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Dear Stavroula

Ask Stavroula: We Returned to Greece and I Regret It

Dear Stavroula,

I am 70 years old and lived in America for the last 45 years. My husband had a dream to return to Greece, to our island, at some point, and although I had my objections, I encouraged him. We made it a reality this May and since then we have settled back in Greece. In the beginning everything was fine, maybe I was very busy with the house, and the change of scenery was also nice. But I quickly started not feeling good about the new situation. I knew that things would be different than I was used to but I did not expect that it would affect me so much. During the summer we had some friends and relatives visiting to go out with, especially our fellow islanders who live permanently in the United States. But they are gone, and I cannot communicate with the people who live here. Their interests are different and what they talk about doesn’t interest me. My life has no meaning, my children have stayed behind in America and my husband has found his own way to deal with things. He is busy with his garden and fishing and he is fine. I am alone, locked in the house. If I could go back to America I would do it right now, but my husband does not even want to think about it. I am not writing to ask you what I should do, but to inform those who might be thinking about returning to Greece to think carefully before making the decision.

Chryssi

Dear Chryssi,

It is very difficult for people who have lived abroad for many years to adjust when they return home. It may be as difficult as the immigrant adjusting to the new homeland, where everything was different and foreign. Because a person who has lived for many years – perhaps most of his life – abroad, is greatly influenced by the mentality and culture of the country in which he lives. So when he returns to his homeland at a more mature age, he is a different person, both because he is in a different phase of his life (he left young, he returns old), and because his way of thinking and mentality has changed because of his long stay in another country. At the same time, his homeland changes, with the result that the place he returns to after many years has nothing to do with the image he carried with him, and that image is often viewed through the filter of the difficulties of everyday life in the foreign place, and may be idealized.

The result is that the repatriate often feels out of place and different. His compatriots, who have never lived abroad, cannot understand him and often treat him as a stranger, putting him on the sidelines. Sometimes he may feel he is being treated with irony or he experiences jealousy, especially if he has lived in a foreign country that people may consider as ‘superior’ socially or economically.

But on the other hand, many times the repatriated immigrant can treat his fellow citizens negatively. In the beginning, he tends to constantly make comparisons between the living conditions, the institutions, and the habits of the people in his two homelands. Even in the way he expresses himself, this comparison may prevail: “we who have lived in America” – which can often lead to the devaluation of the place where he now lives. And this attitude can again lead to his isolation.

It is very important to seek the help of a mental health professional because repatriation is a difficult and painful process. Too often one can be driven to intense frustration, intense anxiety, and even depression. The specialist will help you better deal with the situation you are experiencing both practically and emotionally.

It may also be helpful to communicate with people who have been through or are going through the same thing as you. A social media search would be a first step in getting in touch with them.

Finally, talk to your spouse and explain how you feel, but without blaming him for seeming to have adapted more easily, or blaming him for your return. Ask him to help you, to take up some activities together, to make new friends. Maybe contact with nature can help. Cultivating the land, planting, and growing plants have healing properties for many people.

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