Expat Life: Returning Home and the Grief Cycle


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For every change, positive or negative, people go through various emotional stages. Dr Kubler-Ross described those stages as the “Grief Cycle (On grief and grieving By Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, David Kessler). Those stages are the following:Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news.
Denial stage: Trying to avoid the inevitable.
Anger stage: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
Bargaining stage: Seeking in vain for a way out.
Depression stage: Final realization of the inevitable.
Testing stage: Seeking realistic solutions.
Acceptance stage: Finally finding the way forward.

Most people resist changes, it is part of our primitive brain which triggers the release of all the stress hormones to prepare the body for the unknown and the fight or fly mode.

For example, repatriation can be very brutal and stressful, much more difficult than expected. In my experience, very few repatriation cases are success stories. Usually, returning “home” equal loss of status and independence, lower salary and benefits. Beside the materialistic losses, it is really hard for the repatriate to “fit in” again in an organization that does not care about your experience abroad despite all the positive changes you made for your company and yourself. It is not rare that the repatriate quits his job or get fired within the first year of repatriation.

The emotional roller-coaster described in the Grief Cycle can be very similar if you loose a loved one or your job. It is important to recognize and acknowledge where you are in the process and seek specific help.

Planning ahead is not always possible however if you are aware of the risks before embarking in your expatriation journey, I suggest you start the first days of expatriation identifying and cultivating your existing connections, build new networks, seek for friendship and professional support, look at added-value trainings and keep good relationships with colleagues left “home”. When expatriation is over, maybe take this as an opportunity for a career change or consolidate your value proposition among recruiters and people in your networks. With unemployment rates skyrocketing, lay-off can happen to anybody, expatriate or not and knowing the Grief Cycle may help you getting the right support.

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8 thoughts on “Expat Life: Returning Home and the Grief Cycle

  1. Anouchka July 23, 2009 at 8:46 am Reply

    Very True. Too many expats are unprepared for a potential return to their country of origin. Good account of issues arising upon return and helpful advice to facilitate the readjustment process.

    • Rajan Chopra October 12, 2011 at 7:56 am Reply

      As a relo consultant, I feel the expats should also save for going back home, as it is very common to see them spend a lot on life styles, weekend travels etc. Its the lure of lower cost.

      • Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach October 12, 2011 at 8:52 am Reply

        Good point Rajan. I think corporate international assignees are usually well protected as they usually kept their pension plans in their home country, get some tax savings and expat allowance. So even if thy live in a very expensive place like Tokyo, it is easier to save money while living abroad and buy a house for when they come back home. For other expats, they need to investigate how they can keep their pension or access to social security health care. For France you can pay from your own pocket to keep these advantages but it is usually very expensive and too often young expatriates don’t think they need to plan their repatriation financially.

  2. […] Expat Life: Returning Home and the Grief Cycle (zestnzen.wordpress.com) […]

  3. […] It is not a secret, It is very hard for expatriates, especially successful ones, to go back “home”. I already described the emotional phases and grieving process most expat families experience when they return to their home country: Expat Life: Returning Home and the Grief Cycle […]

  4. Judy August 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm Reply

    Having repatriated 3 times I can say that there’s not a whole lot you can do to prepare. Yes, for sure, don’t burn any bridges, keep in touch with as many contacts and friends as you can (much easier nowadays thanks to social media) and stay on top of news back home. But you WILL go through the grief cycle, and although knowing about it is helpful, it doesn’t lessen the pain of going through it and unfortunately it doesn’t get any easier with practice! The only positive thing I can say is that you DO get through it in the end, if you don’t chicken out and expatriate again🙂

    • Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach August 22, 2011 at 12:04 am Reply

      Thanks Judy for your comment. As humans we all experience the painful process of grieving but often expatriates are not prepared to experience this emotional distress when they give up their expat life, temporarily or permanently. We are often in denial because we are supposed to be the lucky ones who left home, family and friends to live the “glamorous expat life”. Recognizing that we are not alone to feel like strangers at home may not reduce the pain but may encourage people to speak about their feelings to other expats or get professional help if the process is too painful.

  5. Julie Boyster October 23, 2013 at 1:51 am Reply

    This is an excellent expansion of the Grief Cycle put out by Kubler and Ross. Excellent discussion!

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