Going Home? Re-entry from the Pandemic

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Dear Friend,

I got my second vaccine two weeks and two hours ago. I am literally on the cusp of re-entry, of return from a year’s sojourn in a wild and unknown land, eager to return to my beloved and comfortable old life. But I find myself in a kind of deer-in-the-headlights moment about what is about to happen. It is not the cumulative fatigue of the pandemic, but rather an anticipatory worry about what is to come.
 
Transition experts know about this. People who move back to their home country after living outside it commonly report a pre-move anxiety, part of the re-entry shock that many say is harder than the culture shock they felt when they first moved overseas. Here’s a quick list of warnings I give to repatriating people:
 

  • You have changed in ways you don’t realize. Living in another culture changes you.
  • People at home have changed, too.
  • “Home” itself has changed and may no longer feel all-familiar and all-accepting.
  • You probably won’t just step back into your old job and proceed as usual.
  • Your interpretation of your home culture is different and may be unflattering.
  • You may be met with a general lack of interest in your experiences.
  • No one expects repatriation to be hard.

 
I suggest that this list is also a good one for all of us returning from the Land of Lockdown expecting to be Home at Last.
 
You have changed in ways you don’t realize.  The ways in which our mental health, social lives, and friendships have been affected by prolonged lockdown have been well documented. It’s impossible to be beyond its reach. Maybe you’ve had to find your ‘inner introvert’ and find ways to keep it amused — and you may decide you like it more than you used to. Or…your social self is bursting to re-appear and dancing on the table suddenly sounds fun. Your friendships have all been given the Zoom test, with the likely loss of some relationships and gain of others. (I met a group of old friends at a high school reunion right before the lockdown; we’ve met monthly on Zoom all year and I wonder if we would have found or made the time to do so if our schedules weren’t so constrained.) Our challenge will be to reflect on which of our changes are ‘keepers’ and which we will want to shed.
 
People at home have changed, too.  Everyone you knew before the pandemic in the Home in Your Head has been navigating the lockdown just as you have. Some have faced illness and death. They have been managing and coping and changing, just like you, and so you are unlikely to just snap back into the patterns you remember with each other. The folks you always met at the dog park may have moved away. The parents you chatted with after dropping your children at school may have divorced. Your favorite coffee shop may be re-opened but with an all-new staff. The friends who used to gather for a Friday night beer may have fallen in love with their inner introvert. For each of us in a unique way, it’s going to be different. We must prepare for change and be open to new ways of being in a relationship.
 
“Home” itself has changed and may no longer feel all-familiar and all-accepting. Home is supposed to be where you are completely comfortable just being you, where how you behave is accepted as is. But now, everyone in your ‘home’ has been through this common bizarre year of constraint and loss. There will surely be new norms and expectations that may be confusing or annoying to decipher. There is going to be a long liminal period between lockdown and herd immunity, made more complicated by the different vaccination and lockdown schedules in different communities. Masks or no? Large groups inside yet or no? Expectations to attend business meetings? Keep Zooming when you technically could meet in person? The environment we will step into will be new and we are unlikely to feel completely comfortable there. With time, norms and expectations will settle in, but till then, we may still feel a bit homeless.
 
You probably won’t just step back into your old job and proceed as usual. Just as returning expats find that their old workplaces have changed – new boss, new colleagues, changed policies, new product lines – going back ‘to work’ after the pandemic is likely to be quite different as well. If you have been working from home dreaming of the old days at the water cooler, prepare yourself. There are likely to be new health and safety precautions; some colleagues will be missing and new faces will be at the table; hybrid schedules may be popular, so expectations for what a day at work looks and feels like will take a while to gel. And that’s if you had a job you could do from home. Others will be on the job market or starting businesses anew. It won’t be business as usual for most of us. Planning for a transition period will be more adaptive than expecting the old ways.
 
