Return migration and reverse culture shock

Migration is often conceived of as a process that involves assuming various losses and adapting to a new context. Among the expectations when leaving for our destination, there are the challenges.

The return to the place of origin, which is sometimes part of the migratory cycle, usually takes us more by surprise.Since considering that it is returning to a point where it has already been, a significant adaptation process is not considered necessary. This presumption does not take into account the fact that the place of origin, its inhabitants and especially the migrant himself, have undergone profound changes during the journey. The changing conditions of the return make it possible to consider the return as a second migration.

The return as a second migration

The emotional implications of return migration can sometimes be even more impactful than those of the first migration.

The feeling of strangeness and incompetence vis-à-vis the place we consider our own can be a source of great perplexity and uncertainty. The psychological effects of return migration have been conceptualized as reverse culture shock.

Economic crisis and emigration

Reflection and research on the subject of return has intensified in recent times due to the migratory dynamics that have emerged or increased following the global economic crisis of 2007. The deterioration of the economy and the consequent rise in unemployment in emigrant countries had a much greater impact on the migrant population, which he does not have the family support resource to which local populations have access.

The crisis has also led to an increase in social hostility towards this population, which serves as a scapegoat for many ailments in the system. At the same time, one sometimes gets the impression that the conditions of the context of origin may have improved, which are factors that affect many more migrants who make the decision to return to their country of origin.

Return statistics

statistically, the return occurs in greater proportions among men and among the low-skilled. Women and skilled professionals tend to settle more at the destination site. We also observe that the shorter distance traveled in migration increases the chances of return.

Motivations for return include those linked to the economic field, such as unemployment or job insecurity at destination; coherent family motivations, for example in parents who have grown up and need attention or the desire to provide children entering adolescence with an environment that is more controlled or in accordance with the values ​​of the source context. Difficulties in adapting to the target environment and discrimination may also be grounds for return.

Research shows that the longer the stay, the greater the cultural differentiation at the place of destination, increase the difficulties of adapting to return migration. It should be noted that the circumstances and expectations surrounding our migration, as well as the peculiarities of the experience during the stay, considerably influence the way in which the return or the return to the place of experience is experienced.

Different ways to leave and come back

There are different ways of experiencing the return. Here are a few.

The desired return

For many people, migration is seen as the way to achieve more or less specific goals, Which imply a period sometimes fixed and sometimes indefinite. It begins with the expectation and desire that once these goals are met, he will return to the place of origin to enjoy the successes achieved during the journey.

The objectives can be varied: to achieve an academic specialization, a temporary work of a fixed duration, to save money to provide sufficient capital to carry out a business or to buy a house. Migration is sometimes motivated by negative aspects of the place of origin, such as job insecurity or insecurity, and temporary migration is then considered while these conditions are modified or improved. Migration can also be seen as a respite to accumulate experiences and experiences over a defined period of time.

In cases where the idea of ​​return is very present from the beginning, there is usually a strong appreciation and identification with the customs and traditions of the country of origin. These traditions seek to be recreated in the place of reception and it is customary to favor social ties with expatriate compatriots. Along with the above, resistance to full integration or assimilation with the target culture may occur. It is also common for people with a strong desire to return to have a great appreciation for family and social ties in the country of origin, which they try to maintain and nurture despite the distance.

The return in many cases is then the logical consequence of the migration project: the planned academic or work periods are respected, the proposed economic or experiential objectives are evaluated as a certain degree achieved. In these cases, the return decision is usually experienced with a high degree of autonomy and not so much as a passive consequence of external circumstances. There is usually a preparation time, which makes it possible to adjust the expectations to what can be found on the return. The successes of the trip are also recognized, as well as the benefits they can bring to a new life in the country of origin.

The support that can be obtained from social and family networks which continued to be nurtured during the trip is also valued. All these aspects have a positive impact on the adaptation to the return but are not exempt so that difficulties may arise, because if it is possible to return to the physical place, it is impossible to return to the imagined place. which he was supposed to belong to.

The mythical return

Sometimes initial expectations and goals are transformed; it may not be perceived that the proposed objectives have been achieved or that the hostile conditions which motivated the migration have not improved. Perhaps also, over time, strong roots have been built in the country of destination and those in the country of origin have weakened. The intention to return can then be delayed for years, decades and even generations, sometimes becoming more than a specific intention, a myth of desire.

If it is perceived that the goals have not been met and need to be returned earlier than expected, the return may be experienced as a failure. Coping is all about dealing with a feeling of discontent, as if you are being left hanging out a bit. The immigrant can pass from the status of “hero” for the family and the social environment, to become an additional burden for the survival of the family.

The unexpected return

There are people who consider migration from the outset as the start of a new life in a context of greater well-being, so that in principle the return is not part of their plans. Others arrive with an attitude of openness, waiting to see how the circumstances turn out and after a while decide to take root in their destiny. Others, although they may have the idea of ​​returning, are presented with opportunities or discover aspects that cause them to change their mind over time. There are also migrants who remain indefinitely with open possibilities without radically excluding any option.

One of the key aspects that causes people to choose to stay indefinitely in their destination is the perception that their quality of life is superior to what they might have in their country of origin. A quality of life described by some migrants as better economic conditions, a sense of security in the streets, better health services, education or transport, infrastructure, lower levels of corruption and disorganization. Also aspects related to mentality, such as the case of women who find quotas of emancipation and equality that they did not enjoy. not in their places of origin. For others, the need to live abroad responds to internal aspects, such as the possibility of satisfying their desire for adventure and new experiences. Some migrants say that living abroad allows them to express themselves more truly away from an environment they saw as limiting.

