Notes on Being a Triangle and Repatriation

“Nobody gets it. It’s like having somebody dying and there’s no funeral and you’re not supposed to talk about it. You feel guilty talking about it.” Expat therapist Lois Bushong who is also a founding members of the group, Families in Global Transition.

Here’s the thing about repatriation, or the act of moving back to your “home” country after living abroad: for most people who have lived overseas, moving back to one’s home country is the most difficult part of the entire experience—even harder than combatting the language barriers or culture shock or bureaucracy of living in another country in the first place.

If you are an expat who is afraid of or anxious about moving home; if you are an expat who has just moved home and is having a hard time transitioning; or if you simply know an expat who is going through either one of these things, then this post is for you. Repatriation is a really hard thing to understand if you’ve never been through it, and it’s a really difficult thing talk about with other people who simply cannot or do not want to understand it. In a way, it’s a vicious circle. Repatriates may be perceived as selfish, or spoiled, or anti-American; as unreasonable; resentful; ungrateful; overdramatic, or just ridiculous. But the truth is, repatriation is extremely hard, and the feelings and fears that ex-expats experience are very real. Most expats who return home go through a period of grief. It’s also not uncommon for ex-expats to find themselves experiencing depression, anxiety, PTSD-like symptoms. I know I did. Coming home from France in spring 2010 was literally the darkest period of my life. I had feelings of anxiety, depression, and grief for the better part of a year (and I never really got over it until I knew I was coming back.) I didn’t have a lot of support from anyone. I felt like I was completely alone; that I was the only one feeling what I was feeling.


With that being said, springtime is one of the most stressful times of years for expats. It’s the time of year where many of us realize our contracts are ending, the school year is coming to a close, and it’s (once again) time to deal with visas, and make life-altering decisions about the immediate future (Can I renew my visa? Do I want to stay? Do I want to go home, or move on, or try someplace new? Do I want to pursue a different kind of visa? OMG I’m out of viable visa options, now what? Shall I apply for citizenship? Am I eligible? Am I only settling in x country because I’m too afraid to move home?)

The majority of my friends here are expats; many of the blogs I read and Facebook groups I belong to are written by or geared towards expats. So lately, I’ve been talking to a lot of my friends, and reaching out to a lot of readers or group members about repatriating, about what it’s like to repatriate, and express my personal worries or fears in regards to repatriating. And during my research, I came across an article– an analysis—written by an ex-expat. I feel that it just sums it up perfectly.

 

The author, Naomi Hattaway, wrote the article, I Am a Triangle and Other Tips for Repatriation. She sums up repatriate struggles into the analogy of different shapes trying to merge and fiwhat_designers_dopngt with each other (most specifically—circles, squares, triangles, and stars). On one side of the world, Hattaway explains, you have Circle Country, and on the other side you have Square Settlement. The Circles live in Circle Country and the Squares live in Square Settlement. Both places have their traditions, holidays, languages, cultural norms and expectations, but they are completely different from one another’s.

One day, a Circle citizen moves to Square Settlement. Naturally, the Circle, who has always been a Circle and whose background and experiences come solely from Circle Country, begins to adjust and blend in with the Squares—taking on new traditions, trying new foods, learning a new language, amongst other things. And eventually, this Circle begins to slowly and unconsciously evolve- but not into a Square. Instead, s/he evolves into somethings else–a Triangle. They carry some original Circle-ness, blended in with some new Square-ness. Triangle is never going to be 100% Square, but will also never again be 100% Circle

Eventually Triangle leaves Square Settlement and moves back to Circle Country. Now, Triangle needs to find their new normal. And that can be really, really hard, because even though Triangle is back where they came from, and they want to fit in with the Circles, their people, again, the straight triangle edges no longer mesh with the smooth arched circles.

That’s exactly how I feel about coming back to the United States. Even though it’s my home, it now feels foreign. I want to be back with my Circles— I love Circles;  according to my passport, I am a Circle. It’s not that I don’t want to come home, but in some ways, I’m afraid to; I’m afraid to deal with all the emotions that come with repatriation; I’m afraid of the possibility of not ever being able to come back to Square Settlement. But, what’s most difficult is not being able to talk about it, or not being understood or taken seriously when I try to talk about it. I think a key part to repatriation is having that connection with fellow Triangles.

My time in France has been the best three years of my life despite family deaths, and individual hardships, and missing friends weddings/graduations/children’s births. There are many parts of the French lifestyle that I am so glad to have experienced and adopted into my own life, but there are other times that I find myself thanking the universe that I am not, and will NEVER be French. As I take the next few weeks and months to figure out where I’ll go next, whether that be France, the United States, or elsewhere, I take comfort that there are many, many other Triangles out there, and that we are not alone in our feelings or struggles.

I highly encourage my fellow Triangles to check out Naomi’s Facebook Group: I Am A Triangle.

Are you a Triangle? I’d love to hear your story.

Bisous,

Dana

 

15 thoughts on “Notes on Being a Triangle and Repatriation

  1. Hi Dana! Thanks for sharing the Triangle story and supporting the Triangle community / FB group! Your words and thoughts are “square on the head” and I’m glad you’ve shared it all with your community. It’s been so powerful to watch the movement take shape as we all nod our heads in agreement and say “me too!”

    1. Thank you SO much Naomi! It means a lot that you reached out and read my interpretation of your post. Thanks for creating the piece; it’s helped so many of us in the Triangle community!

  2. It is definitely an adjustment to move back to one’s home country, but what helps a lot is if you are able to reconnect with old friends and family. And it’s much easier if you’ve already experienced it once, as you have, and therefore know what to expect this time. For me the second time moving back to the U.S. from France was many times easier than the first.

