The expat wife’s return

All good things must come to an end – this is our last Clew edition. We will end the Clew story with some encouragement along your expat way. Heidi encourages you to be patient when you repatriate and never regret your expat experiences.

When you have been living abroad for quite many years and longed for the day you could move back home, you do not always expect what lies ahead.

While your life in your home country has been standing still all the years you have lived somewhere else, all your friends and family have moved on. Ok – you have been home for vacations and celebrations, but then you’ve only see the bright side.

Welcome back dinner in a good friend’s boat

Welcome back-dinner in a good friend’s boat

The same counts for your children. They have been home a couple of times a year, maybe – visiting their schools with old classmates and other friends, but they have also moved forward into new friendships and constellations. It doesn’t really matter how many visits you have paid, reality hits you like a sledgehammer when the everyday life starts.

Pay attention
Some members in your family may adapt easily with friends and school. And I really do hope that you all – with a different native language than the one in the countrie(s) you have been living – have taught you children their native language. Either through home schooling or online programs. This effort will give them a much smoother adaption. Remember, it’s not cool to move back at the age of 16 and still be talking and writing like an eight year old.

I’m not telling this to scare anybody off, but rather to give you good advice. Just keep up with your children’s native language.

Repatriation is underestimated
The first weeks back in your old – or new – house will pass very quickly. You all are working to empty the 40 feet container and furnish your home. Then school starts and the kids run off. Some days might be good and some not so good. In expat areas it’s often easy to get new friends. As I have experienced it here in Oslo, it’s not. Constellations and bunches of girls do not often invite newcomers into their groups. To be alone in the lunch break or other breaks can be tearing your child apart.

That’s why it is important that one of the parents can stay home and be available for emergency help, like when you first moved abroad. It may be challenging to get to know other parents, but parents create friends, so give it some effort. An invitation for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine to some of the parents of your children’s most wanted friends to be may pay off.

For older teenagers; offer to drive them to and from the arrangements they would like to attend. It’s easier to be taken there, than to go by public transportation in a more or less “unknown” area, as they may have left your country at a very young age.

Hot Zumba friends in Anchorage

Hot Zumba friends in Anchorage

What about me
I would guess that your husband is off to work the moment you set foot on your home ground. So there you are, once again – like when you moved out. Stuck with moving guys, frustrated children and yourself.
I have experienced to lose my job three times when we have moved out, and I know how it feels standing there quite lost. And the older you are, the harder it is to find a new job. Your old connections have moved on and you have to start networking and applying for jobs.

You might be lucky and get a job quite early, but it can also be a struggle. This last time I was 54 years old when we moved back. I got at temporary position, but after that ended I started my own little company offering information services, I was fed up of being age discriminated. With no advertising budgets, just my own creativity, I got a temporary position for 10 months by sending emails to all the companies that had rejected my application without inviting me for an interview. It worked! Then I was young enough. Right now, I’m in the same position, but I haven’t given up. Yet.

In earlier years, we got coaching and help from professionals, all paid for by my husband’s employer. However, those days are gone. So now, you’re on your own.

Great advice
I have already given you some advice in this column, but here is some more. You have to patient, as you’re not first in line this time either, if you want your family to adapt quickly. Meet old friends and try to find new ones. Ask former colleagues out for a coffee during lunch break. Use your time effectively. At the same time, be supportive to your family members.

Do not be frustrated, because the drop wave will hit you all at different times. This time we all got it after more than two years – and at the same time, mostly due to new jobs, moving from the suburb to city, which meant new schools. Again.

However, we’re so lucky that we met the greatest people abroad that turned out to be our neighbors here in Oslo, a great bonus when we all moved back home from the US.

My fellow expat ladies in Houston surprised me with a party on my 50th birthday

My fellow expat ladies in Houston surprised me with a party on my 50th birthday

Fantastic Experience
Being an expat has been part of my life for 15 years. I’ve experienced other cultures in Brazil, Canada, Texas and Alaska. I have been evacuated with Native Americans during an arctic hurricane in Point Hope in Arctic Alaska and I’ve even been honored with an Inupiaq name.

I met a fantastic Indian woman, Amba, in Houston. We all dressed up in saries and went out for dinner. Good memories.

I met a fantastic Indian woman, Amba, in Houston. We all dressed up in saries and went out for dinner. Good memories.

I’ve met many interesting people and enjoyed the cultural challenges of being a global citizen. This is now all over and it has been both a challenge and a joy. Sometimes, I wish I’d lived without it, but you never know where you would be – if you never took the challenge of living abroad.

Thank you all for following my column “Expat Tales” these three years – and good luck to you all with your repatriation.

My home is my castle, and now I’m back in Oslo for good, next to the Vigeland Park.

My home is my castle, and now I’m back in Oslo for good, next to the Vigeland Park.

By Heidi Nesttun-Sunde, February 2016 will stay open for old and new readers – many clever words to read and re-read.



  1. Anonymous says:

    Love this!


  2. Judy says:

    I repatriated for the 3rd and final time at 57. You’re right, it’s not easy to find work in your 50s with an “unusual” resume. After a couple of false starts I’ve ended up with 2 part-time roles, one in my original career and one with an expat organization I originally joined as a volunteer. Making friends, finding your new identity, getting a job all take longer when you repatriate and age makes it more difficult. But I believe it can happen … eventually.


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