Want to Beat the Expat Blues?

Follow our FREE mini-course and take your life back
Get secrets to raise happy children abroad (even teenagers)
Don't miss out on the next blog posts and other goodies to fully enjoy your expatriate life.

Six Disturbing Experiences When Going Back Home For A Holiday

It’s been a while since you’ve set foot in your home country but this year, you’re going back. For a holiday.

Expats going back home for a holiday

Three weeks of jam packed program trying to optimize everything and please everyone:

  • spending an equal number of days in each family,
  • organizing a big party with your friends and
  • sprinkling visits to some tourist attractions here and there to show your kids ‘their’ country.

Here are 6 surprising and disturbing experiences that may jump in your face.

1. The power of conditioning

During the last year or more, you’ve been systematically trained to a range of set conditions. For example:

  • a slow Internet
  • no proper bread
  • shops open 24/7
  • speaking another language as soon as you go outside
  • celebrating Christmas in summer

After a few hours of travel, you’ve arrived to your home country.

You know that you can find crusty bread.
You know that you don’t need to rack your brain to utter your words in another language.
You know that you do have to pay attention to the shops opening hours.

But whatever your level of preparation, in the first moments – and this can vary from a few hours to a few days – you can’t help but start to activate your brain when preparing to talk, anticipate a bad connection to check your mails, or look at the tree leaves wondering why they are so green in autumn. Oops! It’s spring of course.

You tricked your rational mind (!) and uncovered your autopilot function.

You caught yourself experiencing first hand conditioning!

2. The distorted sense of connection

Through Skype, emails and other Snapchat, messenger, whatsapp, you can share pictures, videos and anecdotes in real time and with a great image/sound quality.

Now spending several days physically with your family, you’re struck to see your mum hobbling, your dad becoming forgetful, your brother having a slow computer and your sister-in-law struggling with insomnia.
You’d have never suspected it! How would you? And you thought you were connected…
Nobody told you. ‘We didn’t think it was that important’, some family members reply to your surprise.
But for others, it was deliberate: they didn’t want to share.

Granted: on your side, you did the same. Distance enables us to filter. For better or for worse.

3. The paradox of distance in relationships

There’s no doubt that distance puts relationships to the test.

Distance can ruin a friendship.
As the proverb goes

Out of sight, out of mind.

But distance can also deepen our ties.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Deepen really?

Distance makes it impossible to share the same physical reality: the temperature in the room, the time of the day, the smells and noise of your surroundings. Stripped from the trivialities of daily events that you’re too tired to mention or that are just irrelevant because your friend can’t relate, you enter the realm of a more fundamental exchange: your longings, your feelings, your state of mind. This is what connects us whatever the place and the time: our common humanity.

Long distance relationships are one-on-one relationships.

When you call, write or skype, it’s generally one person at a time on each side. Sure, there may occasionally be some mingling of your loved ones but primarily it remains an individual pursuit. This allows you then to share on an intimate level if you want to. It’s also more difficult to hide!

When you go back to your family and you want to see as many people as possible in a limited amount of time, you lose the depth and the intimacy. You can’t connect at the same level with 20 people in the room, music in the background and playing kids in the surroundings.

You end up sharing for once the same place, time zone, meal but feeling somewhat disconnected and so far away…

4. An acute awareness of dynamics between people

When you left to live abroad, you extracted yourself from your familiar environment to throw yourself into an unknown world. This process is strikingly akin to what happens during birth: leaving the comfort of a well-regulated 37C bath to confront the changing breeze of air flowing through your nose and along your skin.

Taking some distance is painful. It means cutting ties but it now gives you the benefit of a bird’s eye view. When your nose is too close to the drawing, you have no way to see the big picture.

Coming back into your original family circle shines new light on patterns of interaction you hadn’t noticed so accurately before.
‘Don’t forget to put a jumper on. It’s cold outside.’ ‘Have you had enough breakfast? Did you eat some fruit today?’ ‘Drink some more water. You need to stay hydrated’. You’re baffled to see how anxious your mum is and how she constantly interferes with your actions.

You’re struck to see the relationship between your parents and your sister who lives close by. They treat her like a child at 45!

‘I’m sure it’s going to rain today and we’ll have a lot of traffic on the road’, asserts your dad.
You wonder: How does he know? Why be so negative and always assume the worst?

Those patterns of interaction jump out at you now with so much clarity!

5. Going back – a double edge sword?

Going back to the place where you grew up can have 2 opposite effects: helping to get closure and reopening older wounds.

The former – getting closure – is an important part in the grieving process of expatriation. When you uproot yourself, you experience different types of losses: definitive losses and ambiguous losses. None of them is linked to the death of a loved one but all losses need to be dealt with. Going back to meaningful places is a way to express a proper good-bye and finally be able to let go.

But revisiting childhood places, family and friends revives memories ‘from the good old times’ and creates new ones. It shines a light on aspects you loved but had forgotten. It builds new ties and fond moments, making it all the more difficult to leave again!

