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The Art of Repatriating

It seems counterintuitive really. You’re moving home. You know what to expect there and you probably have friends and family there. Heck, you may even be moving back into your old house. It should be an easy move, right? But the truth is, moving home is far harder than moving overseas. You’ve changed and so have they and packing up all your stuff to go back is harder than it was before because the world has changed.

Physical Move

We’ll get to the emotional stuff in a bit. Let’s start with the easier stuff, the physical move. Michael Johnsen, Vice President, Asia, for Arpin International gives some great advice. “If your company is moving you, pick up some stuff here that you may not be able to get back home like a Chinese cabinet or two. If rather you’re paying for the move yourself, you’ll want to cull and take back only what you really love.”

Why? Because just the cost of a 20-foot container is now $25,000 and 40-foot containers go for between $28-35,000! That’s just the container cost and then there’s the moving and shipping. Ouch! A year ago, a 20-foot container ran you $8-10,000.

Your instinct may be to toss everything and go back with a suitcase, but don’t throw out everything just yet. You may not be able to get what you need back home. “Supply chain issues have created shortages in the US,” says Michael. “It may take you months to get a sofa or a bed. Be sure to do some research before leaving everything behind in Singapore.”

When working with your movers, be sure to point out the sentimental items that you are especially worried about. Movers can build wooden crates to protect special or delicate items.

You also want to carry some things yourselves such as jewelry, medicine, computers and special toys for the kids.

Shipments are taking far longer than they used to so it’s important to bring the things you really need. Be sure to check with your company if they’re willing to do an air shipment so you can have necessary items right away.

“It’s a tough time to be moving overseas as supply chain issues have made the entire move more expensive and slower. You need to go into the move eyes wide open.”


Repatriating is different for everybody. Some families can’t wait to go home. Others are going home reluctantly. Either way, what you expect home to be like is often far different than reality.

Dr. Suzanne Anderson, Director and Counselor at Restorative Community Counseling, has given a talk on repatriating for the American Association of Singapore for many years.

Moving home is often more challenging than moving overseas, but there are some strategies that you can employ to make everything go a bit more smoothly.

For starters, Dr Anderson says to build a RAFT.

R - Reconciliation

Be sure to leave Singapore with relationships in a good place. Often times, people don’t know how to say goodbye and sometimes this can create tension. Kids, in particular, don’t have the skills to say goodbye well and they can sometimes break things off very suddenly with friends as saying goodbye is awkward or painful.

Perhaps there are also relationships that have had some trouble in the past. Be sure to make an effort to reconcile these relationships especially. Even if the friend on the other end doesn’t receive your overtures well, the act of reaching out is very important for your own psyche as you leave.

A - Affirmation

Strengthening the relationships we have made before we leave is important. If you look at a map of the world, it seems like you know somebody everywhere on the globe. Kids in particular have friends scattered in countries on every continent. And these relationships can continue via Facebook, SnapChat or whatever other social media you use. It’s important to affirm these relationships before you leave. In many cases, the friends you’ve made here have been your family away from family. Make sure you acknowledge that.

Helpers are also a special consideration, For many adults, the helper is an employee, but for kids, that relationship is often times more important. Children may have a much stronger connection so they need more options for saying goodbye, keeping in touch and acknowledging how important the relationship has been. Helpers also can grow very attached to the children and they can be heartbroken saying goodbye to their family.

F- Farewells

You need to do a proper farewell for people, places, pets (if they’re not coming with you) and even possessions you are giving away. While there may be a ton of excitement about going home, there is also a lot to mourn. Be sure to visit special places one last time. Take lots of photos of everything so you can remember it properly. Landscapes can change a lot so take photos to document how you remember special spots. Often times, people say they regret not taking enough photos of people and places that were special to them.

If people want to throw you a party, let them. Not only do you need to say goodbye, but they likely need to say goodbye, too. The ritual of farewell is an important one.

T - Think Destination

All the other letters in RAFT have been about looking backwards. The “t” is all about looking forward.

For starters, you need to look at your expectations. You may be going back to the same house and the community is same, but you are not the same and neither are those you left behind. You especially have changed in ways that is hard for them to understand. You’ve lived in a foreign country, traveled regionally, made friends from different cultures, eaten new foods - the list goes on and on. People from your old community are likely in the same mindset they were when you left. So it’s really important for you to think about how you’ve changed ahead of time. Knowing what to expect is key.

Before, you may have spent all of your holidays with family, but now you may have gotten used to traveling over the holidays and want to keep traveling. It’s key to set expectations with family and friends - and with each other about what holidays will look like.

Division of Labor

Ask yourselves, “What are three things least looking forward to about the move? And what three things are you most looking forward to?” Check that these items are they realistic then calibrate them to your expectations.

It’s important to define what everybody’s role is going to be at home. Here, you may have had a helper doing laundry and cooking. Now, you’re back to reality. Who will do the marketing? Cooking? Cleaning? Laundry? How will you equitably divide the chores? How will the kids pitch in? Thinking you’ll just figure it out can lead to resentments. It’s really key to actually have a discussion about who does what.

