It’s Time to Change Our Relationship with Re-entry

I used to have a negative view of re-entry because I thought there were only two ways of dealing with life after living abroad:

1. Readjust and reintegrate to life at home (thereby giving up all things I loved about living abroad).

2. Or move abroad again as soon as possible. 

I had no interest in reintegrating (which, to me, felt like going backwards and losing a big part of my identity), and I certainly didn’t want to stop living an exciting, adventurous global life! 

Consequently, I viewed any time I spent at home after returning from living abroad as something I simply had to endure until I could figure out how to go abroad again. I lived out this pattern of move abroad/return home/endure/move abroad again for several years.

What I didn’t realize, however, is that this mindset just set me up for failure!

  • I didn’t enjoy my time at home with friends and family as much as I could have.
  • I missed out on a lot of potential growth and learning that the re-entry transition offers.
  • I never gave myself space to make deep and lasting meaning of my experiences abroad.
  • I missed out on the opportunity to clearly define and make meaningful enhancements to my global life that would actually enable me to live the exciting, adventurous global life I sought — no matter where in the world I was living.

One of the reasons I started SPS is to help you avoid making this mistake. How?

Let’s change our relationship with re-entry!

A good place to start is by using new language to talk about the re-entry and reverse culture shock experience, and then reframing the transition into something that works for you.

In my research and work with returnees all over the world, I’ve found that the word re-entry makes most returnees recoil. It’s subtle, but I’ve actually seen it happen in workshops.

I felt it myself when I was in re-entry. 

I remember feeling completely turned off by anything labeled re-entry because I always associated re-entry with being forced to go backwards in my life, having to give up everything I loved about living abroad and my global identity, feeing misunderstood, and so many other painful things I could feel but couldn’t really articulate. 

Instead of voicing my fears and finding a way to deal with them, it was easier to just avoid anything related to re-entry.

When I realized that the word re-entry evoked such negative feelings in so many returnees, I decided to  find a better way to talk about re-entry — one that sparks interest and excitement about the insight, meaning, growth, and new opportunities a return from abroad offers. 

That’s why in my workbook, workshops, coaching, and consulting, I use words like forward-entry, forward-integration, forward adaption, and forward launch (instead of re-entry, reintegration, readaptation, and relaunch). 

As in…forward is the direction you want to go in, right? Yet once you’re back home you also want to enjoy your time there and be successful in your life, career, and relationships. So adjustment and integration are needed — but instead of adjusting and integrating back to what was, what’s really needed is to adjust and integrate in a way that moves you forward

Just making this one small change can help you change your relationship with re-entry from something negative to something that has so much positive potential.

Do you feel a difference when you say forward entry vs. re-entry? I sure do, and I’ve seen a change in my students and clients when I use this new language! 

The second thing that can help you change your relationship with re-entry is to reframe re-entry on a personal level.

Not only is this Step 2 in the Re-entry Roadmap process, there’s also an activity in the workbook that helps you you reframe re-entry into something that inspires and motivates you.

In the Re-entry Roadmap workbook I talk about re-entry as being like a rest area you pull into on a long roadtrip, where you can rest, reflect, and refuel before continuing on your journey.

That reframe works for me, and it’s the one I talk about with returnees. But I encourage you to go a step further and create your own personal reframe.

Here are a few reframes that returnees have shared with me:

1. The reframe I’ve used is that re-entry is a cocoon; my year abroad was my caterpillar self consuming as many new experiences as possible, but once I returned home, I totally dissolved into a structureless form in a disorienting environment. This article using the caterpillar/metamorphosis/imaginal cells metaphor for humanity really helped me to reframe the retreat and introspection I needed to process. I’m not sure if I’m fully out of the chrysalis stage yet, but I know that (under this metaphor) the “seeds of future potential” are part of an entirely different self, and I don’t have to incorporate past, present, and future selves at all. (Alexis)

2. Re-entry is like a new season of my favourite show (think Downton Abbey or Dr Who ?). There are familiar characters and storylines carrying over, but also new people and new adventures to discover. I probably won’t like everything about it (but then that was not true of the previous season either!) but the story is always moving forward. (Bayta)

3. I really enjoy thinking of re-entry as repotting a plant because the plant has grown and needs more room. (Hannah)

4. It’s like having a great meal. You’re disappointed when it ends, but now you know what you like to eat, which will help you decide what to cook in the future. (Jack)

5. I think re-entry can be reframed as the process of starting a new project or craft. Sometimes it can feel impossible to find the time, energy or even give yourself permission, but when you do finally get into that new project or start a new hobby, it can be so rewarding. (Erika)

6. I learned to re-frame my re-entry as a sequel to a book. It’s a completely different story, but of course there are similarities. While some characters are the same, many are new. The plot is different, and in many ways the style and the tone has changed slightly too. With my own re-entry, I believe that I am still foundationally the same person, but my perspectives and my way of thinking are not completely the same. With a book series, we often see character transformations from the beginning to the end. I know that I am a slightly different person in my most recent re-entry as I was in my first or second re-entry. (Erin)