6. A disturbing sense of reality

After a few days in surroundings where you spent years or even decades, you feel as if you never left. All your sensations and your habits come back naturally as if they were embedded in your body and your mind.

It’s like stepping in old slippers. You’ve had them for years. You know them in and out. They’re so comfy, so familiar that you can’t think of the moment you wore high heels. That now seems such an illusion.

Because your current world is so familiar, you start to question the other reality: all this expatriation experience now seems totally unreal.

Do we actually have another house, a home, a life so far away?

Tell me, I’m curious to know: what is/was YOUR most disturbing experience when going back home for a holiday?

 

Credit picture Depositphotos Credit Music Free Music Archive

Losing A Home – The Impact On Your Third Culture Kid (And How To Handle It)

Ben was 8 years old when he left the country where he’d spent all his childhood.  

Third Culture Kid losing a home

‘Daddy’s got a promotion overseas and says he can’t refuse it’, explained Ben to his teacher when he got the news. Originally the family was supposed to live abroad for 3 years and come back.

The move was temporary and Ben’s dad was well-paid, so the family decided to keep the house and didn’t even need to rent it out.

Ben took his favourite toys, his bike and his skate board.

But home was his house: his own bedroom with the wall paper he’d chosen, the big playroom where he chipped his tooth while riding the rocking horse when he was 6 years old, the garden with the rusty soccer goal where he played for hours with his dad. Ben was leaving, but he knew the house would wait for him. He would come back.

It didn’t turn out that way.

After 3 years, Ben’s dad got another assignment and the family moved to another country. One evening, the parents gathered Ben and his older sister.

‘We’ve been thinking a lot about our situation’, said Ben’s mum. ‘Dad will never get a job located back home. We now have to sell the house.’

‘What?’ shouted Ben, his cheeks blushing. ‘Never. I’ll never agree to sell MY house. When we left, you promised we’d come back after 3 years. You lied to me. I’ll never believe you ever again if you do that. You’ve got to keep it. I’ll buy it from you when I’m older.’

‘Ben, unfortunately we can’t maintain an empty house forever.  You’re only 12 years old.’

‘If you sell the house, I’ll kill myself.’ whispered Ben, clutching his fists.

Ben’s parents knew that he was attached to the house. They expected a strong reaction. But such intensity took them completely off guard.

Deeply worried, they decided to delay any further action.

 

 

Announcing something and acting on it immediately afterward is traumatic for the recipient of the news because acts in human beings are always preceded by projects.

Francoise Dolto, child psychoanalyst

Adults and children don’t share the same amount of information. Oblivious to this fact, adults often forget that they had time to get accustomed to the idea before they made a decision and announce it to the children.

If this announcement is left to the last minute, action quickly follows leaving no time for the kids to process, hence the traumatic reaction.

In addition to this, paediatrician and child psychoanalyst Francoise Dolto mentions 3 levels of continuity that are essential to children’s development:

  1. their body evolving and developing itself in a particular space, and thus linked to it
  2. their social network and
  3. their sources of affection.

When there is uprooting from a meaningful place, the child can get lost in their body — their spatial landmarks. This happens until the child reaches 8 or 9 years old.

We now understand why the house is so much more than just a familiar place with pleasant memories. It’s linked to the child’s inner world.

Some parents, fearing the drama, may be tempted to hide the sale of the home with the idea of ‘protecting the child’. Of course, sooner or later, the truth will come out. Can you imagine its impact then?

 

 

Ben’s parents began to discuss the process with Ben. During the following weeks, they took time to explain the situation in detail. They shared their vision for the future.

When Ben expressed his concerns, when he recalled rose-tinted memories from the past, they didn’t try to ‘convince’ him or to prove him wrong. They just listened. They knew they had to let him grieve.

Eventually Ben admitted that he didn’t intend to commit suicide. It was his way to have his parents consider his opinion and try to stop the project.

 

 

Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size.

Mark Twain

Expatriates face a very specific situation. They need to deal with a particular type of grief. I call it expatriate grief.  

The losses they have to mourn are not associated with the death of a loved one. This is the reason why it’s so often ignored, denied or ridiculed.

Some losses are tangible (the loss of a house), some are ambiguous (the loss of daily contacts with grandparents or school mates), some are invisible (the loss of a language that is not spoken any longer within the family).

Grief is different for everyone. Children grieve too.

Experiencing the grieving process in such a mindful way ensures a healthy  future. In accompanying your children on that path, in putting words on what’s happening, in respecting their inclinations, their desires, their rituals, their wishes related to their grieving process, you give them a skill for life: the knowledge of how they grieve.

 

 

Ben was still sad but less angry. From time to time, he spoke about his house, resigned to the idea that his parents would do what they wanted. Often, he didn’t want to touch the subject.

His parents finally decided to launch the selling process. The house would need to be emptied.

Ben’s mother was anxious to speak about the topic with him once more. But she was committed to the process: openness and transparency.

