25 July 2010

LIFE: Re-Entry Blues

SARONNO, Italy - Fawco is the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas, a worldwide organization whose purpose is to provide an environment for Americans and other English speaking women living abroad to meet. The alumni division is called Fausa and it helps Fawco members re-adjust to life in the USA after living abroad.

The lure of the Amalfi Coast

One of Fausa’s missions is to help bridge the re-entry gap back into the American way of life by maintaining connections with other returned Fawco members who have shared an expatriate life. Going home is not as easy as you may think.
What is true is that after surviving an out-of-USA experience you see the world through different eyes, and as Pam Perraud, Fawco’s NGO Director and UN representative writes, “repatriation shock is real and often more painful than ‘culture shock’ was in moving to a foreign country. It has been defined as the shock in realizing that nothing at home is the same as before.”

Easy Living in Rome

“You may find that your newfound skills don’t carry much weight,” wrote one expat who lived in England for several years. “Friends give you a blow by blow of five years of marital discord and vacations to the Jersey shore, but don’t seem to be able to sustain more than a few minutes interest in where you have been. Things have changed while you were gone and you wonder if you are an old timer or a newcomer. I wanted to take out an ad in the American Women’s Club Newsletter warning everyone to STAY WHERE THEY ARE,” she went on to say.

A Favorite Cafe in Milan's Galleria

Another article, written by a woman who lived in Germany for two and a half years, pointed out that for many of us, when we think about going home we think:
- Finally I will really understand what’s going on.
- I can’t wait to do business where people are efficient and courteous.
- Everything works better in the USA.
- People will be interested in hearing what I’ve been through – both good and bad.
- If I could adjust to life and work overseas, surely I’ll be able to handle this so-called repatriation adjustment.

“Sometimes,” she write, “these things are true and sometimes they are not.”
For better or worse we change. No matter what the quality of the overseas experience, we are affected by it. We return a different person than when we left.

Wow! It Really Does Lean

An article written by Helen Bachman cites several cases in which people, after having returned to America, moved back overseas. One woman, who had lived in Paris, was quoted as saying: “I felt the shock of my life. I couldn’t fit in or find a niche for myself and the American lifestyle I thought I missed so much didn’t seem to suit me anymore.”
Once you have returned to the States a move back overseas is sometimes hard to explain to family and friends. Often even the expat doesn’t realize that what they may consider a return for an undefined period of time may end up being a lifetime.
Ravello, A little bit of Heaven on Earth

But what is gained by living in another country goes far beyond the telling of tales of moonlight trips down the Grand Canal and espressos sipped in sidewalk cafes. Just being challenged on a daily basis, solving problems and dealing with issues you never even thought about before strengthens you. Even if you crawl home and collapse in a heap, the next time out you are stronger and wiser.

The confidence you acquire in learning another language, to shop in kilos instead of pounds, in overcoming cultural barriers and just going from point A to point B without getting lost is something that is yours forever.

So why is it so hard for some to go back to the US? I think it’s the very things we all complain about that we miss the most: the unexpected – the satisfaction of resolving and overcoming yet another bureaucratic folderol, the sense of accomplishment that comes from making it through another day.

Everyone Falls in Love with Florence

In other words home is predicable, safe and do I dare say it - boring. I can hear expats here in Italy hooting – oh, for a safe, predicable, boring day. But even they have to admit no matter what the quality of their overseas experience is they are affected by it.

I know that when I moved to Italy I had no idea how long I would be here. The plan was to stay until I didn’t want to be here anymore. Has that happened? Am I tired of living abroad? Well no, not yet, but you see I’ve only been here 20 years and there are still some days when I feel as though I’m just getting the hang of it. But who knows, things can change. Let me get back to you in, say… 2025?

1 comment:

  1. Although I'm not a women or American, I can totally relate to re-entry syndrome. I lived in Italy for only 3 years and after returning to Toronto more than 18 years ago, there are still many things I cannot get used to or accept about North American life. The fact of people back home not being interested in your experiences is commonplace everywhere. There are some positives (at least from my perspective) though about repatriation. The cost of living is lower here so when we do return to Italy, we have more cash to enjoy the country. So for at least a couple of weeks a year, we can do Italy right.

    But alas, I miss much about the Bel Paese.