25 August 2013

LIFE: Re-Entry Blues Redux

CHIAVARI, Italy – FAWCO, the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas, is a worldwide organization which provides 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 out of the country for a while.

 Some expats live in Pieve, in the heart of Umbria,

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.”
 Others live 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 begin to 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.

 One or two, or most likely more, live in Florence,
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 writes, “these things are true, but sometimes they are not.”
 While Ravello has attracted its share too,
For better or worse we change. No matter what the quality of the overseas experience has been, we are affected by it. We return a different person than when we left.

An article written by expat 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.”

And more than few call Pisa home,
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.
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 could never have imagined existed, 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 getting 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 finally resolving and overcoming yet another bureaucratic folderol, the sense of accomplishment that comes from making it through another day.

But be it north or south or on an island like Palermo, you'll find us everywhere
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 plus years. And truthfully there are still some days when I feel as though I’m just getting the hang of it. But who knows, things can change, especially here in Italy. So let me get back to you in… 2025?

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