In cases where return is no longer seen as a desirable option, there is usually an interest in fitting into the culture of the destination. This interest does not necessarily imply a distancing or rejection of one’s own culture, nor of family or social ties in the country of origin. A transnational dynamic is then generated, in which people live between the two cultures through daily journeys and permanent communication. This transnational dynamic is currently facilitated by the reduction in air travel and the communication possibilities offered by new technologies. Sometimes the transnational dynamic affects the diminished passion for national identity, acquiring a more overtly hybrid and cosmopolitan character.

See the place of origin with evil eyes

When there is a strong appreciation for various aspects that have been experienced at the place of destination and people are forced to return to their country of origin, usually for family or economic reasons, adaptation to return becomes complex and it is necessary to get used to a standard of living which is perceived as lower in certain areas. The above can lead to hypersensitivity and overestimation of aspects considered negative in the place of origin. You may then experience everything as more insecure, disorganized, and insecure than what other people who are not going through this adjustment experience perceive.

This hypersensitivity can generate tensions with family and friends who perceive the returnee with attitudes of unwarranted contempt. The return sometimes also implies that the person must be confronted with questions about their lifestyle. which does not conform to the prevailing regimes in its place of origin.

It is therefore common to emerge a feeling of strangeness and recognition of the distance that has been established with the domestic environment. This feeling means that many returnees experience their stay in their country of origin as a transition while the conditions for returning to the country of their first migration or a new migration to a third country are given.

The feeling of not being here or there may be nostalgically felt by some migrants due to the loss of a national identifying point of reference, but it can also be experienced as a release from restrictive patterns. In some then, the syndrome of the eternal traveler is generated who constantly seeks to satisfy their need for new experiences and curiosity in different places.

The forced return

The most unfavorable conditions of return obviously arise when the person wishes to remain at the place of destination and the external conditions force him to have no other alternative to the return. This is the case of prolonged unemployment, personal illness or that of a loved one, the expiration of legal residence or even expulsion. In cases where the economy was the trigger, it returns when all coping strategies have been exhausted.

For some people, migration has been a way of distancing themselves from heavy family or social situations or conflicts. The return therefore forces them to leave a context that they found more satisfying and to find situations and conflicts with those from which they sought to move away.

In cases where migration has been about leaving a past to overcome, a strong motivation is usually presented to fully integrate into the dynamics of the destination context, sometimes even trying to avoid people at the destination.

In some cases, upon return, there has been not only a distancing from family ties but also friendships from the place of origin, so that they cannot function as a support or a resource for adaptation. The return is then experienced almost as an exile which involves the confrontation of many aspects that should have been left behind. Research shows that adapting to this type of return is usually the most difficult, also exhibiting the desire to start a new migration, but sometimes with vague and elaborate plans.

Reverse culture shock

Returnees arrive in their country of origin with the feeling of having more or less fulfilled their objectives, in other cases with feelings of frustration or a sense of defeat, But always with the urgent need to give life to their lives under the existing conditions.

Reverse culture shock refers to this process of readjustment, resocialization, and re-assimilation within one’s own culture after living in another different culture for a significant period of time. This concept has been developed by researchers since the middle of the 20th century, initially based on the difficulties of adapting to the return of exchange students.

Stages of reverse culture shock

Some researchers believe reverse culture shock begins when planning a trip home. It is observed that some people perform certain rituals with the intention of leaving the place of destination and begin to undertake actions to get to the place of origin.

The second stop is the so-called honeymoon. It is characterized by the excitement of reuniting with family, friends and the spaces it has missed. The returnee feels the satisfaction of being welcomed and recognized on his return.

The third stage is the culture shock itself and arises when the need arises to establish a daily routine once the emotion of the reunion has passed. It is the moment when one realizes that one’s own identity has been transformed and that the place and the people so awaited are not as they were imagined. The importance of the first few days or weeks is lost and people are no longer interested in hearing the stories of our trip. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Doubts, disappointments and regrets then emerge. Returnees may also feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities and choices they face. Sometimes the anxieties this generates can manifest as irritability, insomnia, fears, phobias and psychosomatic disorders.

The last step is adjustment and integration. At this point, the returnee mobilizes its resources to adapt to the new circumstances and the constant desire of the host country fades. This then reinforces the ability to focus on the present and work towards achieving their vital projects.

Ideally, when the returnee returns to his country, he should be aware of the enrichment brought by the trip and the experiences he has had in the host country. It also develops the capacity of these experiences to become resources for their new ventures. It is proposed that the stages are not strictly linear, but go through ups and downs until gradually a certain stability is reached.

Bibliographical references:

  • Díaz, LM (2009). The chimera of the return. Dialogues with migrants, (4), 13-20
  • Díaz, JAJ and Valverde, JR (2014). An approach to definitions, typologies and theoretical frameworks of return migration. Biblio 3w: bibliographical review of geography and social sciences.
  • Durand, J. (2004). Theoretical essay on return migration. Notebooks
  • Geographies, 2 (35), 103-116
  • Motoa Flórez, J. and Tinel, X. (2009). Back home? Reflections on the return of Colombian migrants to Spain. Dialogues with migrants, (4), 59-67
  • Thumb, SVC and Table, SAM (2015). Return Migration .: A description drawn from some Latin American and Spanish research, Colombian Journal of Social Sciences, 6 (1), 89-112.
  • Schramm, C. (2011). Return and reintegration of Ecuadorian migrants: the importance of transnational social networks. CIDOB International Affairs Journal, 241-260.
  • Valenzuela, U., and Pau, D. (2015). The phenomenon of culture shock reverses an inductive study with Chilean cases.

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