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5 Tips For Preparing Your Return After Working Abroad

A stressed man walking past a window.

While there are many resources to help you find a job abroad, if you plan on returning home, the transition back to your home country needs just as much attention and planning. I compiled this list of tips for your repatriation based on my personal experience after spending two years as an EFL teacher in Korea, and also from talking to friends who have been through similar experiences.

Keep a watchful eye on the industry you want to work in

Once situated in a foreign country with its mesmerizing new culture, it is very easy, and somewhat natural, to lose track of your industry at home. If you do plan on returning home, however, I strongly recommend monitoring the organizations you'd like to work with. I stayed informed by subscribing to organizations’ newsletters, following them on social media, and by frequently browsing employment websites. I even set up job alerts matching my criteria to stay up to date on what positions are available, and what requirements they list.

Never lose contact with vital connections at home

I strongly recommend staying in touch with your professional connections in your home country while you are abroad. Upon your return, your former colleagues can be great sources of job leads. LinkedIn makes it easy to stay in touch on how people are doing in their careers. I also recommend making time to reach out to former managers with whom you have a good relationship from time to time as a means of keeping you on their radar, especially if you are interested in returning to your former organization, or that sector. It is so much better to stay in contact than to reach out for a reference letter after a few years of silence.

Keep your skills sharp and acquire new ones

If your position abroad is somewhat outside of your career, it is very important to keep your skills fresh. If you are a graphic designer who went abroad to teach, for example, you may want to consider doing some freelance work to stay on top of your game. The multitude of professional development courses online gives you the option to improve your skills and resume through an accredited institution whilst abroad. Before teaching in Korea, I was a project coordinator in the higher education sector. In order to improve my career whilst doing something different, I completed a certificate course in project management while I was teaching abroad. Although studying was an investment of time and money, it was worth it as it added value to my resume upon my return. And while working, be sure to keep track of your accomplishments.

Save, and then save some more

Of course working abroad goes hand in with new adventures and socializing, all of which requires money. However, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was to plan financially for what came afterwards. This may sound obvious to you, but I have also seen plenty of expats repatriate with little savings, or even debt from, finding themselves in really hard situations. There really is no way of telling how long it may you to re-enter the workforce upon your return, and you have to live whilst looking for a job. Job hunting is stressful enough, and knowing that you have a nest egg to keep you afloat will give you a little peace of mind.

I would recommend saving enough to cover your bases at home for at least three months. Remember that you may need a considerable amount of money for a deposit on a new apartment or home rental, or whatever you may need to transition back. After the first few months abroad, you will have a clear indication of the cost of living, after which you can draft a budget and set saving goals. By transferring a set minimum amount of money into a separate account on a monthly basis, I ensured that I reached my savings goals whilst still enjoying my time abroad. If saving and budgeting doesn’t come naturally to you, there are plenty of mobile apps that can help you keep track of your spending and goals.

Prepare for reverse culture shock

I have spoken to many people who have worked abroad and found the journey back to be stressful and weird for a number of reasons. It can be a mixture of happiness over reuniting with family and friends, and stress about your next move if that isn’t in place. I, too, felt somewhat like I was in the twilight zone when I got off the plane. One so easily becomes used to a certain way of life, which may be very different from the realities of home. I recommend doing some reading on reverse culture shock, and learning from others’ experiences ahead of time, just to prepare yourself mentally for what you may go through. I found an interesting and thorough article on the subject on Expactica.

When I returned home, I tried to make my transition smoother by staying in touch with people in Korea, whilst enjoying my reunion with friends and family. Sometimes, when I felt like a fish out of water at home, it helped a lot to just talk to someone who is in the place that became your second home. I think everyone’s experience of reverse culture shock may be unique, and may require a different remedy, but just knowing that it exists and may happen to you is better than being caught completely off-guard.

There is a lot to be said for living in the moment and just thoroughly take enjoying your new environment, but remember that your return does not start when the plane takes off. If your plan is to work abroad for a short period of time or a couple of years, it is important to have your strategy for your return in mind from very early on.

By Chéri-Leigh Erasmus

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