‘Ben, we’re going to have a relocation company come to the house. Some things we’ll bring back here, others we’ll sell and the rest will go to the bin or to charities. Dad and I will go for a week to sort everything out. It won’t be fun. Hours of sifting through all the stuff.

If you want to come, you’re welcome. If you prefer to stay and tell us what to put in the container, that’s fine too. What do you decide?’

Secretly, she hoped Ben would choose to stay put. Taking the kids with her was an extra burden.

They’d have to miss school. They might slow down the sorting by complaining about  how boring it is. They might want to see their former friends and she’d have other things to be preoccupied with. She certainly didn’t want to organize playdates!

She was also worried that Ben would be more affected by seeing the empty house. What if this stay refreshed so many memories that he’d be more attached to it and he’d suffer more afterwards?

 

 

Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.

Maria Montessori

 

That’s why it’s so critical to pay extra care, offer options, and deeply respect the children’s choice when dealing with such an important matter.

Whatever the degree of intimacy with someone, you can never feel what they feel.

People have tried over the years to analyse the grieving process and to structure it in steps. The reality is: it’s messy. The grieving process is utterly personal. There is no rule. Except that it should happen. It should not be constrained, denied or ridiculed.

Accepting our ignorance of how it unfolds for others with the deep knowledge that it happens, in some way can be deeply liberating. It means trusting your child that they will feel what their heart is inclined to do. It means creating for them a space where they feel safe to express themselves without being criticized, judged or fixed.

It also means letting go of the guilt: if you choose for your child and try to influence them in a way that seems more convenient for you, what if they suffer afterwards? What if they give your reproaches? How will you feel?

But you may argue: If I let them choose, what if they regret their choice afterwards?

You’ll know in your heart that you gave the options and that you genuinely listened to them.

Your children will know how it felt to make this decision. They’ll learn how to take responsibility for their actions.

 

 

For Ben, the decision was simple. He wanted to go.

The family spent a whole week, emptying the house. There were fun moments when Ben could play with his ball in the now empty living room. There were emotional moments when the loaded truck left the street and the family closed the front door for the last time.

But Ben felt good in his tummy. He had a proper goodbye. Now, he could move on.

 

 

Now over to you: what’s your experience with your child(ren) of losing a home? How did you handle it?

 

 

Credit picture Depositphotos credit music The piano society

Emotional Abuse In Expat Couples – 4 Essential Steps To Deal With It

Sophie sits on the couch, her empty gaze staring at the salon table in front of her. Jack, her husband arrived from work and they’ve just had an argument. It’s become more and more frequent since they moved to this new country, a year ago. Sophie left her job to follow Jack when he got a promotion… […]

Continue reading...

Repatriation With Children – How To Be Sure You’re Doing The Right Thing

“Going back ‘home’? Are you serious?” Jonathan’s eyes bulge out of his head. He’s 13. When his family moved abroad, he was 8. “I don’t want to leave my friends! I don’t know anyone back there. Why are we going? Why don’t we stay?” “My job ends next month. We have to leave,” says his […]

Continue reading...

Repatriation – Easier Than Another Expat Assignment?

‘Honey, pack your suitcase. We’re going back home!’ shouts your partner as he walks through the front door. ‘Whaaaat? Really?’ Your jaw drops. Whether you longed for this moment — without ever believing it would happen so soon — or you’re heartbroken to leave your host country (perhaps even resenting the idea to go back) one […]

Continue reading...

The Biggest Challenge of Repatriation – What You Thought You’d Never Need To Know

If you’re planning to go back to your home country after living abroad for any length of time, I bet you’re not madly skimming the Internet for information on how to make the most of your transition. Why should you? You’re going back ‘home’! No need for a language course. No need for a cross-cultural training. […]

Continue reading...

Expats – Your Body Aches But You Don’t Listen (And What To Do Instead)

‘I’ve got a terrible headache. And it’s not the first time.   My vision is blurry. When the pain strikes I can’t even stand up. I’m feeling dizzy. At first I didn’t worry too much. I thought it was due to the move and the changing environmental conditions: jet lag, humid climate, food. But after […]

Continue reading...

Expats – The true story of building a portable social network (and why it matters)

Starting all over again? You have no energy left. This is your third move in 10 years. You’ve just unpacked all your boxes, settled the children at school and established a new routine. You know you should also rebuild a social network. But really, you feel exhausted. Each time, it’s the same story. It’s not […]

Continue reading...

2015 – A Year In Expatland

As is now the tradition, in the last days of the year, I’m taking you on a journey: the story of an expat woman, Lisa, through a compilation of all the articles published on the blog in 2015. Disclaimer: Not all characters appearing in this work are fictitious. In fact, they’re all either clearly identified or […]

Continue reading...

Trailing Spouse – Does Volunteering Make You Happier?

Sophie avidly reads an article reporting the conclusions of a Harvard study conducted in 2014: ‘Volunteering makes you happier’. It’s been 6 months since she arrived with her family in this new country. She followed her husband when he got a promotion abroad. While she didn’t have a minute for herself 3 months before and 3 […]

Continue reading...