Finding Your Old Feet Again & “Ping Pong Syndrome”

Finding Your Old Feet Again

Well done, you’ve reached the final section of this blog (for now!), you have followed our story about the start process of moving abroad and the first year living abroad and I hope that you have picked up some tips and gained in your understanding of the moving abroad process. So who is this final section for and what is it about?

As you go through this final section, you may find yourself holding the cynical view that you would never find yourself reaching such a cross road once you had achieved your dream to live abroad. If you are still in your country of origin and still researching stories about the moving abroad experience before you take any further steps, if you are still contemplating making the move to New Zealand and running ‘what if’ scenarios through your head, this final section is for you. It is also for those who have either already made the journey abroad and are now living their dream life, or thought that they were living their dream but have now reached a new crossroads in

their own moving abroad journey and aren’t sure which path to follow. Despite all the best laid plans or decisions, sometimes moving abroad does not always end so smoothly. There are many success stories but there are also the untold stories that didn’t go so well. In the final part of this blog, I take off those rose tinted glasses and look at what happens when moving abroad just simply isn’t right in the end and if you are yet again faced with some difficult choices.

For every successful emigrant there are just as many who are not able to make this dream come true for a variety of reasons. What happens when you find that you either have to decide whether to return to your country of origin or are forced to do so by your circumstances? How do you give up on your dream? How do you fit back into your old life? This final section may not be for all of you, but for the few who do find themselves needing, it is about ‘Finding Your Old Feet Again – Expat Returned?

We spent almost two years in New Zealand before we found ourselves facing yet another life changing decision. When I was preparing to move abroad, if anyone had even dared to mention the possibility of arriving at such a crossroads in our moving abroad journey, I would have promptly bitten their head off.

Why in the world would I have put myself through the process of trying to move abroad in the first place?

When would I have worked through the endless paperwork trail?

Why indeed would I have taken myself out of my comfort zone?

I knew that it may lead to returning in the end?

I have to say that, during the whole process, I never for a moment thought that it may never work out. I had such a positive outlook about the move and it was a dream that I had held for so long – how could it ever possibly go wrong?

But this is the reality for many who have made the decision to move across the world and to start a new life abroad. When they are planning, they believe that it is a flaw in the individual who goes abroad and is not able to settle into the lifestyle, and don’t get me wrong, there are many who move abroad and settle successfully into their new lifestyle abroad but there are just as many who find that it is not quite as they had expected. So, what happens and what makes people arrive at this crossroad in their moving abroad journey?

Reaching this new crossroad is a stage that many new migrants may find themselves facing in those early years whilst trying to settle into their new life. The settling in process for many migrants can often take several years before they even start to feel like this is their new home.

In our first year in New Zealand, I met other British Expats who had made their home there and were perfectly happy. I followed all the advice in the guide books and I tried to assimilate into my new society but there was this sense of not belonging and walking in unfamiliar shoes which were beginning to rub against the very essence of me. At the time I struggled to understand what I was experiencing, after all this was a move I desperately wanted, it was my dream. I tried to explain to other expats these feelings of being unsettled that I continued to experience and to find out if they had experienced this too. For many they did but they just persevered and continued and the feelings eventually began to subside a little.

I met Sid* as he came to tend to our garden in our country home in Hiwinul. He was in his early forties and was married, his wife was a dentist — she had probably treated me at my first trip to an NZ dentist and you may recall my toothless adventure earlier on. He and his wife had been in New Zealand for five years and he told me that he was immensely happy With his life. He had taken a whole change in career and was self- employed as a gardener and enjoyed working outdoors. They owned a beautiful home in the country that they could only ever have dreamt of owning back in the UK. Their daughter had her own pony and they were able to afford the extra luxuries in life with both of them earning a living. They were living a lifestyle that would never have been possible in the UK, even if they were both working.

He had no inklings or even the slightest wish to return to the UK. He had successfully integrated.

