It’s Re-Entry Reality Monday! Today, Lori Fowler shares her re-entry story.
Would you like to share your Re-Entry Reality? Contact me – I’d love to talk with you!
Hi Lori, thanks for sharing your re-entry story. Let’s start with where you went abroad and what you did there.
After two previous holidays in Tanzania, in 2008 I quit my job, my husband organized his business to work remotely, and we sold or gave away pretty much everything.
We moved to “the land of Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and the Serengeti” to join my in-laws in their business operating a small hotel on the rural north coast. We flew the nest on our (barely adult) children. (To be fair, actually they were already travelling too). But we knew we were pushing the envelope. Our girls would no longer have a familiar roost to return to after their own travels.
For five years we lived just steps from the Indian Ocean. We spoke broken Swahili and worked in the family business, trying to develop our own businesses as well.
For my TCK husband born there, it was a return to a very different country than when he left at the age of 10. For me, it was the fulfillment of two big dreams – to spend time in Africa and to live on the ocean. We thought we had found our forever home, and “just another f**ng day in paradise” was a common expression. We would shake our heads, not quite believing our good fortune to be there.
When did the idea of re-entry get on your radar?
The concept of re-entry was never really on my radar until the necessity to return to Canada became evident about four years in, when we realized that our earnings weren’t keeping pace with costs. The work was there, we were busy, but the money wasn’t flowing easily.
Since moving there we had noticed a decline in the infrastructure and enough of an increase in living costs that it was making us nervous. Here we were at 50, our prime earning years, and we were struggling. On the beach, mind you – but life was a little too hand-to-mouth and we realized we had to think of our financial future.
What was your re-entry experience like?
At first re-entry was fun and exciting. It was great to see family and friends and reconnect. In five years I had only come back twice for visits, while my husband not at all.
I enjoyed all the mod cons and marvelled at how *comfortable* life was. Flip on a light switch! Punch a button on the washing machine! TV, movie theatres, high-speed internet, smooth roads – it was all *so easy.*
The sheer variety and availability of everything was often overwhelming. Low fat, non-fat, 2%, probiotic, Greek – send me to the local supermarket for yogurt and I would stand there in a daze, unable to decide. This display of mass consumption made me a bit uncomfortable really. I ended up spending less than before as I had lost the habit of shopping as entertainment, and I wasn’t inundated with advertising. I was used to utilitarian shopping, in a tropical climate only buying what you could quickly consume.
What do you know *now* about re-entry that you wish you’d known earlier?
Once the re-entry honeymoon phase was over, real life set in. My husband returned six weeks later than me, and I remember missing him intensely, needing to share this new reality with him because no one else got it, got me.
It was much harder to leave than I ever imagined. We had to abandon our dreams, or so it seemed, and homesickness for our little house on the beach, our cat, our friendships – *our home* – set in with a vengeance. To top it off I was going through an identity crisis – I didn’t quite feel like who I was when abroad, and I was no longer who I was before I left. Feelings of failure at not making it work were adding to the trauma.
What tips do you have for others who are about to go through re-entry?
My advice for a more successful re-entry would be to be gentle on yourself. Traveling the path with a partner or friend helps tremendously.
If you don’t have anyone close in the same situation, seek them out – find someone who’s been through it, can relate. Because your family and friends just don’t have that point of reference to want to hear your stories and say, yeah, I know what you mean. I miss those big damp Mamas in the market, bumping into me with their heavy baskets. Or how I could tell the time by the call to prayer from the loudspeakers in the village mosque.
Then practice letting go of your expat experience. Ditch the habit of checking Facebook to see photos of all your friends still there, living your old life – at least for awhile anyway.
Be thankful, recognize how your expat experience has shaped you and prepared you for the next step and move forward. Perhaps toward another expat adventure, or perhaps not.
“Find your ingredients” because there must be something you loved about your life abroad that can be incorporated into your new normal. For me it’s the ocean and nature, so we specifically sought to move to an area with easier access. And I’m lucky enough to be able to work remotely with the same company I did in Tanzania – but with much better internet!
If re-entry were a food what would it be? Why?
If re-entry were a food, I would say it’s like receiving the wrong order in your favourite restaurant. Here you are in a familiar place, at your usual table, ordering what you always order, your favourite dish. After much anticipation, the server sets it in front of you with a flourish… and it’s all wrong, not what you ordered at all.
Re-entry is like that for me – you think you know what you’re getting, but it ends up being something completely different. But…if you don’t send it back right away – if you just taste it – you might really like it. You don’t know until you try.
Thanks for sharing your story, Lori!
With undergrad degrees in English and Education, and an admin background in non-profits and post-secondary education, I work remotely with a research consultancy based in Tanzania. I’ve recently re-located to British Columbia, but I’m pretty hooked on the concept of location independence and hope to build on what I’ve got going. I’m in the process of creating a blog to help me process this whole crazy journey, and maybe help other mid-life repats along the way.
Connect with Lori here: https://twitter.com/lorisloanfowler