day 24: going home

T S Eliot quote exploring

Today I’m breaking my daily post habit and giving you four posts in one day. It’s because later on today I have THREE guest posters here to tell you their story, their experiences of our theme today: going home.

Being an expat is usually not a permanent situation. For most people, even those who move every few years for most of their lives, the day comes when you need to decide: do I stay here (immigrate) and make this home, or do I go back to the place I still in my heart know as home?

Some people, on expat contracts, are told by their company when this will happen. Some know from the beginning when it will be. For others, the decision comes at retirement. And still others (me included) have no idea what the future will bring (or even where home actually is – but that’s a story for another day).

What do you do when the time comes to leave and say goodbye to this foreign land you’d made your home for the last months or years?

Say goodbye well. These people, these places have doubtless meant a lot to you. Moving away can be a kind of grief of it’s own, especially if you’ve loved your time as an expat. Don’t deny the difficulty, but find meaningful ways to say goodbye well. Throw a party, write cards, take your best friends out for dinner, do a last tour of your favourite bars… it will look different for each person. But do it right for you.

Take something with you. Maybe it’s tacky tourist gifts, or a piece of furniture, or hundreds of photos of all your experiences, a jar of sand from the beach, journals of memories. Whatever it is, take something with you that will help you remember what you liked best about this place.

Recognise you have changed. Whether you have noticed it or not, living in a culture very different to your own will have changed you in big or in subtle ways. You’re not going home as exactly the same person. Recognising this now will help you deal with your expectations and emotions as you leave and reintegrate back home.

Realise that you are likely to experience reverse culture shock. Some people even say this is a bigger shock than the initial moving overseas, because you expect it when you go away, not so much when you return home. Things that were completely normal to you before will not feel weird, customs you acted out every day may feel acted or bizarre. You’ve become used to looking at a culture from the outside in, and to an extent this same thing will happen when you go home.

Every returning expat is different. Some go home in relief, some have to be carried kicking and screaming onto the plane. Some settle quickly and easily in back home, others never quite feel normal again. Your experience will be unique to you but it is still very normal. So many have returned before you, so share what you’re struggling with if it is a struggle, and you’re bound to find someone who can sympathise.

Have you had an expat experience you’ve returned from? What was it like coming home? Let me know in the comments and then come back later to hear three of my friends tell their stories of going home…


Update: Follow the links to read three experiences of returning home after an expat experience:

Ellie’s story – Jo’burg to Newcastle

Naomi’s story – Singapore to London

Sarah’s story – Brussels to Los Angeles


This post is part of my 31 days to embrace expat life. I’m writing every day through October on this topic. Click on the button to see all the posts so far…

Yesterday’s post – Say Yes!