Conquering Evacuation Blues and Return to Post
#Evacuation from an overseas location for a humanitarian, #crisis, or health reason can be one of the most difficult experiences of your overseas life. To support evacuation #planning and #survival, we’ve pulled together this kit. We break it up into preparing for evacuation, managing uncertainty while evacuated, and returning/moving on. We would love to hear your stories and what worked for you.
Generally, communities are incredibly supportive of personnel who have to move in such a situation immediately after the crisis breaks – while you may not know what you need immediately and people stop asking after a few weeks – we believe that asking once you do know usually results in positive responses and support.
The best resource I found for individuals is on the U.S. State Department’s Family Liaison Office website. Some of those suggestions are included here, along with several other practical ones based on my experience and those who’ve also been through evacuations.
PREPARING FOR AN EVACUATION
A. Have contact numbers and methods for family or friends who are not at post with
you. These should be in your “#gobag” to ensure that you can get support if needed.
B. Have cash and a credit card with a higher limit. Evacuations usually are expensive and there is rarely a way to directly charge your employer – having a means to cover costs and get reimbursed later can help manage this.
C. Take photos of your effects when you arrive to post. Store these along with your important documents – medical records, legal documents, etc. somewhere accessible. These can be particularly helpful if you need to file a claim if your goods are lost after your evacuation.
D. On the same topic, consider property insurance for your effects.
E. If you have a child who will be in a different place than you – school for example – ensure that you have redundant means of communication with them and that they have a plan of who to stay with and how to feel secure. The uncertainty of your safety impacts them as well.
F. Prepare your “go bag.” You should have a toiletry bag to get you through the initial few days, clothes, your important documents, any valuables that are irreplaceable (think heirlooms or jewelry), medication, etc. Basically, as yourself “if I had to survive in a hotel for the next year, what would I need in the first few days to get myself set up?”
G. Parents who both work for the same employer (tandem assignments) will want to consider what will happen in a situation where some people are required/asked to stay back at the overseas assignment during evacuation. Who will go with the kids, do you need to give legal guardianship or power of attorney to a trusted family member or friend? You may also want to consider schooling options – online and homeschooling, due to the difficulty of getting into some schools mid-year.
H. Make sure your passport and visas are in order for your “home point” – some companies evacuate people to a regional point, so you may want to consider retaining a
valid visa for that location as well. Ensure your passport has more than 6 months validity due to many countries’ restrictions on entering with a later date.
I. Have a sense of your company’s policies, regulations, and allowance for emergency departures – know what kinds of documentation they will need, what you are authorized to do, etc. This will be harder to access during the actual departure and having a sense of what is available will help you prepare for it. Talking to others that have evacuated in the past can help.
MANAGING UNCERTAINTY WHILE EVACUATED
Once you leave post there are likely going to be a lot of emotions, including feelings of loss, #anxiety, worry, and #uncertainty. You may also be happy to have left a place you didn’t like, but generally leaving in a hurry overshadows that. Notably you may not have had a chance to say your farewells in a meaningful way that provided closure and worry about when you might see those people again. Kim Adams, who helped us with our Back to School Guide, has some free resources at her site Resilient Expats that discuss Saying Goodbye well.
Evacuation events also usually limit communication or planning due to the uncertainty. Therefore, the ability to manage this time in a way that is not demoralizing is critical. Below are seven things to try to up your #resiliency while evacuated.
1. Plan for a long evacuation. If you plan on being gone for a while and potentially moving on, you can work on your farewells, closure, and finding a community in your area – you can commit to that instead of feeling trapped in both worlds.
2. Establish new routines – these help you have control over small everyday things. This can help balance the overwhelming uncertainty of your situation. It also helps you find a new rhythm that might be important if the evacuation lasts longer than was initially anticipated or extends unexpectedly.
3. At the beginning of this guide I mentioned asking for help. While asking for help is a key indicator of resilience, it also can get you needed assistance. There are often groups of people that will help find resources in evacuation moments – reaching out or finding them can provide clothes and toys for kids, or outlets for your own energy, ideas for activities while evacuated, and much more.
