It’s that time of year when many globally mobile families are either preparing to return ‘home’, contemplating returning ‘home’ or farewelling others who are returning ‘home’. Re-Entry Expert, Dr Cate Brubaker, shares her wisdom and insight with us on how to make returning ‘home’ a positive, growth oriented experience that leads to a meaningful and satisfying global life, no matter where in the world we are located.
As a little girl growing up in Oregan, USA in a monocultural family, Dr Cate Brubaker studied languages using cassette tapes borrowed from the local library and dreamed of living abroad. At the age of 16, her dream became a reality and it was to change her life forever. Studying, living, working and travelling abroad have dominated much of Cate’s timeline since but it’s the multiple repatriations that have provided the most life lessons, for her and for those with whom she works.
Cate arrived in Hamburg, Germany just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She had earned a scholarship to spend her senior high school year attending a German school and living with a German host family. “What a crazy, hard, intense, amazing year that was! It was 100% immersion and completely changed my life,” said Cate. What followed were many study and work opportunities throughout Germany over the course of the next 15 years. “Going back and forth between Germany and the US was a big part of my life,” said Cate. Like so many others who live overseas, it was the returning ‘home’ that Cate found most challenging.
Returning ‘home’ after living abroad has been written and spoken about for generations. Known by a number of different terms including repatriation, reverse culture shock and re-acculturation, Cate prefers to use the broad term ‘re-entry’ because it encompasses all kinds of returning ‘home’ experiences from the international career expat returning after decades to a study abroad student returning after a year overseas.
“My first re-entry, after my high school year abroad, was the most difficult,” said Cate. “I’d changed and grown tremendously during that year – overcome intense homesickness, become bilingual, independent and created a pretty fabulous life in Germany. When I had to return home, it felt like everything I’d worked so hard for was ripped away. While I was happy to see my friends and family again, I missed my life in Germany terribly. I missed the person I’d become in Germany and that people there saw me as adventurous, independent, and bilingual,” she recalled.
“I had no idea how to… reconcile who I was with who I’d become or how to draw on what I’d learned abroad in order to be intentional about my next steps. After a few months back at home, it felt like I’d not only lost my life in Germany but also the life I’d once had at home.” Her subconscious solution was to keep moving yet multiple re-entries followed as Cate lived, studied and worked between Germany and the US.
“It took me a couple of decades to realize that I was lugging around a lot of unresolved re-entry issues. I just always had the ‘re-entry sucks and you just have to muddle through until you can go abroad again’ attitude,” said Cate. Even though she is a reflective person, Cate struggled to deal with the painful parts of re-entry so ignored them. She does not recommend this approach!
It has been 26 years since Cate’s first re-entry. Her life experience, a PhD dissertation on intercultural learning and study abroad and her work with students in International Education have provided her the ideal platform to equip and support individuals in re-entry through her business, Small Planet Studio. “I help globetrotters make re-entry a positive, growth-oriented experience so they can live a meaningful and satisfying global life no matter where in the world they are,” said Cate.
Her latest contribution to this important work is The Re-Entry Relaunch Roadmap: A Creative Workbook for Finding Happiness, Success and Your Next Global Adventure After Being Abroad. Published in 2016, Cate’s workbook adds a creative and fun approach to her quiver of resources helping people process the emotional side of re-entry, including re-entry mastermind groups (the next cohort begins on May 28 so sign up now), online support communities, consultations, webinars and presentations. It is an excellent tool for all age groups to relaunch after re-entry touchdown.
“Re-entry is not the end. It is just another step in the journey and another step closer to living a global life that reflects who you really are. It’s about going ‘home’ but it’s also about redefining ‘home.’ It’s about getting to know the new you, deciding on your best next steps and carving out a global life path that is perfect for you,” said Cate. Re-entry is a process, not an event. It requires intentionality. Cate offers the following advice to ensure the re-entry process is “optimistic, reflective and action-oriented so that it leads to an even better life than the one you had abroad.”
Preparing for Re-Entry
- Leave well: Make a list of everyone – and everything– you want to say goodbye to, as well as everything you want to do before you leave, then do it.
- Let yourself grieve: If you’re sad about going home, let yourself be sad. Don’t sweep your feelings under the rug.
- Start processing the emotional side of re-entry: Logistics, packing and farewells dominate those final weeks before returning home but the transition will be smoother if you start the reflection process while you’re still abroad (and then continue after you return).
- Balance the positive and negative: When it comes to re-entry, we tend to focus on the negative aspects of going home and sometimes we use those negative aspects as justification for our unhappiness and stagnation. It really helps to make an effort to identify some of the positive aspects of being home.
