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Returning Home

Coming home after spending some time abroad is not an easy task. Just like moving abroad, coming home can be another culture shock. So it is important to be prepared for it.

“When coming home after a 5-year stay in the Middle East, I was really happy at first. Although I loved being there - I really missed home a lot. And then it seemed so great to have all the things back that I have missed for so long. But after a month, things seemed to get worse - I was very miserable, got depressed and missed the Middle East. The people appeared strange, and even my family and friends, whom I have missed for so long, started to upset me”, says Gerhard Baumgarten, a German engineer.

This type of reaction is unfortunately not uncommon - many expatriates face the situation when returning home. After a short while of being enthusiastic about being home again, they feel increasingly isolated and frustrated with their home environment. What is happening is, in fact, a second culture shock.

One issue is that many students come to embody a bit of both their native culture and that o America. As in the example above, the engineer is no longer "really" German, and has become more "Middle Eastern." So coming home is similar to coming to another culture, especially because many people lose their perspective for their culture while living abroad. So many people will miss their home while being abroad - but that has a tendency to be an idealized home. Once they move back, they are confronted with the reality.

When you study abroad, you learn a lot, become accultured in your host culture, and been accustomed to a different behavior, but your friends and the family at home did not have those experiences. Whereas you may have changed behavior quite drastically, your relatives at home have probably not. You may appear different to your friends and relatives upon returning home, just as they may appear strange to you.

"All my friends were talking about nothing important, they all appeared very square headed to me . . . None of them really seemed to care for me - we just couldn't communicate at all. After a while they seemed really a bit suspicious of me," said Gerhard of his friends. "Now (6 months later) I have a completely new circle of friends. Many of them have lived abroad or are foreigners. Only very few ones are from before going to Israel."

Unfortunately, not many companies are providing intercultural training for their employees when they return home, although the culture shock can be just as deep and depressing as the first one. Many people feel isolated and alienated in their "home" culture.

Although there is no recipe for success, other repatriates may help in such situations. They already know the problem, and can frequently provide help - as well as probably being more culture aware, and more understanding towards the problems of "reintegration."

It is also important to know - and be actively aware of - what is happening to you. A culture shock usually does not last for longer than a year. Knowing that may at least provide some help. If you have any tips on what to do, please post them below, and help a fellow expatriate to find the way back home!

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