Rocking a Rocky Reentry – Repatriating During a Pandemic

Interview with Rebecca Lüppen

Rebecca Lüppen is the founder of SheExpat (www.sheexpat.com) and provides expat career and life coaching for female professionals and executives. She helps female expats actively manage the changes that a mobile life brings, balance work and personal life and interact confidently and successfully within different cultures.

Rebecca and I have known each other for a little over a year. We both live in Hannover/Germany and are co-founders of the “Institut für Mobilen Lebensstil”, where we teamed up with three other colleagues and specialize in empowering German-speaking families abroad. You can find us at www.mobile-familien.de.

I wanted to hear first-hand from Rebecca what it was like for her to return from abroad with her husband and four daughters just two weeks before the first lockdown. She talks about the particular challenges they faced, as well as the resources that have most helped her and her family overcome those challenges. You can watch the 30-minute Zoom interview on YouTube. The original interview is in German, therefore we’ve summarized all the key points in English for you here:

What were your biggest challenges when you returned from abroad right before the first Corona Lockdown?

  • Repatriating at a time when everyone has to limit their contacts to their nuclear families and closest friends.

The feeling of finally being close to the family and yet not being able to visit them.

  • Moving from a furnished apartment to an unfurnished house with four children, the youngest 6 months old. I only knew the house from the internet.
  • After two weeks of school, my kids went into homeschooling.
  • We were lucky, we scurried in just before lockdown or the move would not have gone so smoothly.
  • Relative isolation of all family members.
  • Organizational challenges I didn’t expect: applying for German birth certificates, German child benefits, etc. Everything was quite complicated because my former home municipality unfortunately hadn’t registered the children in the birth register (bureaucratic pitfalls…), health insurance…. somehow we were a special case everywhere. At the same time I was setting up my business, which is also a challenge but a very positive one.
  • I definitely underestimated the “Fernweh” (opposite of homesickness) and still suffer from it a bit, especially since traveling is not possible. We wanted to show our kids more of Europe… that will all have to wait for now.
  • And then there is the “Reverse Culture Shock”. As an intercultural trainer, I somehow thought I knew all about it and would be alright … well, what can I say … it caught me completely by surprise! I have problems with the mentality of my neighbors (friendly, but clear distance). Here in Germany, I miss a bit of the lightness in everything – of course, this can also be related to Corona. And I miss the “glamour” of expat life – the Ayi, a full-time housekeeper, great vacations, meals at five-star hotels several times a month and also the great house the company rented for us.
The Lüppen Family

What helped you overcome these challenges?

  • Optimism: I knew that we would manage well together as a family, because we have always managed everywhere.
  • We have a positive attitude towards change.

External uncertainty no longer unsettles me internally, which of course helps. When you have started over in a new place so often, you just know that things will work out.

  • I also knew that all the wonderful resources my Third Culture Kids have acquired would allow us them to settle in well. They are all open-minded beings who connect quickly, so I knew they would make friends again, too.
  • I was determined to be very active in supporting the kids in find their new peer groups. So we planned a Welcome in Hannover party, because the children had already made their first contacts during a trial week at school and kindergarten, and I wanted to build on that – but the lockdown beat us to it. As soon as it was allowed again, however, we went for an outdoor climbing activity combined with a picnic, and were able to get in touch with some families that way.
  • Of course, I’m also lucky that I moved near my former employer, so we were able to revive some “old” contacts from our expat days. This has particularly helped my big girl to meet up again with a friend from her communion group in Changchun. I also arranged to meet other expat women for a virtual coffee, some with a private focus, but also I actively reached out to those who also work as coaches for expats or intercultural trainers, and that’s how we eventually met.

In my opinion, the only way is to actively approach the environment. No one was waiting for us here, so you have to take action yourself.

What kind of support would you have wished for or did you make use of?

  • For me personally, it was certainly good that I was still in my own coaching training, because there you explore yourself a lot. What I also experience again and again is that it helps parents tremendously to deal with what mobile life does to their children.
  • And then, of course, I heard about your and Christina’s Arriving Program and was immediately totally excited. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend due to my schedule, but I you’ve told me about the topics that are discussed in the program. I think it’s something that can really help you in a very concrete way to realize certain things (what is a re-entry shock, what kind of attitude do Third Culture kids have towards the culture of origin they didn’t know, that wanderlust is a very common phenomenon, etc.). And then the opportunity to share it all in a group with other returnees who are in the exact same stage, that’s actually priceless.

Rebecca’s descriptions provide very good insight into the challenges of reentry and adjustment during Corona. We were also able to learn from her valuable personal tips for overcoming these hurdles. Thank you so much, Rebecca!

If you have also just returned home from abroad, you might find our Arriving Group Coaching Program for Repatriates helpful. Together with my colleague Christina Kapaun we are committed to accompanying participants in their very individual arrival process. We combine well-founded background knowledge with proven strategies for a soft landing and offer the opportunity to exchange ideas with each other in a safe and benevolent setting.

The next starting dates as well as further information about “Arriving” can be found on this website. Furthermore, I offer individual coaching as well as preparatory reentry workshops. I would be happy to advise you in a free discovery call, which format is the most suitable for you. Please contact me by mail or choose an appointment via the calendar function.

You can find another blog article about reentry during Corona here. Have you also returned from abroad in the midst of the pandemic? I’m looking forward to your experiences in the comments!

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