Your interpretation of your home culture is different and may be unflattering. Many expats, having viewed their country from afar, see it with new, critical eyes when they come home. We pandemic returnees will similarly take fresh stock of our now-reopened lives – our jobs, where we live, our friendships, our faith communities, how we spend leisure time. This can be a time of brilliant re-building and reflection, as we apply what we have learned to emerge from the past year with a new commitment to living life the way we want to do.
 
You may be met with a general lack of interest in your experiences. A difficult surprise facing returning expats is that those at home don’t seem very interested in their world-altering experience overseas. Those at home can’t really imagine what they’ve been through and so it’s hard to listen. In this post-pandemic re-entry, that won’t be the case, exactly. Everyone you meet will have been through a world-altering experience of some kind — we all will be both ‘teller’ and ‘listener.’ Will we want to talk about and hear how others’ experience compared to ours? Comparing stories of different paths through the shared journey can be a compelling way to build and strengthen relationships.
 
No one expects repatriation to be hard. ‘Going home’ – what could be hard about that? ‘Ending pandemic restrictions’ – what could be hard about that? The biggest tip I give returning expats is not to be surprised by the challenges listed above. Understand that re-entry is difficult, just as moving to a new culture was difficult. And that’s my message to you…and to myself.
 
Anne
 
P.S. It is a time for reinvention for many. Please see some training and learning opportunities in the sidebar, including the schedule for our upcoming Crossing Cultures with Competence training of trainers workshops.
 
P.P.S. And if you’re currently doing intercultural work, please see the sidebar notice about our new industry survey: Building and Nurturing Your Intercultural Career. We want to hear from both emerging and experienced interculturalists about how they have built their expertise and business. Participants will be the first to hear the results. Please help!

Dr. Anne P. Copeland

Dr. Anne P. Copeland

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About us

The work of understanding others and helping others understand us is our mission. 

We design and deliver specialized cross-cultural training workshops, train and consult to professionals in the field, conduct research on the process of intercultural transition, produce publications to assist newcomers to the US.

The Interchange Institute is a not-for-profit research organization established in 1997 by Dr. Anne P. Copeland. The work of smoothing intercultural transitions has never been so critical.

Recent Posts

Michelle Hagenberg, M. Ed.​

Senior Advisor

Michelle has worked professionally as a trainer, facilitator and coach for over 25 years, both in the US and in Germany. Michelle has taught Business English and Intercultural Communication for over 15 years in Germany and worked as a College Instructor and a Facilitator for the US Navy in the Chicago area. Since 2008 she has been working as an Intercultural Trainer, preparing families for their assignments in the United States of America, both in person and online. She thinks the Crossing Cultures with Competence training program is one of the best in its field and it very happy to have the chance work more intensely with Dr. Anne P. Copeland and the rest of this training team.

Michelle grew up in South Bend, Indiana, received her Bachelor’s degree from Purdue University in 1992 and her Masters from Kent State University in 1996 and now has been living in the Cologne area for the last twenty years. Originally coming to Germany in 2000 on a two-year German relocation assignment for a major pharmaceutical company, she decided to stay even longer, but spends as much time as she can in Michigan and Florida. She knows what it feels like to struggle as an accompanying spouse in a new land and having to learn and survive using a new language. Her fun, relaxed skills-based approach brings results in the classroom and the meeting room. Michelle earned a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction.

Terri McGinnis, M.S.

Senior Trainer​

Terri is an independent cross-cultural trainer specializing in helping families moving overseas, assisting those coming from overseas to live and work in the U.S., and providing group business briefings on China, Brazil and USA. Terri has worked with large automotive companies, automotive suppliers, oil companies, national office supply and furniture companies, the construction industry, electronic companies, IT companies, chemical companies, not to mention many other national and international companies.

A well-read and traveled individual, Terri has lived in and navigated different cultures successfully. Ms. McGinnis lived with her family as an expatriate in Beijing, China. In China, she conducted cross-cultural training programs, studied Mandarin, worked for the International School of Beijing providing classes to their staff, and provided Pilates training to individuals in the expatriate community of Beijing.

