22 May 2013

The Six Emotions of Repatriation* (so far)

Emotion 1 - Excitement 
Finally! You get confirmation that the move back home (that's been a possibly, maybe for the past six months) is definite, it's happening! And although the move is still many months away you feel joy, excitement, elation. 'I'm going home!' you think. Back to good restaurants and shoes that fit me and English speakers and lamb, delicious lamb and my family, my sister and my nephews, and well priced delicious wine and trips to the beach with the dogs and friends, old and new, and clean air and, and, and! You think 'life is going to be easy again!'. 

Emotion 2 - Fear 
You think 'life is going to be easy again.' You realise that you love living abroad, being a stranger. You love the day to day challenges; the living in blissful ignorance, not speaking English for days on end. You love the apartment you've been living in for 3+ years; it feels like home. 

On a trip back to Australia you walk down Pitt Street Mall in Sydney, trying to really imagine living in this city again, and all you can think is that it feels like a small country town. Quiet, isolated, remote. And you are not special there. You think 'is this the end of adventure? Is my life just going to be a comfortable beige blur from now on?'. 

And then you think about the move a bit more and you realise that you can't use visa restrictions and language barriers as an excuse any more, people are going to expect you to get out there and do something with your life. Which scares you. 

And then there's the uncertainty, the questions. Where can I find 4 dollar soupy noodles in Sydney? (I'm pretty sure the answer is - nowhere). How will we manage 'co-parenting' when everyone's living in the same city, the same country? Will I go to parent-teacher night? How will I get my fix of cheap, cute stationery? How will I cope with shop assistants talking to me, in English? Does the husband really expect me to do the ironing? You fear the big stuff - becoming stagnant; changing roles and relationships - and you fear the little stuff. 

Emotion 3 - Regret 
You realise the move really is on and time is running out, and a strange thing happens. All those things that were driving you completely crazy about Korea (or insert-your-expat-country-name-here), those things that had you weeping with frustration, they disappear. Suddenly all you notice is how breathtakingly pretty the city looks in Spring, how much you love kim chi, how great the shopping is. You notice how comfortable you feel in your neighbourhood - even though you'll never look like a local, you feel kind of like a local. And even though logically you know all the (very valid) reasons why you made the decision to move back home, emotionally you feel a sort of soft regret. 

And you think of all those weekend trips to places that are (relatively) short hops away (Kyoto, Suzhou, to name two) that you never took. The road trips, the city excursions, the hikes. The craft and cooking classes. The blog posts you never wrote...time is running out. 

Emotion 4 - Panic 
As the move looms closer, you start to panic. Panic at the thought of all that stuff (oh, so much stuff!) that needs to be moved across oceans. Bouts of de-cluttering follow. With a slightly manic glint in your eye, you throw out whole boxes of scrap paper, a stack of DVDs you'll never watch again and a broken faux-Meccano roller coaster. You try to get the step-sons enthused about the process, but instead the youngest one just holds up a single piece of crumpled paper and asks 'soooo...do you think I should keep this?'. 

Then you start thinking about the actual move, and panic turns to stress. Yes there's the packing and unpacking, but there's also the disconnecting and connecting (phone, internet, gas, water, DTV...). And what do you do with the goldfish? And the pot plants? Then there's the transporting of dachshunds; the finding of doctors and dentists and waxers. And vets. Oh, and you need to find somewhere to live, for a little while, until you can move in to what will be your Home (yes, with a capital 'H'). And you realise when it comes to quality short term accommodation Sydney is the worst. And pet friendly? No way. 

Emotion 5 - Depression 
So you realise that for the first few months after the move you're probably going to be living in a soulless apartment that's over your budget. And the dogs, your dogs, will be spending time in quarantine and maybe then living at a boarding kennel. And everything will feel, will be, temporary. Again. 

