Before I left the US on my first ex-pat assignment in 2000, my wife and I were sent to a testing company that assessed “compatibility” for an overseas assignment. We both passed with flying colors. The process moved on to the part where you are told about the “realities” of ex-pat life.
We were told about adjustment difficulties, cultural isolation and the fact that many ex-pats get “disconnected” from the home office. The statistic at the time was that 50% of ex-pats leave their company within one year of moving back to their home countries. I took a mental note but honestly I was more concerned about deciding whether or not I wanted to move my family overseas rather than worrying about what would happen when I came back.
In the end, we moved. Our adjustment difficulties were minimal – for the most part we found the things that frustrated many of our ex-pat friends to be humorous. We adapted to the “rule bound” Japanese way of doing things. We may have been the “nail that stuck out” but we did not get “hammered down”. I found I could actually wear a bathing cap in the swimming pool; I could take a number at the ward office and wait to be called even if there was nobody else waiting for service. Taking my shoes off and being asked to wear slippers 5 sizes too small at the dentist became normal.
Ten years later, after a move to China, I was asked to return to the US but was given a year to make the transition. I accepted a job that was not exactly what I was looking for but was attractive because it would allow me to return to Asia on a regular basis. In my first 16 months back in the US, I made 15 trips to Asia. As the months went by, I came to realize one thing, I really enjoyed living in the US again but I only enjoyed my job when I was in Asia.
As a family we had avoided most of the issues ex-pats have while they are overseas. We didn’t long for the United States – we never came back to the US at Christmas or spend a lot of time thinking about what we were missing “back home”. Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid the classic ex-pat dilemma upon my return. I had so much freedom to “do my own thing” overseas, coming back to a corporate bureaucracy more concerned with style than substance proved to be too much for me. Initially I thought my feelings would pass but they only got worse.
It took me a long time to realize that I need to move on. I love the industry I work in but can’t stomach the increasingly politically correct environment that comes with the job. The grass may not be greener somewhere else but at least I will know…………………