CALLING ALL EX-PATs: Thinking about Moving Back “Home”?

By: Emely Ostberg, MSc (Counsl. Psych).
Consultant Psychotherapist at the Bell Yard Psychology Clinic

Repatriation is defined as moving back, voluntary or forcibly, to one’s own country. To those that have not experienced it, this may look like a tedious exercise in logistics but the psychological and emotional effects of being uprooted, by free will or otherwise, can be very unpleasant. Below is a list of the top 5 reasons why it can be psychologically difficult to move back ‘home’. I say ‘home’ lightly because to many it may not feel that way yet. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather a compilation of some of the most common experiences.

The list is inspired by my post-graduate research on the psychological processes that occur during transitioning experiences (Ostberg, 2017).    

1. The issue with bilingualism

Most people talk about the advantages of being bilingual. Yet few mention the experience of speaking a language which has hardly been used following a long period abroad. For example, imagine the person who moved in their late teens and has since mostly been surrounded by their second language. Their first language is being used with other friends who speak the same language and perhaps family. At work and in the community the second language is used. Hence, the person’s professional language has only been developed in the second language. Once back in your home country this issue can cause a feeling of inferiority. Perhaps they notice that their compatriots, those who never moved out of the country, are effortlessly using words and expressions that didn’t exist or were used when they themselves were in their teens. Expressions and words that they may know of but that don’t come with the same automatic ease as it seems to do for their compatriots. Depending on how they deal with the sense of inferiority, the gap between their compatriots and themselves may either widen or lessen.


2. The issue with being seen as someone you’re not

An individual who has been away for a long time will notice that even though you now have a degree, a high-flying job, children of your own etc people who you haven’t seen for a long time may not interact with you in a way that is any different to how they did when you were an 18-year-old rebellious goth. Now, of course not everyone has been a rebellious goth – but you get where I’m coming from! It doesn’t matter if you now have a PhD in astrophysics and work for NASA. To them, until you’ve shown otherwise, you will always be that 18-year-old goth. This can be difficult to handle, especially if you already find yourself struggling with a sense of inferiority (see the point made above).


 3. Others have changed. 

…and so have you. If you have been away for a long time it is most likely going to be a journey to reconnect. You will have to get to know the new ‘yous’ and you may not love the changes in each other, but maybe you will. You will be in a state which psychologists call ‘negotiating relational space’.



4. You will able to spot a social construction miles away.

It is like you put on a pair of glasses with special frames that allows you to observe patterns and behaviours others can’t see. Sometimes not even if you point it out. Depending on your mood you will either get annoyed or laugh as a response. If you’re Swedish you might notice people queuing up and taking a ticket to a line that doesn’t exist, just because of the unwritten rules that queuing entails. You may notice that peoples’ personal space when they talk to each other is at a different distance than what you’re used to. You may learn that people aren’t as helpful/more helpful than they were where you moved from. Perhaps you’ve become accustomed to being offered help with carrying heavy suitcases up the stairs, but in the country you’re moving back to, the same offer may be thought of as intrusive or rude to offer. This new ability is what psychologists call ‘repatriotic gaze’.


5. The rose-tinted glasses are no longer tinted. 

All those days when you imagined yourself and how different it would be to live in x, y, z country will undoubtedly have been slightly romanticised. Unfortunately romanticising comes with an inevitable low once you realise that ‘yes, it is possible to grow tired of x, y z food’ or that your initial enthusiasm over free nurseries/scheduled coffee breaks/long summer holidays does wear off after a while.



Posted by

Emely Ostberg, MSc (Counsl. Psych.)
Consultant Psychotherapist
in Private Practice.

I am an accredited Psychological Therapist working out of my office in the City of London, in Bell Yard, just off Fleet Street. I specialise in anxiety disorders, adjustment issues and high shame-prone individuals.

phone. +44 77 2219 4506



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