Congratulations, global mobility professional. It’s been a year or longer since you bade your assignee goodbye and sent them abroad. Ever since then, you’ve been staying in constant communication with them to ensure they’ve been able to adjust to life and work abroad. Finally, after many long Skype chats, WhatsApp messages and maybe even a visit abroad to see them in-person, you’re ready to bring your assignee back home.
Repatriation isn’t as simple as just greeting your returning assignee with a smile and a jar of peanut butter (we all know how much they missed it). Just like going abroad, coming home can be jarring and confusing and can even involve a fair amount of culture shock. In order to alleviate some common problems involved in repatriation, here are three things for you to remember.
- Culture shock works both ways.
After an extended assignment in Krakow, your assignee’s been lucky enough to travel around the beautiful cities, experience this history and sample Polish delicacies like bigos, pierogi and zapiekanka. When they get home to the United States, it can be shocking to realize most of the buildings are under 350 years old, the country’s official history doesn’t include much before the 17th century and food is spicier than they remember. Although these are fairly small things, the pieces of American culture your assignee forgot or never noticed can be uncomfortable for a returning assignee.
Help them acclimate by encouraging them to share their experiences abroad with others and discuss the differences between cultures. Voicing both positive and negative elements of both cultures can help your assignee make sense of how they’re adjusting back home. Finally, encourage them to seek out restaurants, churches or even foreign-language book clubs to help them bridge the gap between their home culture and the one they’ve just left.
- Keep financial matters in order.
While your assignee was away, they may have had to register as a non-resident for taxation purposes. When they repatriate, they’ll need to re-register in order to prepare for the upcoming tax season.
Another thing to keep in mind is how the cost of living may have changed since they moved abroad. Is your assignee returning from Beijing aware of how strong the dollar is against the yuan? It can be great to see that they can now buy raspberries at a fair price, but they may be newly horrified at their gas bill. After a long time working and living with that foreign currency, they may be surprised at how prices back home have changed (either positively or negatively!) in their absence.
- Kids can have it rough.
The child of an assignee may have an especially difficult time repatriating. Depending on how old the child is, they may even identify more with their foreign home than their culture back home. Today, there’s a phrase for these kids: third-culture kids (TCKs), who grew up in part outside of their parents’ culture.
Help parents understand that these kids have their own unique understanding of their culture and may find it difficult to accept that repatriation means “coming home.” Instead, encourage them to have kids write down their feelings or express their emotions through writing and art. Point to famous TCKs like Barack Obama, who spent part of his childhood living in Indonesia; Kobe Bryant, who lived in Italy until he was 14; and Khaled Hosseini, who moved from Kabul to Paris with his family when he was 11. Let kids know how cool their multicultural background is, and encourage them to hold onto their language skills and cultural understanding.
Oftentimes, preparing a family for repatriation can follow the same steps as preparing them for relocation. Download our HR Manager’s guide to global relocation for a crash course in getting your assignee and their loved ones ready for a move abroad—whether it’s leaving home on a new adventure or returning to a new life.