Then there was Mike* and his wife, Megan* who had two children of primary school age. They had only been in New Zealand for two years, pretty much the same amount of time as me when I met them. They had left the beautiful area of the Lake District for the small country town of Hiwinul. She was a teacher in a private school and he worked part-time and did the stay at home dad stuff the rest of the time. They told me that they loved every aspect of their new lifestyle. They felt that their life was vastly improved and held a better quality for their children and they were expecting another baby who would be a fully-fledged Kiwi.

They had no plans to return to the UK.

My daughter’s orthodontist, had been educated and completed his trade in the UK before coming to New Zealand where he set up his own hugely thriving orthodontic practice. He told me to read the Daily Mail every so often to rid myself of any thoughts of homesickness.

At times I thought I was going crazy, everyone else seemed to have settled into their new life in New Zealand — except for me and I felt rather like a minority at the time. Homesickness is something that hits all new migrants and usually they overcome this and settle. But for some, it just doesn’t go away. I was a bit bewildered to find myself in this predicament and wondered why I hadn’t been as fully prepared for this eventually as I thought I was. But this was more than just homesickness and at the time I couldn’t put my finger on it.

On forums, I chatted to other migrants who were at a similar point in their journey abroad. I just needed to feel that what I was going through was normal and that I would get out on the other end. Collective experiences are often helpful in coming to terms with what you may be experiencing and that is why many self-help groups and forums arise to help others learn and share from collective experiences.

I came across Anna* whose story touched me. In a similar fashion to me, she had planned this move abroad for many years; selling their home, leaving behind friends and family and looking forward to starting their new life in New Zealand. Only for Anna, she just couldn’t settle. Her husband loved it. Her children loved it. But Anna spent her days crying, her nights not sleeping and she wasn’t able to eat and had lost a lot of weight. She was utterly and totally miserable. She just could not cope with the cultural change and all that she had left behind even though this was
something she thought she wanted. After just nine months in New Zealand, Anna’s husband agreed that they would return to the UK as he could not bear to see his wife so unhappy any longer. I heard from Anna a year later, she said that she was much happier once she was ‘back home in the UK’ she felt that the haze and fog that had surrounded her whilst living in New Zealand had lifted. But she said something that I found so interesting. She said that once she was back in the UK she felt that she could see things more clearly and there were times when she thought,

‘I do wonder if only we had given it a bit longer. At times we did look at the unexpired visa and thought about giving it another go’. I believe that Anna’s story is not an Isolated one. It IS essentially an explanation of Ping Pong Pom syndrome and the feelings of detachment that many new migrants experience in those early years.

What is Ping Pong Syndrome you may be wondering? Ping Pong Pom syndrome was a term coined to explain the phenomenon of migrants to Australia who could not settle, returned to the UK only to find that they could not re-settle and ending up pinging and ponging between the continents. This ping pong pom syndrome is not new and dates back historically to migrants in the post war era where almost 25% returned to the UK (Hammerton and Thomson, 2005:264) and over half returning to Australia (Appleyard et al, 1988). This serial returning between two countries, trying to find their old feet again, appears to be connected to difficulty in assimilating to the culture and the pressures of missing family in their country of origin.

I had been through the culture shock, the homesickness and was doing all that I could to alleviate these. I even had close family around me, so why did I even arrive at such a crossroad?

I turned once again to the forums and asked the question. ‘Has anyone gone back after such a short time in New Zealand? Should I stay or should I return?’

I received over fifty replies from people all giving me their thoughts and support. It was like having a family who understood me again and what I was going through. The majority of replies all felt that I should at least give it a bit longer, they felt that I had more to lose by returning so soon. Many talked about feeling this way and contemplating these decisions and that there was no other factor except time which helped to make them feel different. Some talked about a switch suddenly turning on one day in their moving abroad journey and they suddenly viewed everything in a different light. They couldn’t explain it, except that they just felt differently about their whole experience and they were able to continue and make a successful life abroad. But for the majority, despite having lived in New Zealand for many years they continued to talk about a sense of detachment and not belonging. Many told me that they had contemplated returning but simply saw returning as a failure on their part, so were ‘sticking it out’. Some unfortunate individuals had found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard stone, feeling totally miserable but not being  able to afford the costs of the return journey and so had resigned  themselves to what would be.

The crossroad was indeed right in front of me.

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