4. Reframe the situation – this might include thinking of the evacuation as a historic time you are living through or observing it as a historian. You might see it as an opportunity to pursue new things or old hobbies you haven’t had a chance to commit time to otherwise. Reframing can help build resilience and make the experience less upsetting.
5. Pursue those things you never have time to pursue. This helps you exercise control over something. It also provides a fulfilling way to spend your time away from post. It can help structure your time and introduce you to people interested in a similar hobby. You can start building your community away from post. Lastly, you may pick up a new skill you can apply when you return. If it’s a creative skill it might also be a great outlet for your feelings that probably range from frustration, anger, sorrow, and more.
6. Try to find a home in your new place – that might mean moving out of a hotel into a furnished apartment, setting up wifi, etc. You might find some wall stickers to help decorate your new place making it feel like home without spending money on artwork you probably will recover from your overseas home. Sometimes settling in can be hard because it feels like leaving your old home before you’re ready. However, doing so can help you exercise control over some aspects of your life which can help when everything else feels uncertain.
7. Stay in touch with friends back in your overseas location. Help them stay up to
date on what is happening where you are and get information from them on how life has changed in your overseas location. Use the time to also reestablish old connections at home – friends who may be too hard to connect with when overseas due to time zones or schedules.
RETURNING TO POST/MOVING ON
Evacuations are traumatic situations that often last for a long time. For the people who have left post they probably have an image in their minds of the post as they left it. That’s natural – you probably have fond memories of your time and a hurried goodbye makes it less likely that you’ll imagine the place changing. We actually do this for every place we leave – it’s why we have #reversecultureshock in the first place! Recognizing that your home abroad has likely changed is a critical first step in your return.
If people stayed at your overseas location, they have lived through the changes that the country or city underwent and have been managing work and life under these changed circumstances. They may feel like they’ve had to struggle while you’ve been “on vacation.” This can result in your return being joyous for you but a part of the daily grind for them. The #reunion can be strained in those circumstances because folks who stayed at the location may feel like those who left don’t get it and vice versa. Even when you’ve kept in touch it might feel like there is a disconnect after the initial reunion. So, how to manage your return?
i. Give yourself, your family, and your friends in your location time to adjust. This can include shorter gatherings that have more structure and aren’t necessarily focused on the last few months of evacuation. For example, instead of hosting a free conversation dinner party, you might do drinks with a planned game that’s unrelated to living abroad. Or you might go out to pursue an activity that involves less conversation – like rock climbing, dance classes, cooking classes, or beer brewing classes.
ii. Find your new normal at home. Establish routines that are similar to what existed before but adapt to the new realities of home. The more vocal and conscientious you are about this, the more you will be able to exercise a feeling of control over it.
iii. Use the new skills and hobbies you developed while away to find a new community. This can help establish new friendships without the same baggage as you may have with old friends.
iv. Bring back goodies – especially for evacuations from posts with limited access to specific goods, be sure to recognize that those who stayed at the location probably suffered with even greater shortages. Be sure to bring back the things they miss or want to help them also move on.
v. Welcome newcomers. Newcomers often have even less context regarding the location and what the local expat community has been through. Helping them integrate into the community can help forge a new identity for the community, instead of one defined by the event that triggered evacuation.
For families that have been separated – tandem couples or others, our best guide to finding your new normal can be found in our Guide to Finding Your New Normal After a Separated Tour.
For families that choose to remain apart after evacuation has been lifted due to school or other reasons, the move to home is really grounded in ensuring that you find your new life back home. This may include taking a trip back to your last residence to get closure with your good-byes. It may also involve a trip to pack out items that you would have moved back if you had more time during the initial departure. Regardless of whether you can make the trip back, finding new grounding in your new home will help to move on. This could include reminiscing on fond memories through journaling, scrapbooking, hosting other friends from the location, and more. What ideas have worked for you?
Have you been evacuated? What was challenging? What do you wish you had done differently? What were you glad you did? What would you recommend to others? Did you return to post after? How did that go? What did you learn from that?
Are you in the midst of returning or evacuating and trying to navigate normal or uncertainty? Want a friendly ear with experience to support you and maybe even provide a rudder when you feel like you’re skidding? Contact me to work through it together!