  3. Hi Dana, I have been following your blog since I got accepted into TAPIF last spring. Your words are always reassuring and you always provide an amazing insight of life in France!

    As TAPIF comes to a close all of these feelings are getting my goat and I’m so happy that you’ve taken the time to post about repatriation and reverse culture shock — and you’re so right, it can be hard to realize that there are so many other ex-pats going through a similar, if not the same, experience. Even though I went through the process after studying abroad, this time is different, I’ve grown so much more accustomed to and happy in France, I feel even more triangle than before! I should know what to expect in my own country but I’ve forgotten what to expect! I can’t even begin to imagine the things that will trip me up when I get back to the USA — I want a bagel! But croissants! Driving! But walking! No one tells you that EVERYTHING drive you nuts once you’ve been an ex-pat. It’s an ultimate identity test. One of the most frustrating things I’ve found is when teachers and friends ask me how I feel about going home and I can’t manage to explain the I do/don’t want to go “home” mentality.

    I know I will always feel caught in the middle of these two great countries and it is wonderful to hear your commentary on Naomi Hattaway’s article. A big, huge, giant thank you for your wisdom and support for the triangle community!!

    1. Hi Zoe! Thanks for your comment! You’ve really hit the nail on the head here. You’re right in that sometimes expectations seem to just hit us smack on the head even if we don’t realize they’re there at first! As Triangles, I think we will all always feel a bit “stuck” in the middle.

      Bisous!

  4. I am so a triangle!!!!! I will definitely NEVER be French, but I feel weird as an American too – I know I’ve changed, but I’m not sure how, because I don’t notice the specific changes until someone points them out to me (“When did you start putting your bread on the table?” “…of course the bank is open on Monday.”) And I wonder if it will be hard to make new friends, since living here and blending French and English is part of who I am now, and at “home” if I talk about how it is in France or seem like I don’t understand American norms or heaven forbid accidentally sprinkle in French words, I’ll come off like the biggest Miss-used-to-live-in-France snob! I’ll just spend a lot of time at Target until I get rehabilitated 🙂

    1. Yes!! I will never be French, but I’m not really “all American” either… definitely proud and patriotic, but not in the MURICA sense of the word… 🙂

      So can relate to not wanting to be THAT expat. alas, perhaps it’s inevitable. BISOUS!

  5. Wow, what a powerful metaphor!! Thinking deeply about it, I actually think this sense of “triangularity” is one reason I’ve kept my blog going for so long after coming home: it gives me a space to connect to fellow triangles and to talk about my life in square country (or hexagon country is maybe a better fit 😜) which I struggle to discuss with my dear dear circles, beyond a cursory level. Sometimes I wonder if I’m living too much in the past, if I’m over-sentimentalizing my experience but I think that’s actually okay for now. It’s letting me know that I may not be done with hexagon country yet, hence looking for a good reason to go back!

    And you will find the right fit for you, I’m sure. It’s taken me a while but I think I am on a path to start making sense of my future a little. That’s all we can ask for 🙂

    1. LOL, perhaps you’re right in that France expats are more like hexagons 🙂

      YOu’re not alone in living in the past; I’m certainly glad you’ve kept your blog alive, and I’m glad to see you’ve figured out a path for yourself (though curiously enough, that includes coming back to France!?) xo

  6. I’m really interested to see what ends up happening for you. I think I’m rooting for you to stay in France or abroad, but maybe that’s me selfishly hoping to live vicariously through you, haha! 🙂

    But it is so, so, so difficult to come back home. And you never really get over it, fully. I think I’m in a good place now, but it took years to get here. It’s now almost five years (whoa!!!!!!!) since I was last abroad but it was rough being back. But I’m so grateful and thankful for that time abroad. And I’m at peace with being here, back in the US now. But I do feel like a triangle! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Erika! Your comment made my day 🙂 I’m relieved to know that I’m not alone in reverse culture shock as well. That’s my one concern- I hope that if I do come home to the USA, I will find peace, and acceptance, and happiness. I never really did that the first time around; I spent three years counting down until my next stint in France, and I regret it. I wish I had known how to deal with that grief.

      bisous!

  7. Dana, I absolutely love this post! The circle-square-triangle metaphor is completely spot-on. Thanks for sharing!

    I’m definitely a triangle and have felt like one every time I’ve lived abroad and repatriated. But I’ll go a step further and say that living away from home in general — whether within or outside of the United States — makes a circle person more triangular. The first time I really experienced culture shock was when I moved to the Pacific Northwest for college, and I definitely experienced reverse culture shock every time I went back to Southern California for holidays and breaks. This makes sense to me because the US is a very vast and culturally diverse country and people from each state — and even regions within states — often have distinct habits, mindsets, and identities.

    My current repatriation has been easier and much less fraught with angst than previous ones. Like you said, I think a lot of this has to do with accepting and appreciating the parts of me that are undoubtedly American (and Californian), as well as the parts of me that just aren’t. I’ve also become more open and unapologetic about these things. And it further helps that we do live in such a globalized and mobilized world these days — almost all of my friends (old ones as well as new ones I’ve made since moving back to LA) have either lived abroad or in places that are quite different from where they grew up.

    In all, I think that living happily anywhere is dependent on surrounding yourself with as many fellow triangles (and trapezoids, ellipses, etc.) as possible.

    1. ❤ Thanks Cara! You're totally right! Regional differences in the USA are incredible. You are totally right. We need to accept certain aspects of ourselves, and embrace our inner triangles, as well as get to know all different kinds of shapes. Miss you, hope you're well! xo

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