Visiting another culture or returning home to a culture you thought you knew provides challenges. A woman who worked in Tokyo for five years will re-enter America a different person and find the land of her birth strange, less comfortable. Businesses spend a lot of resources sending executives on foreign assignments only to find that same executive discontent and dissatisfied upon their return. Many employees leave their jobs within months of coming back to the home office. International workers with non-profits who adapted well to another culture often struggle during a home assignment or at the end of their term on the field.
The skills needed for cultural adaptation which lead to flourishing start with the importance of just showing up. A writer must show up at the computer on a daily basis in the same way your accountant sits down at her desk every morning. Moving into another culture means getting out of the house, going to the market, drinking a coffee at the cafe, or having a beer at the pub. The natural discomfort with cultural cues or language barriers are a means to connect to others rather than excuses to hide or isolate yourself in the enclave of the known.
Commit yourself to sticking with the process for the long haul. Adaptation or reintegration are not like the lottery–one day broke, the next one rich. It will literally take a village to finally feel part of the culture. Find friends and mentors to guide the process.
Simply knowing the language does not make a person an insider in any culture. No one knows that more than expats who return to their home and find themselves a stranger among their own people. They speak the same language, but they are different. The culture has changed while they were away. In the workplace, there is a new boss, and he’s often the guy who was a subordinate when you left. He moved up while you feel like you stood still or even backed up. You sacrificed to go on foreign assignment only to find yourself worse off upon your return. That is difficult to accept. You will want to quit, to give up.
The twin problems of impatient demands of success or the terror of failure will block you from flourishing. Many returning executives begin to over-identify themselves with their jobs at this stage. They place their personal value on recovering whatever advancements or job perks they feel have been denied them while away. They neglect their family and friends and pour all of their energies to scaling the ladder of success while fearing failure and defeat. This is the surest path to defeat.
Successful reintegration is possible. A flourishing life is within reach; however, it will take time and effort. Finding a mentor, having the stance of a learner, and maintaining a good humor toward oneself, others, and the community all work together toward the goal of adaptation and fruitfulness. This is often challenging, especially when returning home. Creating understanding requires tools and people.
Show up and find help. We need you.