Repatriation is often considered the toughest aspect of expat life. In many cases, people assume they can come back to their ‘old’ life and it will be the same. But that often isn’t how it works out.
Today I am sharing an interview with Georgie, a mum of three and recent repatriate to Auckland, New Zealand.
EPA – What’s your expat story?
We left Auckland 7 years ago for a job opportunity for my husband. He had been made redundant from Microsoft, and there was an IT Marketing role for him based in Singapore with a partner organisation.
With a newborn baby, and two older girls we headed off on our adventure. After three years in Singapore, we moved to Amsterdam and spent three years there. We have now been back in Auckland for just over a year.
EPA – What’s your favourite memory of living abroad?
My eyes were opened to the world, but it was through the eyes of a mother. Experiencing new worlds and cultures with a young family was unique.
At the time I was stepping out of what were very deep roots for me, and that in itself was challenging. I never thought I would move away, but it was an amazing experience.
EPA – What was the biggest gripe or issue you felt as an expat?
The first year of life abroad I was heartbroken. I had a new baby and I was really lonely and I struggled to find my place. While it is easy enough to meet people when you have children, it’s different to making connections and having that support network. It was a very different experience when I had the first two.
Something in me broke, but then being able to bring myself back from that made me harden up and move on. By the second move I was fine.
EPA – Why did you decide to come back to NZ?
We were into the second and third round of friends leaving in Amsterdam. Our older girls were starting to think about university in the UK, and if we didn’t leave then we would have been locked in for another 7 years to see them through that. We asked ourselves, do we really want to be committed here? Then in addition, my family relationships back home were suffering from my absence.
I started talking to other people about their experience and their decisions. I realised how important it is to provide our children with a sense of place before they become adults and move on in life.
Global citizenship is a given, and it’s probably the path our children will choose. But I want them to know their sense of place.
At the time, we could have moved back to Singapore, and what was unexpected was the influence our older children had on the decision making process. They were clear that they would only move it if was back to New Zealand. The age of our children at the time greatly influenced the path we took.
EPA – What has been the best aspect of coming back?
The weather! Holland is dark, cold and a very short summer. Also the ease of living in an English speaking country, being able to deal with mail, officials and understand the humour!
Also the children are able to do more here. They are not just limited to the community in the international school, they have a broader community here. They are much happier here, not that they were unhappy before. But it was the last turnaround of friends, my eldest shares now that it was a very lonely time for her. She was involved in clubs and was doing her best to connect, but she felt lonely ‘again’!
EPA – What is the biggest challenge?
Finding a purpose for myself. Once you get through the process of moving – the house, the children, the dog! You find yourself pausing, who am I? What am I doing? The world is familiar, yet it’s foreign. I’ve changed while being away, I’ve grown and developed. I feel a better well rounded person, and I’m not daunted by much anymore. But at the same time, what does life mean for me now?
EPA – Do you feel like you’re home now?
Yes, I do. My husband doesn’t yet.
For me, I think doing a full year of the seasons – walking through the park in summer, autumn, winter and spring. Now 14/15 months back, this summer it feels properly like home.
EPA – What do you miss the most?
I miss the close unit of the family without very many external influences. Not that we’re back there’s extended family and friendships and that all needs servicing. While living abroad we found it was often just us, doing our own thing.
Also in Amsterdam, the culture of riding bikes and boating on the canal.
But at the end of the day, New Zealand and Australia provide a quality of life that’s unsurpassable. Maybe we don’t have the depth of culture, but it’s a more positive lifestyle and very outdoors based.
EPA – Do you consider yourself a repat?
Yes, but I would go again. Not until the older girls are finished, but I would take it. I see myself differently now, I don’t have to live here to belong here.
EPA – What advice do you have for other mums facing a repatriation?
Try to connect with the local community and the school community as best you can. Find your hobbies, find the people who like the same things and create new circles for yourself. You can’t rely on those who were there before, you need people who are at your own stage.
Allow yourself to grieve. Don’t a timeframe on it, it can take a long time to find yourself again.
But I guess my #1 piece of advice… always live in the present moment, live where you are now. Be present, accept it, it will help you to cope with everything.