Repatriating in itself is stressful, it’s even harder during the pandemic.
Repatriating is always hard. Sometimes as stressful as going through a divorce or grieving a death. But when you’re in the midst of a global pandemic, the emotional and physical toll takes to a new level.
Since March, the COVID crisis has continually confronted globally mobile families to reconsider where they call home. Many of us are stranded across the world, in cities and airports, trying to find a way back, as border controls, flight caps and travel restrictions tighten. Others, wondering where they should begin in their journey.
Whatever the reason that led to this decision, many of you, like me and my children, will have to brave this transition under difficult circumstances.
Can it be done and done well? Yes. But it takes planning, compassion, support and a strong sense of self as your guiding compass.
I know this as a Counsellor and Coach but also because I’ve personally moved countries more than 10 times over the past 25 years and recently relocated with my children, while my partner remained in Asia. In this blog, I share the mindset and tips I work through with my clients, interwoven with what my family did in our recent move to Brisbane during the pandemic.
Leaving is a process, not an event
When it comes to repatriation, relocation or any type of move, it should be treated like a process, not an event. It’s not binary or checked off the moment you step foot on a plane. By building a “RAFT”, you’ll help ease yourself and your family through the move.
The concept of a RAFT comes from David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken’s book “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds” and applies not only for moves across cultures, but a way to move through disruptive, ambiguous changes – even turmoil.
Building your RAFT
R – Reconciliation
Recognise the stress, anxiety, uncertainty and loss that comes with the move and the added complexity of COVID-19 that you and your family will have to navigate. Make the time to put words to your thoughts and feelings and realise there will be some things out of your control.
What I value most is my family and their wellbeing. After five months in lockdown, homeschooling my children on my own with no support, and seeing how it was affecting them mentally, I knew we had to relocate. We didn’t have the months leading up to prepare, pack and arrange the logistics of it all. Just weeks.
Hotel quarantine was mandatory. What hotel we would quarantine in, the type of room we would get and whether we would have a kitchenette to do our own cooking, whether we would be able to get fresh air breaks. These are examples of things that can bring angst, but all out of our control. It doesn’t mean they can’t be important to us, they’re just not things that we can impact. Acknowledging this fact makes it easy to put it down to a side and channel our time and energy to what we can control. For my family, as an example, it was bringing an HDMI cable and Apple TV so we could watch Netflix in the quarantine hotel room, chalk pens so my children can decorate the windows with messages of what they’re grateful for, organising a delivery of fresh fruit, vegetables and some staples, and a sandwich maker so we could make toasties.
And if you haven’t seen the Pixar movie, Inside Out, it’s a great one to watch as a family. It reminds us that being angry is normal, being sad is normal and that we can embrace – rather than suppress – tough emotions. It’s part of being human. As parents, we can model “good grief” and show how we work through it.
A – Affirmation
Appreciate and acknowledge who and what matters and find positives, even during challenging times. Our closest friends, who’ve repatriated before, understood why we decided to move from Melbourne to Brisbane at this time. But not everyone did and not everyone will for you too. If you know your “why” and are true to your values, these will help guide you along the way. You can be grateful for having arrived, for being able to get out of quarantine. Even in the darkest of days, ask yourself “what went right?”.
F – Farewell
Saying farewell to people, places and possessions is something that you and your children would have done but might not have been able to with the restrictions in place. Calling or organising a Zoom with friends before you leave or once you arrive can help. Relinquish the possessions you no longer absolutely need but choose a few items to take that will bring you comfort and tie you to your past.
In our move, as we were not able to bring in movers due to restrictions, we were limited with what we could pack but I made sure that each of us packed whatever we needed in the short term to make us feel at home as soon as we were out of quarantine.
T – Think Destination
Only after reconciling, affirming, and saying farewell, we can start unpacking and focus our attention on what comes next – our destination. Know that your destination may be different but different isn’t bad. It’s just different. There may be a culture shock or even a reverse culture shock. Use the time you have to research the things you can do that’s similar to what you and your family enjoyed before, the school or activities that you can enrol your children in, and the new community groups you can be a part of.
The last time I lived in Brisbane was more than 30 years ago, and although I spent a significant part of my childhood in the city, I knew that it was going to be different. I also knew that only 2 years ago, I had chosen to move my family back to Melbourne instead of Brisbane when I returned to Australia primarily because of the fact that it was where I felt was the easiest place to transition to after so 20 years abroad. Melbourne – a city with seasons, a culture and community that we will always be drawn to.
There’ll always be a choice to stay comfortable and keep your “bags” packed just in case. But you won’t grow, you’ll miss out on the experiences you could have had and the people you could have met. Unpack your bags and choose courage over comfort. This is what living is about. I have done this in all of the places I have lived, even if I only ended up staying for 6 months which was the case when I moved to India with a newborn baby and a toddler.
It is now 2 weeks since we got out of quarantine and my son has joined a soccer club and picked back up the sport he enjoyed in Melbourne. My daughter has done an art class and even managed to get a job in an art studio helping others for the upcoming holidays. I treated myself to a massage, booked in weekly appointments with an exercise physiologist, found people within the community to connect with and asked a school teacher for a parents’ list to organise play dates. These are some examples. We’re still unpacking our bags now and that’s just part of the process.
Be guided by your values and don’t forget to show compassion
When you know what you truly value, every decision you make throughout your repatriation will be clearer. You’ll have the confidence and clarity to follow your north star. There will be times where things are uncertain and this is where an unbiased support person can be invaluable; someone who understands what is most important to you and helps you journey through the transition.
Don’t forget to also show yourself compassion and those around you. This process won’t be linear and some days it may feel like two steps back, and that’s OK. Not everyone you meet will know what you and your family would have gone through but give them an opportunity and show compassion to them too.
It’s not going to be easy, but it’ll be worth it.