Last post we heard from Sandy as she shared on what it is like leading a young adults’ ministry. If you missed that post, you can read it here.

This week, joining us is Irene, a member of our Beijing community whose sarcasm and cheek-pinching is dearly missed as she recently left Beijing. Today, she’ll be sharing about her experiences repatriating–that is, the process of moving back to one’s home country.    

So Irene, how long did you live in Beijing and what did you do while you were here?

I moved to Beijing in June of 2012 to attend a TEFL course for a month and then stayed for six years, teaching.

It is a very typical Beijing story to come for a short time and then be drawn in for the next few years! Where do you live now?

I left Beijing in July of 2018 to go back to Greece and do my Master’s degree.

I’m sure Greece changed a lot over the six years you were living here. What are some differences you have noticed?

There are many changes in Greece. Crime rates have increased, and people have become more aggressive and impolite. They also have very low tolerance, and everyone acts very suspicious of others.

On the other hand, the economic crisis of 2010 has receded a bit and there is an air of hope in the atmosphere. Still, the shock of the crisis is huge, and people are still scared after the years of uncertainty and pressure.

Reverse culture-shock is said to be harder than the culture shock we feel when arriving in a foreign country. What are some ways you have experienced reverse culture-shock?

The first days in Greece I found it very hard to speak my language outside my apartment. Greek is my mother tongue and I am so proud of it, but I found it hard to speak it for too long. There was a point when people thought that I am not really Greek and someone even said to me once, “You can speak English if you want to, it is OK”.

The frustration continued with some issues that my country has with a neighboring country about the name of a territory. It made me wonder if, while I was away, I became too patriotic or fanatic just to keep my identity.

But I do miss China. My friends, my students, my church, and the lessons I learned there are valuable. Missing China created a lot of frustration, especially in the first months back home.

Repatriates often say they have to build community again upon arriving in their home country. Has this been the case for you? If so, how have you gone about rebuilding community?

God is always the provider. I had my family to start with, of course, and I have been really blessed by good fellowship in church.

I didn’t keep contact with friends when I left, but somehow, they were still there waiting for me and surprisingly those friendships are better now than before. Maybe we matured in faith.

What about your community in China? How have you been staying in contact with your Beijing family?

Wechat and Facebook are the main ways that I keep contact with my friends in China, and also with those who have left China. Sometimes it is difficult, but we always have China and the times we spent together. Staying in touch shouldn’t be that hard if both sides want it, right?

Irene always had an interesting attitude toward the rules.

That’s right! Greece and China are two very different cultures. What are the most notable lifestyle differences between the two countries?

Security. The police are a major authority in China which I liked in a way, because in Greece I have to watch my back all the time.

Salaries and prices. There is a big gap between China and Greece. In my country I spend more for the same amount. Of course, there is a huge difference in quality too. Here I know what I am eating (most of the time, I hope).

Freedom of speech, democracy, constant strikes that are challenging to me, and having total access to all websites. However, there are not as many events or interesting workshops here. Sometimes I feel that I live in a small village even though Thessaloniki is the second biggest city in Greece.

Sounds like you are noticing advantages to life in both countries though which shows a healthy attitude! So what made you decide to leave China? How did you know when it was the right to leave?

It became too easy for me to live in China. The well-being is a trap. I got used to it and I didn’t like living that kind of life anymore. Plus, being away from my family and having some dreams that I wanted to fulfill gave me the sense that I needed to leave China.

However, before I did it, I spent most of my time praying and fasting about it and I had other Christian friends supporting me. Over time, I saw that God was leading me to go back to Greece.

A decision like that is not an easy one to make so it’s awesome that you spent time in prayer over it. What are some ways that living in China grew you as a person?

China is a big school. I saw myself growing in understanding about God’s will and position in my life, and that offered me a deeper healing in things from my past and difficulties that were arising from living in China.

I also became more emotionally and financially independent.

Also, the opportunity to get to know so many people from all over the world grew my tolerance for differences. If only it could have made me totally unoffendable!

Repatriating is not an easy experience. What encouragement can you offer to people who are about to leave China, or who have already left and are in the season of repatriating?

Irene in Greece, looking deceivingly sophisticated.

I think when you live in China for too long, it becomes a part of you. When you leave, you won’t be leaving a piece of you behind. You are rich in friendships and experiences. Leave China with a happy heart to share with the rest of the world.

Or you can always go back. That is fine too.

Also, life after leaving China only gets better. Remember your first months in China. They weren’t a dream, were they?

Haha! No, they were not. Finally, I’m sure our readers would love to know: What are the best things about living in Greece?

Food, of course. Also, I have tons of clean air and so much free time to do my Masters. There is no guilt from not working, and no anxiety. I feel like I am on holidays most of the time which is what I say when people here ask me how I am… and it’s true, since Greek summer is coming!

Well, Irene, thanks so much for sharing your wisdom with us today. I’m sure it will be a big help as we reach that time of year when many will return to their home countries and go through similar trials.

If you have a question or comment please write in the comments section below!

If you would like to learn more about the repatriating experience, we have a podcast episode for you to listen to below:

Bonus: Going “Home ” – A conversation with Middle Kingdom expats who have repatriated