In addition to her overseas experience in China, Ms. McGinnis also lived with her family as an expatriate in Brazil for three years where she studied Portuguese. In addition to her language studies, she worked for Fiske School teaching English as a second language to Brazilian nationals. While in Brazil, the International School of Curitiba engaged her services for curriculum and staff development.

Prior to her international assignments, Ms. McGinnis was a high school teacher teaching vocational business skills. She also has eight years of experience in the automotive industry working in various HR positions.

Ms. McGinnis graduated with a Master of Science degree in Instructional Technology and a Bachelor of Science degree in Education.

Her experiences in Brazil and China have taught her to appreciate the world’s diversity and to cross cultures successfully. Her hobbies are reading, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and travel. She has two daughters attending university. She actively volunteers for her a local national club swim team.

Tasha Arnold, M.S.

Senior Trainer​

Tasha is an independent cross-cultural trainer and learning specialist with expertise in helping students, educators, senior leadership, and families transition to and from new cultural contexts. Through tailored transition and intercultural engagement programs, her goal is to help improve student achievement and educator fulfilment.

Tasha has experience working with a variety of both state and private education establishments operating in the elementary, secondary and higher education sectors. She is a certified teacher and high school principal and an approved NEASC Evaluator who visits and evaluates schools globally. Tasha has directed several research studies on educators’ experiences and perceived needs with regards to transition at their international school in order to improve the transition experience for educators, students and families in these cultural contexts. Her future work will focus on the psychological impact transition has on teacher retention.

Tasha is originally from Wisconsin, USA, where she worked as Head of Science in a local state middle school before taking up a specialist role with Chicago Public Schools as an educational consultant; there, she analyzed data on student achievement and collaborated with teachers and senior leadership to develop best practice that met the needs of a diverse and socioeconomic challenged student population. In 2011, Tasha then relocated to the UK where she has worked as a learning specialist and head of year at an international school. In the UK, Tasha has led and managed the achievement, progress and pastoral provision for neurodiverse high school students.

Tasha holds a Bachelors of Arts and Sciences Degree in both Education and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, with minors in Theology and Hispanic Literature. She has a Master’s of Science Degree in Educational Administration. She is in the final stages of completing her Doctoral degree, which has a psychological and sociological focus on teacher transition in international schools.

Tasha lives in London, UK with her husband and provides transition advice, workshops, and training on cultural competency in the USA, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Anne P. Copeland, Ph.D.

Founder and Executive Director of The Interchange Institute​

Dr. Copeland is a clinical psychologist with expertise in family and cultural transition. She provides cross-cultural training for individuals and families moving to and from the United States. She also trains others to deliver tailored, individualized cross-cultural orientation programs through the Crossing Cultures with Competence program, through which almost 500 interculturalists have been trained across the globe.

Dr. Copeland has written several books on families and transition (Studying Families, Sage 1991, Separating Together 1997, and In Their Own Voice 2011), and has authored over 90 research articles, chapters, and professional presentations.

Prior to founding The Interchange Institute in 1997, Dr. Copeland was Associate Professor of Psychology at Boston University, where she conducted research and research supervision in psychological aspects of family process assessment, ethnicity, cultural influences, immigration, development, developmental disabilities and affective development. During her tenure at the University, she relocated with her family to work in London in 1988, where she was the academic advisor for Boston University’s British Programmes.

Dr. Copeland has directed many research studies on expatriate families’ experience, including multinational in-depth analyses of the social, familial, and personal aspects of moving to a new country. Recent work focuses on the personal and family side of international short-term assignments, on the role of one’s home – its design and layout – on one’s expatriate experience, on the challenges of moving to a country that is perceived as very similar, the experiences of high school exchange host families, and the ways in which having experienced being different as a child has an impact on the expatriate experience.

Dr. Copeland lives with her husband in Boston, MA, and Barters Island, ME.