Homeward Bound, A Spouse's Guide to Repatriation

Rarely do one of life's defining moments happen in Wal-Mart, but in this case one did.

I was back in the U.S. after a year in a small Japanese rural town, my first real time living abroad. I was the only foreigner there and had no choice but to live the way folks there lived. I did everything but rename myself "Dances with Wolves."

The moment went like this:

ME: Mom, do you know I ate raw fish? And squatted for the toilet? And learned to say "No more beer please, I will be sick” in Japanese?

MOM: Do you think we could use up 64 ounces of paprika?

For those nodding their heads in recognition, please read on. For those just nodding off, don't bother with Robin Pascoe's wonderful new book, Homeward Bound, A Spouse's Guide to Repatriation.

There exists such a thing as “reverse culture shock”, a feeling upon returning home after leaving the host country that you no longer fit in either place. You're not foreign enough for the foreign country and you are too foreign for "home”. Pascoe's book can help you deal with this in ways more helpful and healthful than throwing a tantrum in Wal-Mart.

The book is broken into chapters that mirror the process of going home: Things to Contemplate Before You Leave the Post, The Shock of Being Home, Helping Your Kids and Partner Feel at Home, Fatigue, Depression and Re-entry Shock, Placing Professional Value on Your Overseas Experience and finally, Getting Over It!

There is also a helpful bibliography with recommended reading and a set of useful web sites.

For parents, the chapter on helping your kids adjust is probably the most useful part of the book. Pascoe speaks from experience when she describes her children's homesickness for a foreign land. She reminds us that dropping your kid into an environment familiar at least to you may in fact represent a place as different from the child's known world as peanut butter from chocolate. The main theme for helping your kids"€suck it up, set aside your own adjustments and get the kiddies re-oriented"€is tough medicine but in fact is just the right thing.

When you pick up this book you don't ask to get close enough to see the tears.

It can be painful as a parent to read how the author's daughter would spend lunch hours circling the perimeter of the school alone, trying to look like she had somewhere to go. The pain is dulled by the faith you should have in Pascoe's way out. She speaks practically about the transition between a high-caliber international school and a run-of-the-mill local institution (should the child skip a grade because of the excellent education she got abroad, or should she dumb down to the sixth grade at home to better integrate herself into the new place?)

The author also explains how parents can best point their children towards others, such as foreign students, who might share some of the feelings of newness, or advise how to deal with the inevitable but befuddling query "Where are you from?”

Pacoe also goes into the process of helping your kids talk about their lives abroad without ending up seeming like know-it-alls. Life abroad"€the excitement of plane trips, the exoticness of local markets, the fear of getting lost in a city you don't know in a language you can't speak"€can be of little interest to our kids' new friends.

In the end it is not so much a process of lying about, or ignoring the past three years in China, as much as it is a moderating mode that adjusts for a balance between old and new, a balance between feeling out of balance and fitting in again.

Apart from the middle third or so of the book that deals with kids and family, Pascoe also offers up several chapters on adjusting yourself, with a particular focus on being the partner whose job did not transfer you home. While the other half of you starts back to work from Day One, you may be faced with boredom and isolation untypical of your recent life. Pascoe anticipates the next move in her final chapters, where she talks about using your experience abroad to create a resume and offers tips on job searches of value to a once stay-at-home spouse.

If your job, or your spouse's job, has shuttled you from foreign capital to capital, you know that 99% of the materials you've read to "prepare” only help you headed outbound. Most times we are left alone and shivering on the inbound leg of life as an expat. Pascoe's book is practical, supportive and detailed help for those coming home.

Homeward Bound, A Spouse's Guide to Repatriation is available for on-line purchase from Amazon.com.

User Feedback

Related Book Reviews Articles