The 5 Emotional Phases of an Expat’s Return Home

Over the past 4 weeks, I’ve been on the phone for 10+ hours with entrepreneur, photographer, and 3+ year Bali resident Tommy Schultz. We’ve been discussing every detail of his life in Bali. Our goal is to create an in-depth audio guide (with photos, videos, and an outline on the side) talking about life in Bali. We’ll post a big part of this recording on the blog for free in the coming weeks.

We are making the product because I don’t believe there is enough strong perspective when it comes to travel products. When you enter stuff in to search engines, I feel like a I get a lot of generic overview stuff, lots of spam, and…. well you know what it’s like.

As a prospective long term traveler or expat, what I really want is to sit down with an experienced expat and ask them questions. Talking with Tommy is so much more valuable to me than, say, reading the Lonely Planet or surfing web forums.

We’ll eventually sell the thing for a few bucks. It’s not gonna make us a million or anything, but talking to Tommy about Bali is way more entertaining than the other work I’m supposed to be doing :)

Our final module stuck with me a few days after we talked about it: “Reverse Culture Shock and Bringing Bali Home With You.”

Putting words to how I feel about expatriotism has been a little tricky for me. On our call, I explained a “hypothetical” emotional evolution to Tommy. He seemed to understand.

The 5 emotional phases of a long-term expat’s return home:

  1. Generous appreciation (wherein the expat over-indulges in free refills, fast WIFI, and their favorite fast food joint)
  2. Rationalization (wherein the expat figures said free-refills and fast internet access are the stuff that makes up a good life).
  3. Boredom (wherein the expat gets bored, but tries to combat it with “activities”).
  4. Loneliness (wherein the expat wonders where everyone is hanging out on a Tuesday night).
  5. Panic (wherein the expat starts to find opportunities to jump ship).

When I was 18 I flew a human organ, or some legal documents– I can’t really remember which– to Mexico City. (Remember courier flights?) Anyway, I got to Mexico for 50 bucks and I was off on my first self-directed international travel experience. It was perfect, and it sat in my head that way for the next 10 years.

I’m fairly certain I whispered it to myself upon my return, …. why can’t life always be like that?

Over the next 6 years I scrapped together as much international travel as I could. I even avoided a career in academia because I felt it would prevent me from being able to live abroad (to be fair, being a shitty scholar aided in the decision).

My business career has inspired some mild fits of denial:

“I’ll make boatloads of money and travel a month to six weeks out of every year!”

Sound familiar?

I’ve tried to figure it out, pull it apart, and justify it.

Nothing I can come up with is all that satisfying, so I’m gonna shelf this conceptual puzzel for a while.

Here it is: I’m an expat.

That’s that. I’m gonna go buy a ticket. Today.

It’s been a good run, USA. Your free refills and highways are inspiring. I’ve honestly never been happier to see you. It’s just, there’s so much to do…



@TropicalMBA <– don’t follow me unless you want me to BLOW UP your twitter stream with lame-o personal status updates. You’ve been warned.

PS, Colin says it well.