kind of relationship.
The question about how easy the respondents reinserted themselves in the labor market was responded with half the people saying it was fairly easy (most of them came back to the same company they expatriated with); 30% saying that it took them some time but it was not that difficult and 20% saying they did have a hard time finding a job or getting used to their new position.
Most of the respondents had expatriated alone so they could not answer the question about how hard was for their family to adapt. However, in the case of those who did travel with the family, most of them said that it was easier for the kids than for the spouse.
In addition, 90% of the respondents said that they would like to expatriate again soon (some of them were already living somewhere else).
The analysis of this survey also showed that the most important support repatriates get is from their family and friends (in this order). 80% of respondents said that some support would have made their adaptation process easier (some mentioned that talking to people who had gone through the same would have helped). The ones who said they did not see the need of support were usually the ones who expatriated for a short period or the more expert expats (the ones who had been around the world for long and had developed tools and adaptation skills). A group responded saying that they could not think of any other way of support other than family and/or friends.
From my experience as a coach and the analysis of the survey I conducted, I can conclude that coaching can be a useful tool for repatriates in the process of reinserting themselves in their home country. It can be of great support not only in the professional arena but also within the personal one (for both the person coming back from a work assignment or study experience and his/her spouse and/or family).
By listening actively and questioning powerfully, a coach can support repatriates in creating awareness not only about the challenges ahead but also about the fact that their values and beliefs have changed during their expatriate experience and – even if they are already aware of this- about how these changes are affecting their adaptation process. By helping them come to terms with the effect of the time being away, we, as coaches, are already making it easier for them to readjust to life at home. 
Also, once the challenges to come are identified, a coach can support the coachee in moving into action and creating structures that support their adaptation process. For example, talking about their feelings with people who have gone through the same, writing about them in forums for expatriates, or even volunteer helping people who are coming back from experiences abroad.
By building a space of trust, a coach can provide the sounding board or listening post for many of the new experiences, challenges or triumphs the repatriate is going through, partnering with him/her and his/her family to provide support and empower them to adapt well.
The sole fact of being there, side by side, with our clients during the process of identifying the challenges ahead, building change management strategies, setting goals for the adaptation stages and identifying and achieving (and celebrating!) milestones in the relocation can be very helpful and make the readaptation experience a lot more easy for everybody.
The Wall Street Journal. Cartus 2014 Global Relocation Trends Survey: It's All About Family When it Comes to the Success of a Costly Job Transfer
 Brookfield Global Relocation Services. Global Relocation Trends, 2012 Survey Report
Global mobility policy & practices- 2014 Survey executive Summary report
 Name and some information have been changed for privacy reasons
 See Exhibit 1 or https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CSX5NYJ.
 There are several exercises a coach can propose to its clients to support them in this area. For example, we can invite them to write about every judgment they hold, every assumption they have made, and every bitter thought that comes to their mind when they think of being back home and to question how these are affecting them and their adaptation process and how they can let go of them as well.