Expat repatriation: home again?

Blog by Iemke Janssen – de Leeuw

September, autumn is knocking at our front door. People in The Netherlands are confused and divided. On the one hand people are looking forward to the new season; less hot temperatures, leaves changing to yellow and red and cosy nights with candle lights. On the other hand, shorts and t-shirts have not disappeared yet, though the temperature does not exceed 21 degrees Celsius.

Shorts and t-shirts, not for me! After being spoiled with a hot Dutch summer and being used to a pleasant South African climate, I finally have to start adjusting to Dutch weather. This last year, our days have had an average temperature of 25 degrees. With the temperatures nowadays, I certainly ceil myself with long pants, long sleeves and at least 2 layers of clothes. My kids do too. At first, they had to get use to wearing long sleeves and pants. Today they understand the purpose well. There is a striking difference between us, repatriating from a hot resort, and the Dutch with a different sense for temperatures. Regularly I get funny looks when we are very warmly dressed or when I sit down inside at the bistro instead of the terrace.


No differences – on the outside –

Apart from my preference wearing warm clothes, I don’t stand out in The Netherlands. I look Dutch, I speak Dutch. New people I get to know, approach me as if I am Dutch and it is expected of me to behave as such. Yet, I also hear interesting comments on what image they have of me; ‘free spirit, without much structure’, ‘a globetrotter’ and ‘a laid-back mother’. I find it very exciting and informative to hear how others see me.

‘New people I get to know, approach me as if I am Dutch and it is expected of me to behave as such.’

This also happens with friends we knew from before we moved abroad. Yes, we are back and we still look the same (though of course we are older and perhaps wiser). Many people seem to forget those years that we have been away and still see me like the person I was back then. Especially now we live in the same town where I grew up and left 15 years ago. That means that it is not just me searching for who I was and am today. People in our social environment also might have that search.

Johnny Clegg (my favourite South African singer) sings beautifully about this:

I’m qualified by the color of my skin

People see me from the outside in

It doesn’t matter what I’ve done

Or where I’ve been

For me, this song represents my sons. Little Dutchies, that is how everybody see them. On the outside, nobody will see that they have lived in South Africa for 3 years or even have been born there. Though this is part of their identity. Sometimes I overlook my life (and that of our family) from the perspective of others. Or from the perspective of when I was younger. I then look at the life we had in South Africa and our life nowadays. When I look backwards, I search for a way to cherish what we had. But I also try to live in this moment; where we are now and who we are now. That life abroad is not my life anymore but does influence my life today. In this present.

‘When I look backwards, I search for a way to cherish what we had.’

How do you cherish an experience that shapes your life so much? I am searching for a way to make it tangible and that is sometimes complicated. When it’s not on my mind or when I forget to get in touch with friends I left behind, I sometimes feel guilty. Guilty of leaving dear friends behind and grateful for the personal growth. It is difficult to explain. With one foot I want to stay in South Africa, but I need my both feet to grow roots in The Netherlands again.


Reshape and settle down

Now the schools have started I believe its schedule will give us the routine we need to reshape our lives. A new phase of settling down will start. We have a house, the boys go to school and to the local sport club. With the routine of the kids, our family life and my own work will also reach a certain flow.

Who are you if you step out of a totally different life style into a new one? And if you also have the freedom to spend your time by yourself and chase your professional dreams. It can make me unsure, though I know exactly what my destination is.

We have started a phase of reinventing; our routine and our values as a family. South Africa has given us the wonderful focus of a conscious natural upbringing in which health of body and mind, attention for environment, self development and reflection is very important. Therefore, we have chosen the Waldorf School, which gives us focus when other issues are confusing. And it fits so well in our new life, it will give us direction in a wonderful enriching search for meaning.



This guest blog is written by Iemke Janssen – de Leeuw. Past three years she has been living in South Africa with her family. A few months ago she repatriated to The Netherlands and is searching and discovering her new life situation. Iemke writes blogs about her life and is Food Coach in her practice The Good Food Coach: www.thegoodfoodcoach.nl

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