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Repatriation of self-initiated expatriates: expectations vs. experiences

David R. Ellis (School of Management, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand)
Kaye Thorn (School of Management, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand)
Christian Yao (School of Management, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 23 June 2020

Issue publication date: 10 August 2020




While there is a burgeoning literature on self-initiated expatriates (SIEs), the emphasis has been on expatriation not repatriation. The purpose of this paper therefore is to explore how repatriating SIEs perceive the experience of repatriation compared with their pre-repatriation expectations. Further, we examine the seminal work of Black et al. (1992) in the light of current day realities.


This qualitative research draws on interviews with SIE New Zealanders returning home. It is an exploratory longitudinal study, based on interview data collected prior to (n = 32), and after (n = 27) repatriation, comparing expectations and experiences of repatriation.


Findings show that there is a strong level of congruence between the expectations of the return and their experience of repatriation. This congruence eases the transition and mitigates the impact of reverse culture shock. We revise Black et al.'s framework of repatriation adjustment to more accurately reflect the expectations and experiences of repatriating SIEs, recognising the importance of individual agency and the impact of today's technological advances on repatriation.

Research limitations/implications

The contributions of this paper include clarification of repatriating SIEs. Further, through the revision of the framework, we identify new areas of research that would aid our understanding of repatriating SIEs and lead to the development of a more detailed model. We highlight the interplay between variables showing how these might mitigate the shock of repatriation.


Repatriation is an under-researched phase of the SIE, and this study provides empirical data that contributes to our understanding of the construct. Black et al.'s framework of repatriation adjustment is revised in the context of contemporary SIE, highlighting the holistic nature of self-initiated expatriation and repatriation, viewing the events not as discrete, but as a continuum of time.



Ellis, D.R., Thorn, K. and Yao, C. (2020), "Repatriation of self-initiated expatriates: expectations vs. experiences", Career Development International, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 539-562.



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