Dr. Anderson recommends a book called “Fair Play” by Eve Rodsky who was a corporate executive who had a baby and went back to work. She found she was doing more than her share. So she came up with really great strategies for how to divide the labor.

The book has a game that comes with it to help couples and families divide all the tasks for running a family. You play this game to try to have an equitable distribution of tasks. It’s a fun resource to help you consciously make decisions about division of labor which can save real heartache as you settle in back home.

The Seven-Year Rule

If you’ve lived away from your home for seven years, you’re considered a pseudo immigrant when you return. You’ve been gone long enough to have changed a lot on inside even though you may look the same on the outside.

But the time to pseudo immigrant status can be shortened if the country you’re turning to has gone through time of enormous turmoil. Guess what? The US has gone through enormous turmoil, folks. Covid, political change - things back home will feel very different when you return.

You may even be in for a shock when you return over how the US has handled Covid. We are used to Singapore’s very strict restrictions and everybody following the rules. The US has been sharply divided on vaccines, masks and more. In many ways, the US has gone through more trauma with Covid than Singapore has - certainly far more death.

Dr. Anderson says that many people in the US seem to be really scattered. They can’t hold onto information the way they used to and they don’t even realize it’s happening. Because of the Covid-related trauma in the States, many exhibit signs of trauma and stress such as irritability, difficulty focusing, low concentration levels and more. So be prepared for this, especially if you are returning to run an office. Employees may be exhibiting signs of real stress or mental health issues.

Making New Friends

You can find your tribe anywhere, but it might be harder than you imagine. Old friends might still be wonderful, but you’ll also need somebody that you can talk to about your life overseas. Here, everybody is an expat in the same boat, eager to make friends and share experiences. Back home, people are settled and not always eager to open their friendship circle.

It’s hard not to talk about weekend trips to Bali or the cool item you picked up in Vietnam. And, sadly, most people don’t really care, including your own family.

Truth is, studies estimate that about 10% of adults and 5% of kids are super interested in an expat’s life overseas. These people are unique and expats will gravitate towards them because they long to talk about their experiences.

Face it, most people just don’t want to hear you say, “Well in Singapore, I did this” or “In Singapore, I ate that.” It gets old hearing somebody constantly talking about another place. We actually do this because memories are anchored spatially so we have to make a conscious effort to not constantly talk about our old life. Instead, try consciously talking about the same thing without the intro of “In Singapore.” “I did this” or “I ate that” is perfectly okay and more relatable to others.

Moving the kids

Kids are far more resilient than we realize. They make friends easier than adults do, often bonding over sports or some cultural phenom. Kids are quite adaptable as they live in present a lot more than adults do. Still, we as parents need to help them adjust.

The disconnect is often harder for older kids. Singapore is full of freedoms that may not be safe in other countries. Schools here are all about college prep whereas schools back home are not. The change can be disconcerting for teens.

To help your kids, go onto the website of the school and go beyond what the school is offering. Look at the details, not the big things. What are the kids wearing? What are they talking about? Go hang out at a shopping mall. What are kids wearing on the weekends? Find cultural guides in your community be it a cousin or a friend’s child. Help your children figure out what are the “in” TV shows, games, apps, social culture. You can even help facilitate these conversations by saying, “So what’s the big TV show everybody is watching here? What do people do for fun around here?”

Where children often get frustrated is when somebody mispronounces a term or dogmatically says something that the child knows isn’t it true because they’ve been there. Kids then try to correct their teacher and the teacher gets defensive and entrenched. To avoid this, you can try to prepare teachers ahead of time, “Here’s what you need to know about my kids. They have traveled across Asia and have seen many things. They have friends from multiple cultures. My kids may have strong opinions.” This way, teachers aren’t caught by surprise.

Make your home a safe place to talk about things, suggests Dr. Anderson. Ask your kids lots of questions. “Did any weird stuff might happen at school today? How is it coming back? Did anybody have an unusual reaction to anything you said at school toady?” Let your kids know it’s okay to talk to you about what’s happening in their repatriation experience. Don’t try to force them to be happy. It’ll take some time to adjust.

Settling in

How long does it take to feel “normal”? How do you recognize if moving home is working out for your kids – or for you?

They say it can take up to two years for home to feel like home again. Your job is to dive right in and try your best and to try to settle yourself. Model what a good repatriation experience looks like for your kids. By trying to find a new life for yourself, the kids will try to do the same.

In the meantime, realize that it takes time and give yourself permission to adjust. Book a vacation for yourself to reconnect to that international life you’re missing.

Become an expert on Singapore for people moving there. Tell relocation companies you’re willing to talk to expats moving to or from your country. Even your children can help other children who are moving.

Embrace your reality

When we think of going home, we think we can relax. We don’t put on our adaption hat, but adapt we must. We need to take all the skills we used to adjust when we moved overseas to move home. If instead of thinking of it as home, think of it as the next adventure, you’ll find it easier to adjust.

We wish you the best of luck as you move home. Singapore will miss you!


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