Navigating the Emotional Rollercoaster of Repatriation to Germany

Returning to your home country after living abroad can be an exhilarating yet overwhelming experience. If you are repatriating from the USA or other countries to Germany (or Switzerland), you might have forgotten how real life in Germany is. You also will have to acknowledge that the country and culture have changed a lot since you left over twenty years ago. 

The Emotional Challenges of Repatriation

Repatriation can bring a wave of mixed emotions. After spending a significant amount of time in a different country, it’s common to feel a sense of disorientation upon returning home. You may experience a range of emotions, from excitement and happiness to sadness and loss. It’s important to acknowledge and accept these emotions as a normal part of the repatriation process.

One of the biggest emotional challenges of repatriation is the feeling of not belonging. You may find yourself caught between two worlds, feeling like a foreigner in your own country. This can lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness. It’s important to remember that these feelings are temporary and will gradually fade as you readjust to your old life.

Another emotional challenge is the fear of losing the sense of adventure and freedom that comes with living abroad. You may worry that returning home will be boring and mundane compared to the excitement of exploring new cultures and experiences. However, it’s important to reframe your mindset and see repatriation as an opportunity for growth and new experiences in your home country.

Lastly, repatriation can also bring a sense of grief and loss. You may miss the friends, connections, and experiences you had while living abroad. It’s normal to feel a sense of longing and nostalgia for the life you left behind. However, it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of returning home and embrace the new opportunities that await you. If you would like to read more about the emotional challenges, we recommend the book The Art of Coming Back Home by Craig Storti or reading this article

Understanding the Stages of Repatriation

To navigate the emotional rollercoaster of repatriation, it’s helpful to understand the stages that many expats go through. These stages can vary from person to person, but they generally follow a similar pattern.

The first stage is the honeymoon phase. This is the initial period after returning home when everything feels exciting and new. You’re happy to be back and eager to reconnect with loved ones. However, this phase can be short-lived, and soon you may find yourself facing the challenges of readjustment.

The second stage is the negotiation phase. This is when reality starts to set in, and you begin to realize that things may not be as easy as you initially thought. You may feel frustrated and overwhelmed by the differences between your old and new life. It’s important to be patient with yourself during this phase and give yourself time to adapt.

The third stage is the adjustment phase. This is when you start to find your footing and establish a sense of routine in your old life. You may still have moments of nostalgia and longing for your expat life, but overall, you begin to feel more settled and comfortable.

The final stage is the acceptance phase. This is when you fully embrace your new life and feel a sense of belonging in your home country. You may still have occasional moments of longing for your expat life, but overall, you feel content and fulfilled in your new chapter.

It’s important to remember that these stages are not linear and can overlap or repeat. Everyone’s repatriation journey is unique, and it’s okay to experience a mix of emotions at different stages.

Vanessa Paisley even defined the 5-V model of repatriation (Vacation – Victim – Verify – Victory – Value) which I find very good to illustrate what you will go through when “coming home”.

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Seven Tips for Managing the Emotional Rollercoaster

Managing the emotional rollercoaster of repatriation requires self-awareness, patience, and resilience. Here are seven tips to help you navigate the ups and downs of returning home:

1 – Build a Support Network

One big thing to do when coming back to your home country is to make a group of people who can help you. These could be friends, family, or others who are also coming back. Being part of groups online or in person with people who have similar experiences can be helpful too. For example, you can share your repatriation experience through a blog or journal to connect with others going through a similar process. This group of people can make you feel like you belong and give you advice as you face challenges while coming back home. What also helps is a repatriation agreement with your employer. Make sure that you understand the conditions of your repatriation and what kind of support you can expect before embarking on your journey. If you’re struggling with the emotional aspects of repatriation, consider seeking support from a therapist or a coach who specializes in cross-cultural issues. Apps like Headspace and Calm can help you manage stress and anxiety during the adjustment period. Attend local festivals, concerts, and events to immerse yourself in the culture back again.

2 – Set Realistic Expectations

It’s important to set realistic expectations for your repatriation experience. Understand that it may take time to readjust to your old life and that it’s normal to feel a mix of emotions. Avoid comparing your repatriation journey to others and focus on your progress. Give yourself permission to take things one step at a time and celebrate small victories along the way. We all tend to idealize our home country when we only come back for vacation and home leave. You must remember that times also have progressed in Germany and that it might not be the same country you left twenty years ago. For example, in many companies, Germans say “Du” now whereas “Sie” was prevalent back at the turn of the century. 

3 – Explore New Opportunities

Repatriation doesn’t mean the end of your adventures. Embrace the opportunity to explore new things in your home country. Rediscover your hometown through a fresh perspective, try new hobbies or activities, and seek out growth opportunities. By embracing new experiences, you can find excitement and fulfillment in your repatriation journey. You also might need to look for a new role or your spouse will have to find a new job in Germany. If this is the case you could consider working with an Expat Coach or exploring opportunities through your professional network. While the rest of the world is hooked on LinkedIn, many Germans still use XING for networking and job searching.

4 – Take Care of Your Mental and Emotional Well-being

Self-care is crucial during the emotional rollercoaster of repatriation. Take time to prioritize your mental and emotional well-being. Engage in activities that bring you joy and help you relax. Practice mindfulness or meditation to help manage stress and anxiety. Reach out for professional help if needed, such as therapy or counseling, to support your emotional well-being.


5 – Seek Professional Help if Needed

If you find yourself struggling to cope with the emotional challenges of repatriation, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. We can provide you with tools and strategies to navigate the ups and downs of returning home. They can help you process your emotions, develop coping mechanisms, and support you on your repatriation journey. Review my article on the five main challenges of repatriation.

6 – Check Language Requirements for Your Family Members

If you married a non-German during your international assignment or stay abroad it’s essential to carefully review the language requirements for your family members. Germany places considerable importance on language proficiency, particularly in German, as it facilitates integration and communication within the society. Adequate language skills can greatly enhance their experience and opportunities in their new home. Depending on the specific visa or residency pathway, there might be varying language requirements, so ensuring your family members meet these criteria will contribute to a smoother transition and successful settlement in Germany.

7 – Enjoy the Ride

Repatriation is a unique and personal experience that can bring a mix of emotions. By understanding the stages of repatriation and implementing the tips mentioned in this article, you can navigate the emotional rollercoaster with grace and resilience. Remember to be patient with yourself, seek support when needed, and embrace the new opportunities that await you in your home country. Repatriation may have its ups and downs, but with the right mindset and support, you can successfully transition back to your old life and create a fulfilling and meaningful future.


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