My Top Ten Repatriation Tips

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Kangaroo sightings at our house. Oh yes, we're home.

What I wish I knew before we came back home…

The end of this month marks our first eight months back in Australia, and to my horror, I only just feel like I'm starting to even think about feeling even slightly settled. Ten weeks after arriving back in Oz, I posted my Top Ten Repatriated Tips on City Weekend's website.

My sister has just arrived home from Beijing and is attempting to settle into Brisbane. In honour of her and many others who are also experiencing the expat shuffle, here is a look at my top ten tips. Although it's aimed at people heading home from China, I'm sure it will inspire culture-shockees from all over the world.

1. Start Saving

It will cost you twice as much as you thought it would to move back, even if you’re shipped back, all expenses paid. Trust me on this one. Stack the cash away now. And then add another third for some fun to help the repatriation feel a little less heavy.

The last thing you’ll need is to be worrying about how you’re going to be able to justify putting that $14 red bell pepper in your shopping trolley. And do you know how much a Cadbury crème egg costs these days? Ay ai ai. Chocolate robbery.

2. Wait for it… Prep for Weight Loss (yes, you read it right)

You will lose weight in the two months back home. Hallelujah! Suddenly and quickly and deliciously, and without even trying.

But beware. Don’t get lulled into a binge-eating-false-sense-of-security. It’s only because you’re actually moving your body (vacuum cleaners, washing lines, mops, gardening as opposed to lolling in a salon chair) and because you’re not ingesting 10 litres of oil per week, along with a shaker of salt to really make it stick to your thighs.

Revel in the weight loss then keep it off by passing on the family sized block of Cadbury’s chocolate and all those other goodies you have so missed in Beijing. You should start this chocolate refusal by week 7 or 8.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

3. Get Checked

When you get home, go see a doctor and get the kids to a dentist. It’s not that you are being pedantic, it’s that it’s really a good idea to find a good local doctor, or reconnect with your old one.

Have a mini physical and talk about anything you’ve missed or that’s worried you while you’ve been away. Have skin checked and eyes checked, too. Remember the kids have been drinking non-fluoridated water for x amount of years and you want to check enamel strength and gum condition. You need to be fighting fit to deal with your new life.

4. Don’t Pace Yourself

I don’t recommend 'letting boxes unpack themselves'. Because they actually don’t. Just get into it, otherwise you’ll be battling mental, emotional, spiritual AND physical displacement. If you can get your house in order, the rest will fall into place sooner.

4. Get physical

I was too busy to exercise when we first got home. Big mistake. It’s boring, yes, but it does help you deal with stress levels and it really is a good move, smart move, imperative move. Even if it’s 10 minutes stretching and a quick walk around the block – do SOMETHING.

5. Dry Hands

If you thought your skin was dry in Beijing, wait until you start cleaning again! My hands are like sandpaper after the endless wiping, dusting and cleaning products. Wear gloves!

6. Forget House and Garden Magazine

When you return home and begin keeping house for yourself (as opposed to the magical pixies that kept it for you in Beijing), you will have to come to terms with more than housework. You’ll have to come to terms with the fact that your house will no longer look like something out of a House and Garden photo shoot.

It will look lived in.

It will look messy.

Unless you spend 8 hours scrubbing each and every day, your bathroom counters will get sticky with toothpaste and the washing will pile up and transform itself into a pile of never-ending ironing. In fact, don’t even bother to put the iron away. But the true point of this section is this: get over it. The house will never look like it did when you had an ayi and you need to just LET GO.

Prep yourself for this. Until the kids (and your husband) moves out, your house will never look like it did in Beijing. Accept and move on. Have a cup of tea and read a magazine amongst the neverending chaos and you’ll come out on top.

7. The Kids Will Settle Sooner Than You

Don’t try to beat your kids to that ‘settled’ feeling so you can be more capable of helping them through their settling ups and downs. It won’t happen. They will go through very apparent behavioural changes and missing their friends, yes, but it doesn’t last too long – maybe 4-6 weeks for kids under 10 years. Older kids may take longer. YOU might take a lifetime.

8. Get Back Into the Things You Loved

If you enter a really suburban experience like I have, you could go quite mad in a matter of weeks unless you have something to focus on. Start planning your return to work now, or at least plan what you will do with your days (other than the endless housekeeping, of course) - even if it’s hobbies, study or other interests.

Also start researching your new town if you’re unfamiliar with it, because there will NOT be the welcoming committees you experienced in Beijing, and it will be quite startling at first. Keeping busy will keep you sane, help you network and allow you discover and immerse yourself in... stuff.

Just do it.

9. Don’t Freak Out About the Schools

This may be a grandiose statement, but most schools are great, if you research them carefully and are in touch well in advance to build up a rapport and learn as much as you can about how they operate.

Bear in mind, however, that unless you are forking out a kajillion kuai to put them into an exclusive private school, things will not be the same for your child – the school will probably have less resources and many more children.

Just be prepared, is all I’m saying. Your child may not need extending, but be prepared to watch them and make sure they don’t ‘slip’ southwards from the wonderful international school education they’ve probably received in Beijing.

10. Accept It Will Take Time

It’s going to take time for us to settle here in Australia. Of course, I want everything NOW but I just have to accept that it’s going to hurt to be away from Beijing, that I will frequently get teary, that the kids will ask eternally about their friends and that things will feel just not quite right. Like you don’t belong - even in your own country.

People live far more independent lives at home, so you’ll probably feel left out, disoriented, numb and desperate to travel. Just accept it and know it will get better. They say six months.

God help me.

I hope this list helps you in your repatriation – it’s been both a joy and a struggle for us, but we’re getting there. I have to say I’m missing the Jing like mad, but I’m also intent on making the most of where we are – and I guess you can take that as Tip Number 11. Whatever the case, change is a good thing. If only it came with Din Tai Fung dumplings…

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

aww . . . remember I told you it would take 6+ months!! Sister is home already? Did she want to return? TB

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