Working Through The Process of Re-Entry
- Avoid comparing your re-entry experience to someone else’s (or feeling like you’re doing something wrong). Some people really struggle in re-entry. Others sail right through it. Some people are fine for the first few weeks and then, seemingly out of nowhere, feel like they’ve been hit by a ton of re-entry bricks. Re-entry is like an iceberg. The things that we usually talk about and get support for are the visible things like the logistics of traveling, finding a place to live, getting settled in, resumé support, and maybe a reverse culture shock tips handout. All the things under the waterline are the things that we don’t expect, don’t often talk about, and don’t get support for. Those things float to the surface in re-entry and make us miserable. Complicating things is the fact that different things surface for different people, in different intensities, at different times.
- Find support for reflection and figuring out your next steps: There’s no need to muddle through alone. “Many people who’ve joined my re-entry mastermind groups spent weeks or months feeling unhappy and uninspired or even downright depressed, in re-entry. After five weeks in a mastermind group, they had ‘recovered their mojo!’ They said it was the combination of being guided through reflection and the connections made and support received in the group that helped them make such significant progress,” said Cate.
- Create an intentional support ecosystem: One of the ways we often cope in re-entry is by relying on a few close friends or family members to meet all of our emotional needs. Not only is that placing a lot of pressure on those who mean the most to us, it also sets us up for disappointment if friends and family don’t respond in the way that we need or expect. Cate’s alternative is to create an intentional re-entry support ecosystem. If you have a network of support (friends, family members, groups, websites, Netflix for example), you’ll know exactly who to go to and you’ll be more likely to get the support you need.
Your Ideal Global Life
Re-entry is so often associated with negative connotations – ‘it’s the hardest of all international moves, the adventure is over, I feel trapped’ are common catch-cries. Cate sees re-entry as an opportunity to relaunch and find your ideal global life – the “global life that reflects who you are right now, not who you used to be or who others expect you to be,” she said.
Your global life is “built upon what you experienced abroad but doesn’t require you to settle for less. It satisfies you even when it’s not easy. It evolves as you grow and change and it makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning, no matter where in the world you are,” she explained.
To do this effectively, Cate recommends identifying your Global Life Ingredients – “three to five things, people, experiences, feelings, ideas or concepts that are non-negotiable (essential to have in your life) so you feel you are leading a satisfied and meaningful global life, no matter where in the world you may be.”
An example of Cate’s ‘Global Life’ philosophy is a new project highlighting her passion for food from around the world. Building upon her experiences whilst abroad and making her jump out of bed in the morning is Cate’s International Desserts Blog. “I write about where to find the best desserts in the world when you’re traveling and then how to make them in your own kitchen when you’re at home,” said Cate. The photographs of her culinary masterpieces are enough to make even the harshest food critic’s mouth water. A good excuse to bake several times a week, Cate sees her blog “as a citizen diplomacy project. As an interculturalist, I know that food creates curiosity and brings people together across cultures. My hope is that readers will not only enjoy making their own versions of the recipes I post but that their curiosity about an unfamiliar part of the world will be piqued. For me personally, I love it when I meet someone from a country that I don’t know much about, but since I’ve made a dessert they’re familiar with, we immediately have something to talk about” said Cate.
Currently based is Chapel Hill, North Carolina in the southern US, Cate can hardly believe she bakes her delicious desserts and lives with her husband in the place she has called ‘home’ for the past 13 years. Having spent many years on the move, she has come to realize “that ‘home’ is where the real adventure begins. Travel is the catalyst; re-entry is where the transformation takes place,” said Cate. Instead of it being the end of the journey, re-entry is a chance to reflect, refuel and relaunch. Cate’s number one piece of advice for people contemplating, preparing or experiencing re-entry is to “use re-entry as an opportunity to redefine who you are now and what you want your life to be like going forward, not matter where in the world you are. Enjoy the journey!”
By Jane Barron
This interview was originally published in Insights and Interviews from The 2017 Families in Global Transitions (FIGT) Conference – Building on the Basics: Creating Your Tribe on The Move, UK: Summertime Publishing (pg 94-99)
Dr Cate Brubaker’s website www.smallplanetstudio.com
International Desserts blog website www.internationaldessertsblog.com
Re-Entry Relaunch Mastermind Groups www.smallplanetstudio.com/products/relaunch-mastermind
Re-Entry Relaunchers Unite Facebook community www.facebook.com/groups/smallplanetstudio
The Re-Entry Relaunch Roadmap: A Creative Workbook for Finding Happiness, Success and Your Next Global Adventure After Being Abroad, (3rd ed) Cate Brubaker, PhD, Thinking Travel Press, 2018