Coming back home is always a great feeling. Returning to the place where you were born, grew up, spent your life, and consider your true home, is an experience that cannot be replaced by anything else. The familiarity of the streets, the nostalgia that slowly builds up as you walk the same paths, and see the same houses, is something both magical and beautiful. Seeing the same faces and reliving your best memories is a joy that is boundless. But does repatriation mean the same thing for everyone? Does it mean returning to a world which you love most, but had put aside for some time?
For Third Culture Kids, this feeling may be something they actually hear about, but cannot experience themselves. For a TCK, repatriation can not necessarily be put on the same level as joy. A TCK for most part has no home. Home is more of a concept for the TCK, than a reality. When a TCK repatriates, the notion of ‘home’ is put into some different perspective. Where is home for the TCK? Is it where he/she grew up (which could be many different countries)? Or is it in his/her own passport country – the country of his/her own parents? Whereas a TCKs parents may really be repatriating and going back home, this ‘home’ is not necessarily a real home for the average TCK.
Repatriation can mean the alteration of many separate concepts. The yearning for one’s passport culture may create a desire to repatriate, and that may seem ideal as it is essentially one’s birth culture (or at least everyone thinks it is). There is an expectation that ‘fitting in’ will be as easy as putting on a perfectly sized glove. But that is never the case. Undoubtedly, a TCK’s birth culture will be different from his/her unique third culture. Whatever ideas a TCK might have had of his/her home country are bound to change.
Many TCKs experience a struggle to ‘belong’ and be accepted in their home country. They resort to dressing and talking like those in their passport country just to fit in. But due to their stark differences, they never really fit in. They are unable to understand the pop culture experiences their passport country first culture friends have had, and are unable to share their own multicultural experiences. This leaves them frustrated in a manner they cannot fathom. It becomes an impediment they cannot put their finger on.
Repatriation also brings culture shocks. Having lived away from his/her own passport country, a TCK views his/her passport country in a certain manner. However, repatriation can completely change these preconceptions in such a way that a major part of a TCK’s belief may be permanently altered.
Repatriation is expected to be a normal situation for a TCK, because roots are everything. However, what a lot of people do not understand (including the parents of TCKs sometimes) is that some TCKs prefer to have no roots. Though they are constantly looking for ‘home’, the idea of being grounded in one place is like being imprisoned within four walls, without escape. Whereas a TCK’s parents can connect to the land they left behind before they went around the world, for a TCK, repatriation is like having his/her wings snapped, with expectations of feeling the joy of ‘returning home’. The TCK tries to enjoy repatriation but fails, starting to feel guilty about the lack of joy in the process. This is possibly because the TCK does not know whether he/she will ever do what is the most natural urge for a TCK – travel the world. With that uncertainty, a TCKs life alternates between trying to accept his/her birth culture (often failing) and trying to break away into a different multicultural realm. It becomes an endless cycle of searching for acceptance and meaning in a culture that is so familiar, and yet so distant.
While those who have a clear concept of home are filled with an immense joy at the idea of repatriation, returning ‘home’ is the truest illusion for any Third Culture Kid.