I recently had the opportunity to speak with an expatriate who told me something that stuck with me. “The final return, we prepare for it. But what I find very complicated is the return for short periods like vacations.
Indeed, who hasn’t experienced the stress of going “home” for a few days, or even weeks for the lucky ones, and thinking “how will we manage to see everyone? In the same way, who has never experienced the frustration of waiting impatiently for the return of a loved one from abroad, only to run into them because they have such a busy schedule that it doesn’t even feel like a vacation to them anymore?
Having experienced this personally in both directions, I propose that we look at each side’s perspective. In order to have, perhaps, a better understanding of the feelings of each one. Then, let’s see how we can do so that everyone can prepare to return and welcome their loved ones, avoiding frustrations that can lead to quarrels, often useless.
The return of the expatriate side
It’s true, an expatriation is an extraordinary experience that is not given to everyone. But that doesn’t make it any less difficult! Often, expatriates find themselves “alone” in an unfamiliar country, in a culture they don’t know, with no reference points. Even if it has an exciting side: the discovery of a new environment, new people, a new rhythm of life… Who has never had a slump, and felt what we call “homesickness”?
We settle in, we start to integrate our new routine. Several months go by before we can finally “go home” to the family and friends we have missed so much. And there, often, two thoughts follow one another. First of all, the excitement: “Great, I missed my family and friends so much, I can’t wait to see them again! Then, once the excitement of the ticket booked and the news shared, a slight rise of anxiety. We begin to think about the organization of these few days: “But how are we going to succeed in seeing everybody and in doing everything during these few days (or weeks)?
And here we go for the endless list of things to do, to see, we create a timetable timed to the minute! You have to see the family, friends, children want to spend time with their friends … Quickly, it is a lot of people.
But, if we don’t talk about people to see, there are also places we would like to visit, a stay in the mountains maybe? Enjoy the landscapes that we love so much and that we don’t have the opportunity to see since we left the country.
Honestly, does it really feel like a vacation after all?
All these little things we have to think about accumulate and end up polluting us and generating stress. This is also called : THE MENTAL LOAD.
The problem with being stressed is that you can’t enjoy and rest. A vacation that is meant to be rejuvenating just ends up being a stressful time. And, finally, we come back from vacation even more tired than when we left.
The result? We come back, frustrated, stressed, tired and sometimes even a little crumpled with the family and friends that we wanted so much to see again… (Be careful, this is not a generalization, it is also possible that everything goes very well and fortunately!)
And on the other side of the family?
For those who stay, it is not necessarily easier. Seeing your loved ones go abroad can be complicated for some. Especially when it comes to your children, parents, brothers/sisters, etc… Even if you know that it is an exceptional experience for them and an opportunity that you don’t want them to miss, you can’t help but feel, sometimes, a touch of regret. Feeling envy, bitterness, or feeling like they’re abandoning you… It’s normal. What is important is what we do with these feelings.
This does not prevent us from being happy for them and wishing them only the best for this beautiful adventure. And then, it’s an opportunity to travel to visit them! However, it’s not always that simple. We also have our daily life and obligations on our side. Not everything goes according to plan. It is difficult to visit them as often as we would like and, conversely, they don’t have the possibility to come back as often as we would like either…
And then it arrives, the long awaited announcement of their return for a few days!
Great! We try to manage, to take a few days off, we organize ourselves for family meals or with friends, we plan activities…
But we tend to forget that we are not the only ones they plan/need to see…And then, the days they plan to come over are the days we couldn’t reschedule an important appointment, a colleague’s wedding, a friend’s birthday… These are the vagaries of life, there is not much we can do about it. And, there the so much awaited vacations take a very different turn than what everyone had imagined.
Whose fault is it?
Is it really useful and possible to put the blame on one or the other party? When in truth, everyone is disappointed that they were not able to enjoy each one properly. We have to accept that everyone has their share of responsibility in what happens.
When we communicate (especially with people we love) we unfortunately tend to let our emotions speak and we end up saying things we don’t want to or, that don’t come out the right way.
How can you prevent the vacations from turning sour?
It is best to avoid it, but at least we can try to find solutions to limit the damage!
On both sides, it is important to remember that no one has stopped living. Everyone adapted and continued in their daily lives. And luckily the world doesn’t stop spinning just because someone is missing! In my opinion, the key, as in 90% of cases, is COMMUNICATION.
Be careful, I am not saying that it is easy (if communicating was so simple it would be known!). By communicating I mean sharing without accusing, shouting or judging… Just express what we feel so that the other person understands as best as possible what we feel and why we feel it.
How do you do it?
There are different options to explore. It is up to you to determine what suits you best and what you are most comfortable with, and remember that you are not alone in this process. Please note that these are guidelines and not miracle solutions! (Remember I don’t have a magic wand)
- Communicate before the trip. That all parties have all the necessary information. Be clear about which days we are available, who we want to see and what we want to do. Sometimes it can even help to put it in writing, for example, in a calendar that we can share. (Plus, putting things down in writing can also help ease the mental load).
- Accept that everyone has had to make sacrifices. In order to be able to see and do everything there was to do, it is not possible to spend all our time with the same people. Conversely, hosts may not have had the opportunity to clear their schedules completely. This is normal and it happens. There may also be unforeseen events, we must keep this in mind, we cannot control everything!
- Take advantage each other by focusing on the positive. Avoid thinking, “Great. Months we haven’t seen each other and we’re only going to get together for two or three days.” . But rather “We have two or three days together, we’ll make the most of it!”. Focusing on the positive makes it easier to have a good time and allows everyone to let go of their guilt!
Making sense of things is not necessarily something easy, as mentioned above, neither is communicating. But these things can be learned, and I’m sure you have it in you. You may just need a little push and this is something we can work on during a coaching session.
So, are you ready to do your utmost to have a great family vacation?
If you have any questions or would like to share your personal experience, contact me!