Last week I reached the 3-year anniversary of my repatriation to Estonia.
I only noticed the date because I had put it in my calendar as something to celebrate.
What happened instead was that I didn’t care to celebrate it.
Living where I live today, in my passport country, has become part of the wallpaper for me so it’s no longer a thing to celebrate for me.
It’s no longer something I actively think about nor am I adjusting to a new life on a daily basis.
It’s just life now.
This is my home.
(Typing these words seems just slightly like ‘la la land’ – as someone who has struggled to feel at home her entire life, it feels like such an achievement to even be able to say it, let alone feel it.)
These days I’m much more focused on what it’s like to settle into life in the woods (I left city life behind and moved to the woods last year) than I am to life in Estonia.
There isn’t too much new I have to say this time (check out my 2-month, 8-month, 14-month and 2-year updates) but one recent client session with someone that was in the very early stages of toying with the idea of maybe moving back after 20+ years abroad made me realize that I have one more reflection post in me on my repatriation process.
This time, I want to write about what it looks like to discover who you are and who you’ve become in your passport/home country after living abroad for so many years.
Repatriation does not equal returning to your old life
I’ve written about this in more detail before but it’s worth repeating – just because your home/passport country is familiar to you doesn’t mean that you would be returning to your old life and old self (unless you allow yourself to regress, of course).
Life abroad changes people and you’ll only find out just how much when you move back (or even just go on an extended visit) and experience it for yourself.
One of the main ways that repatriation has earned such a bad reputation is through expats’ misguided expectations around what it’s like to move back.
Here are 3 common expectations that can easily turn into traps and that I see among my expat clients over and over again:
- If you *want* to return to your old life and how everything used to be (because you don’t like your life abroad), then it will no longer be possible because you’ve fundamentally changed. The sooner you accept that, the faster you can truly start adjusting to life in your home/passport country when you move back.
- If you’re overly focused on the negatives about your home/passport country, then all you’re going to see are the negatives. What you focus on, that’s what gets amplified.
- If you think moving back will be easier because it’s a familiar country rather than a foreign country, then you’re setting yourself up for failure because it’s still a major lifestyle change (+ all of the above issues).A lifestyle change of this magnitude is something we need to adjust to carefully with patience, compassion and curiosity towards how your relationship to your home/passport country may have deeply changed without you noticing.
The more you can adopt the mindset that moving to your home/passport country isn’t moving *back* somewhere, but rather a move to a foreign country where you need to invest time in rediscovering yourself and your relationship/expectations towards your home/passport country, the greater the chance of you finding a new way of life that suits you better than your old life could anymore.
My journey of discovering who I am after living abroad
I’ll be the first to admit that in my first repatriation year, I felt the pull of the ‘old’ quite strongly, even if the ‘old’ dated back 15 years.
Until I started to notice that my body tensed up every time I did things that I hadn’t had a habit of doing, being, shapeshifting for while living abroad.
Once I cut out those old habits and slowly let go of outdated ideas about who I should be in my passport country, new and quite surprising twists and turns found their way into my life.
I started working as a coach for expats to keep my international identity and I leaned a lot more into my natural inclination of helping others on their journey.
I started putting myself out there more professionally.
I started learning and practising different healing and esoteric arts like reiki and locational astrology.
I decided to move to the woods with my partner and leave city life behind.
I started to enjoy working with my hands rather than just my brain.
I got a driver’s license out of necessity but through that I discovered a love for driving (because it gives me the same kind of sense of freedom as travel used to).
All of these things would have been impossible had I held on to my rigid ideas about what is possible for me, who I should be and what I used to want.
And through it all, I found home.
Geographically and emotionally.
I found values hidden within me that I hadn’t allowed myself to articulate let alone live by.
I found deep hurts that needed tender love and care after having been buried under unhelpful thoughts and beliefs about my worth.
And I found the kind of self-confidence that I’ve always admired in others, but never thought I could embody myself.
How to rediscover yourself after having lived abroad
This naturally begs the question – how do you (re)discover yourself in familiar surroundings?
How do you take an outsider’s view when you’re taken for (or expected to behave as) an insider while you feel like an outsider and yet you do actually know more about your home/passport country than someone that’s completely new to the country?
Here are two soulful strategies that I’ve implemented on my path to settling down in Estonia that have helped me get to know my authentic self (in this phase on my life) without dismissing how my serial expat past has shaped and changed who I am today.
1. Find alternatives to the things you’re going to miss about your life abroad
It starts with reflecting on what you enjoy, what you don’t and what you value in your life as a result of having lived abroad.
Life as an expat forces you to reinvent your routines and habits, and these will inevitable leave an imprint on you, whether you realize it or not.
It’s worth writing down what you love about your life abroad and how that may be different from how you used to live your life.
It’s likely that you’re going to miss these things when you move back and it’s worth getting creative on how you could get the same ‘kick’ through the opportunities available to you in your home/passport country.
If you’re into hobbies that entail being involved with groups but you have limited opportunities for that particular hobby in your home country/town then what else could you do that involves a group setting so you get the same experience through alternative activities?
If you don’t want to lose your international identity, then what activities could you invest in so there’s an international aspect to your otherwise local life?
If you can’t find a directly comparable job in your home/passport country, then what tasks do you enjoy the most about your current job and how could they be translated into a similar job in a different field that *is* available in your home/passport country?
The common thread among all of these examples is the willingness to be open, curious and solution-oriented rather than looking for exact replicas of what you had in your life abroad.
Because it’s often not about that specific thing that we want to replicate.
It’s the feeling and experience we get from engaging in that activity that we don’t want to lose.
Name the feeling/experience and you’re half-way there to bringing your life abroad with you to your new life in your home/passport country.
2. Explore your new interests with an open heart
Different countries offer different opportunities.
There will surely be things you haven’t been able to do in your life abroad that you most certainly will be able to do in your home country.
These may be things you never considered nor cared about when you last lived in your home country, but you do now.
It could be things like hiking, being part of political movements, moving to the country side, joining communities of like-minded people, pursuing better career opportunities, or dedicating more time and energy to long-term relationships with friends and families.
Whatever it is that you haven’t had the chance to dedicate your time and energy to in your life abroad, make it a point to prioritize it and build up that aspect of your life rather than falling back into old roles and ways of being.
Allow yourself to discover your home/passport country through the lens of your new interests, or the things you appreciate now more than you did before.
Allow these things to fill your cup as you slowly make your way through adjusting to your new life back home.
This is what it means to rediscover who you have become in your familiar surroundings – by not the taking the beaten path of your old life and keeping an open heart to where your soul wants to take you, geographically, spiritually and emotionally.
Discovering who you are and who you have become after having lived abroad is not a simple trip to the grocery store, but it’s so well worth it for all the rewards it brings with it.
All you need is courage to let go of the old.
My dear readers, this is it for my series of repatriation reflections – I hope you have enjoyed following along throughout the past 3 years as much as I have enjoyed trying to put words to my ever-evolving ‘settling down after living abroad as a serial expat’ process.
If you’re looking for a supportive partner, wherever you are in your process of moving back, make sure to check out my coaching services to see how I could assist you on *your* journey.
Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.