And then something little happens, just an everyday frustration, and it's enough to push you over the edge. And you realise you may have just yelled at some poor customer service person, or maybe you're sitting at your computer with tears in your eyes and your not quite sure why. You realise it's because you don't actually deal very well with uncertainty, and everything, everything is uncertain right now. 

Time for a stroll in the sunshine, a good meal, a good book, a glass of wine. Some pom pom making. Time for a deep breath. 

Emotion 6 - Acceptance 
You remember all that management training about circle of influence / circle of concern. You realise you cannot control everything, and that actually that's part of what you've loved about living overseas. You write a list and start working on what you can, and let go of what you can't. You start cramming in all those city excursions and blog posts. You make plans for next year, for when you are Home; things you want to achieve that could not have been possible whilst you were living abroad. You get excited about the possibilities again. And you realise that no, it's not the end of adventure. That it's the start of something new. And just like the past 6 years it will be both wonderful and mundane. 


*Is it just me or is repatriation a really ugly word? It kind of sounds like a medical procedure or some sort of 'enhanced interrogation' technique...


  1. Repatriation is a terrible word, it really sounds like a medical procedure! The husband can do his own ironing, the co-parenting will work, you'll find something you love to do, Australia is fabulous, and it will be fine. :)

    I'm repatriating to the east coast next year (restateriating? ha!), and I'm still in the fear stage. I'm sure I'll move through all those stages as it gets closer and we make plans!

  2. I recognize many of these emotions. When we moved from Germany to the Netherlands I became the ultimate tourist in Munich and saw everything (almost) that I had wanted to see, but didn't make time to. Then six months later we came back. It's nearly impossible not to compare, compare, compare where you were with where you are. Maybe change your point of view and become a tourist in your own city. Try to see what's great about where you are instead of where you can no longer be. And, learn to make soupy noodles before you go so you won't miss them!

  3. Oh Emily - how can you see into my head so well? You have summed up PERFECTLY what I think about when we have talks about moving back to Australia. But you have been able to articulate it much better than I can.

    I wrote a little about it on my blog earlier on in the week - I know I will desperately miss HK when we leave, but I miss some things about Australia more and more now, the longer we have been away. I can't imagine living there again - and I don't exactly know why, apart from the fact I'll have to return to the work force again (I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up......), there will be a lot less sewing time for me then :(

    And yes, I have the fear too - will I be boring when we move back to Australia, our adventure will be over.

    Fabulous post Emily, just fabulous! I hope your move goes all to plan. Cat xox

  4. I have another year before I have to decide if I will stay in the UK or move back to the US and experience your very accurate list of emotions. I miss my family, but I've lived here for 8 years now and I quite enjoy it.

    I wish you the best of luck. I am sure you will have more than enough new joys back in Australia to compensate for what you miss from South Korea.

  5. Oh, I can only imagine and feel some of things you're going through but these life changing events are always so hard. You're right though and it's not the end of adventure. It's the start of something new and there will be many more adventures after this one too.


  6. You really do write well. I really felt your 'repatriation feelings' as i read your post and i wish you lots of happy & calming thoughts as you prepare for your next adventure!

  7. I am sure there are many more emotions to come, more sadness, more anxiety, more joy, but you will get through it and smile and remember that not only is it the beginning of a new adventure but it will also bring a bit closer to some of the people who love you and look forward to sharing your ups and downs more easily

  8. Loved this post. You have a great way of expressing your feelings.

  9. okay, so maybe I should've poured a glass of wine or made a cup of tea ... this was a lot of emotion to get through! And there'll be so much more to come!
    One thing is for sure, there will never be an end to your adventures and how is it possible for the word 'mundane' to creep into your vocabulary? Nay, I say! Watch out, Sydney, here comes Emily + family + two crazy dachshunds to shake things up!
    also, I know these emotions, but that from a child's point of view. Moving to Saudi wasn't as hard as moving back to Canada when I was a wee lass. It's always somehow more jarring to get back to where you come from. Does that make sense? You probably know what I mean, since you've done more moving-abroading than I.


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