Balancing bridgeFor many Kiwi repats the first year or so at ‘home’ is experienced in a strange, slightly discombobulated, limbo state. Physically here, but mentally scattered many returners report continuing to invest significant time and energy in maintaining a life outside of NZ – booking overseas trips, prioritising contact with overseas friends and, continuing to scan for job opportunities in the place they have just left.

The pros

There can be a number of benefits to maintaining a connection to your old home, while establishing your new life in NZ. This is especially so if you are experiencing an extreme kind of ‘reverse culture shock’ or struggling to process the fact that you now live in NZ. In these situations, maintaining close ties to the place you have come from may provide a way to ease into the transition – balancing the familiar with the unknown until your new life starts to make more sense.

Keeping up with friends via social media, or regular video calls, may help maintain a sense of constancy and familiarity that helps combat the feelings of uncertainty, weirdness and alienation that are commonplace, while maintaining connections to your old job market may provide a psychological assurance that, should things turn to career custard here, you still have other options left.

Continuing the adventure, in the form of regular, overseas travel may also be a way of maintaining your sense of connection to the wider world – something that most returners report as central to their sense of self. For those, whose budget won’t stretch to actual travel, other ways of staying connected may include continuing to read foreign, rather than local, news or binge-watching Netflix shows that are made in the other places you’ve lived.

The Cons

Most returners report a point, usually around the 12-18 month mark where the balance tips and, they made a conscious choice to limit their contact with their previous life in order to focus on creating the life they want in NZ. This is due to a number of factors.

As much fun as it can be, initially, to maintain regular (sometimes daily!) contact with overseas friends – some even virtually joining in social gatherings – at a certain point, this starts to lose its appeal. Navigating the time differences, the sense of distance and feeling even more socially isolated when the call ends, can all contribute to the feeling that making this effort is more troubling than it’s worth.

Additionally, many returners report their bitter disappointment at realising the friends they had left behind had moved on much more quickly than they had. A feeling of being the only one making the effort to maintain the connection or, of being ‘out of sight and out of mind’ was common, leading some to question how much those friendships had really meant.

Several returners also report that, in the first year or so, they would actually turn down local invitations, in order to be available to their overseas friends, sometimes even organising their week to operate on ‘UK time’ in order to stay part of their old social group. Again, this sense of operating in two places, in two time zones, was reported to be a real barrier to establishing a social life in NZ. Turning down a local invitation because you have a ‘call with the UK’ can send the message to local friends that they are less of a priority, or reinforce their fears that they may not be as interesting to you as the people you have left.

The practice of continuing to scan overseas job sites and applying for overseas jobs also seems to create more problems than it solves. Initially, returners reported their thinking in doing this was a way of ‘keeping their options open’ should things not work out in NZ. In practice, however, it meant that they were constantly reminded of opportunities they were missing out on overseas which contributed to a growing sense of ‘returner’s remorse’.

Furthermore, those who did apply for jobs, both in NZ and offshore, were often unconvincing in conveying either, their commitment to staying in NZ or, their intention to return to the place they had left, with the net result being few job offers received either here, or overseas.

Finding the balance

Returners report a range of techniques to balance their approach to investing time and energy towards home or away. The process is reported as one of transition, taking place gradually over months, or years, with continuous adjustments taking place along the way.

Some tips to consider:

Get offline and out of the house: unsurprisingly, for most, this begins with a social media cull – limiting contact or even unfollowing overseas friends – in order to focus on those who are locally based. This shift, is also reported to help with making the physical effort to actually get out of the house and seek out new friends face-to-face. The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ working surprisingly well the other way – meaning you don’t feel like you’re missing out on that you do not see.

Unsubscribe from overseas: you’re much less likely to have a melancholy moment if you turn off job alerts and unsubscribe from newsletters and other communication that will constantly remind you off your former life overseas. If you’re worried that an empty in-box might feel too much like an empty life, take the opportunity to simultaneously subscribe to local versions of the same – local job opportunities, films, festivals and other social events you can actually attend.

Maintain targeted connections: one way that maintaining professional connections can be useful is to leverage your old workmates for professional advice in meeting the challenges you might be facing in your NZ job. Having substantive conversations about what you are doing, and seeking advice from those who know you professionally, can be a way to get the support you need at the personal level and, help you maintain a more global perspective in the work that you (now locally) do.

Travel to explore, not to escape: sadly, many returners report that continuing to travel regularly now comes from a desire to ‘escape NZ’ rather than as a continuation of their previous ‘sense of adventure’. The main problem with this being twofold – the time abroad feels tarnished and it becomes harder and harder to return. Try ‘staycationing’ as a way to experience NZ as part of your continued life adventure, perhaps inviting overseas friends to join you as a way to see your old home through new, often more appreciative eyes.

Be honest with yourself: there is an old saying ‘where ever you go, there you are’. For a number of returners finding the balance between home and away proved impossible until they faced in to what was actually making them unhappy – which usually had more to do with personal issues, than living in a particular place. This seemed to be especially true of those who had, initially come ‘home’ as some form of escape, only to find that the challenges they were trying to get away from had followed them back to NZ. Once the real issues had been ‘resolved’ they were much better able to make a clear headed decision about where they actually wanted to live and work.

Repatriate Survey

While you’re here. Are you a NZ Citizen or Permanent Resident who has lived abroad and already returned to live in NZ? I’m trying to build up a picture the NZ Repatriate Community and have created a short survey to help with this. So, if you haven’t already, click through to read the introductory blog and find the link to the survey. It should take about 5-10 minutes to do both. Thanks! https://howtohaveahappyhomecoming.wordpress.com/2019/07/08/what-kind-of-repat-are-you/

About me & the blog

Originally from NZ, I spent 12 years living and working in the Netherlands, the UK and the US. In 2017, I returned to live in Auckland with my lovely husband and crazy cat. Inspired by the stories I had heard from those who had made the move before me, I started the blog to tell the stories of a diverse group of Kiwis who have lived abroad and returned to NZ. It’s a mix of interviews and insights, exploring the reasons so many Kiwis head off to see the world, their expectations and experiences and, ultimately, what brings them back.

Through these stories, I also explore the themes around what makes coming ‘home’ a really mixed bag of emotions and, pull out the key insights and tips on how to make this as happy an experience as it can be.

By sharing our stories we hope to help those Kiwis living abroad but thinking about moving back and those who have recently arrived. If you’ve got a question, a comment or a story you’d like to share, please feel free to get in touch via the contact page.

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