Happy International Women's Day!
Repatriating is often a far more difficult transition than even the hardest expatriate adjustment. Things have changed, people don’t seem to understand you, you aren’t necessarily part of the expat culture and so aren’t sure where to find your people, and the culture shock is more surprising, because it’s often so unexpected. One thing that repatriates grapple with is identity. Unsurprisingly, we have many facets to our identities, we are complex beings. Today, in celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD), Nextpat looks at gender identity and how we can adapt to some of the challenges women face during repatriation. 2019’s Theme for IWD is #BalanceforBetter – a theme that Nextpat identifies with as an advocate for balance in all facets of life.
Expat studies demonstrate conclusively that personality traits, primarily emotional stability, are the lead indicator for better adjustments. Ostensibly an expatriate with strong emotional stability is likely to bring that same personality to the repatriation experience easing the transition. However, it can still be difficult to manage our expectations when returning home. Frustration at gender norms upon returning will result in likely one of two responses, either:
Why is my home country not as liberal as the country I’m returning from?
Relief that the home country is more liberal, but perhaps frustration over time that it’s not as liberal as you remembered/romanticized.
If the country’s gender norms, interactions, and rights are less equal than you expected or remembered, this can provide a significant challenge, as you re-establish your identity within a new context. Many women find that they are torn over whether they should be advocates or focus on “fitting in” or letting things slide in order to create a more positive atmosphere. As in all things, balance is key, and finding what works for you at a moment is critical.
To the idea of balance, or duality, this TED talk – When to Take a Stand and When to Let it Go strikes a humorous balance. It reminds us that we have a choice in each situation and that sometimes it’s hard to make a choice. WARNING: While not graphic, the speaker is a gay advocate and does speak about her partner. She also discusses being mistaken for the wrong identity and how to balance protecting her identity as aunt and her niece in an embarrassing situation while also standing up for what she believes in. This is what we face daily as we navigate our numerous identities and the small and large insults that we perhaps overlooked, forgot, or wouldn’t have seen in the same light before we moved that challenge our newly developed or evolving identity.
A new and evolving identity poses a particular challenge. If we did not see certain things as injustice, we may not find a sympathetic audience to new views. Challenging as this is, it is far from insurmountable. There are plenty of advocates and groups that are likely to share your views and are accessible. We can learn how to articulate new views in ways that facilitate discussion. We can be active listeners engaged in the perspectives around us. In lucky cases, we have a family or partner who supports our views and gives us an outlet to voice them.
A second, more insidious, challenge is the worry that we are no longer like our peers and are somehow not going to be accepted for our “new, radical views.” This can be scary, as we feel like we are growing out of our old companions. They may feel similarly and wonder about who we’ve become. This is where balance is critical. New insights into your culture, changes in your disposition or opinions, do not exclude you from your old circles. You may need new groups to help fulfill parts of your identity – but you are a complex human with many needs. The group that you grew up with still knows things about you and respects those things. You can continue to receive and give things in those relationships. You may also discover that others have changed in similar ways but weren’t sure how to raise it, empowering them to speak up and let their changes be more obvious as well.
Every situation is different, you may find yourself working and facing this in a work environment or trying to adapt in a non-expat way or finding new friends in a new city. Each challenge comes with its own dynamics, considerations, and potential responses. Recognizing that we provide some basic guidelines on adjusting to gender norms when you return, particularly if you find they are not what you expected.
Articulate your identities and values, and examine how they have shifted, if at all
Prioritize your top and most highly valued identities
Based on this, determine what identities are fulfilled by your current peer groups and which you identities need greater expression.
Determine how you wish to express those identities – through advocacy, private expression, etc
A. If you choose to find a peer group to fulfill that identity search meetup, other expats, facebook, the library, etc that help you find your people.
B. You can search for advocacy forums and groups online by looking at gender topics – using terms like “gender advocacy” or “women’s rights.” Include your city to help narrow results.
Develop relationships that fulfill your prioritized identities – remember that this takes time, listening, and engagement. This can also be a done in less public ways in a supportive home environment or even online where you can anonymize yourself.
Maintain the relationships that matter to you and re-evaluate as you continue on your journey. All relationships require balance and you will continue to recalibrate your needs throughout all journeys.
If you are struggling with having been a trailing spouse and losing the expat identity and finding that perhaps you perceive disdain or less respect than you did overseas, it will likely play into gender stereotypes. Alternatively, if you are a working spouse who is trying to balance newly found passions along with repatriation and perhaps some new responsibilities you may also find yourself trying to determine when to advocate. Nextpat recognizes the myriad of challenges each journey home poses and welcomes dialogue in our forum and invites you to a free consultation with our coaches to develop a plan to overcome or manage some of these challenges. Contact us!