This is the second part of an article exploring homesickness. In the first part I wrote about the experience of feeling homesick (how, when, what, why), the various effects and symptoms and my personal insight. In the second and third parts respectively, I will give more explicit suggestions and guidelines about dealing with homesickness which are based on my experience as an expat and a therapist.
Finding a balance between your life back home and your new life is essential. Homesickness can become a chance and a challenge to grow, to build something new, to find new meaning, to develop new support resources.
Each person experiences and deals with homesickness differently. How you adapt to new surroundings depends upon your emotional resilience (ability to adapt to stressful situations) and how well you are able to support yourself and utilize the support of your environment.
When your emotional resilience is not developed enough, you may find yourself lying in bed, depressed and at total war with your surroundings, resisting change and hating every minute of it, and above all feeling stuck and desperate like there is no alternative. When you are not able to fully support yourself and ask for support, you might withdraw from any friends or acquaintances, lose interest in your new social life, get more isolated, stop taking care of yourself and despite of all your suffering you might be reluctant to seek support.
If homesickness persists and starts to interfere with your daily life, it is a sign that perhaps something needs to change. If you want to improve the way you cope with homesickness and stressful situations, a first step of supporting and taking care of yourself is to seek professional help from a therapist.
How to embrace homesickness
Here are my suggestions and tips to support you in embracing homesickness and not letting it get the best of you.
All expats at some point will feel homesick, it is normal as you adjust to your new location. Controlling or denying your feelings of homesickness will only make the situation worse. You might feel even more isolated and alone. Give space and time to yourself to accept feeling homesick, it is a very common experience among adult expats and even more among children expats. There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of, when you become aware and accept homesickness, you can choose the necessary steps to deal with it more appropriately.
Of course you miss home, probably it is a great place with people who love and support you. Living in a new place will not necessarily be better than home, it is just different. Surely there will be stuff you don’t understand or agree with in your new surroundings. Also, seeing the new place as an idealized dream place where everything is peachy and should work like a clock will not get you anywhere. Accept the things you like and don’t like both in the new location and home. Stop comparing, it sucks the life out of you! Remember why you moved there in the first place. Find what is meaningful for you in your new surroundings. Is it exciting professional opportunities, better quality of life, a good university, the experience of living abroad, your partner? Reframe the way you see things.
Put yourself out there and create a support network in your new surroundings. Making new friends is essential not to feel isolated. Get involved with people at work or where you study, in your neighbourhood, in church, anywhere where you can meet people in your everyday life.
Socialize with other expats and local people. Try finding other people from your country, check if there are shops, restaurants or meeting clubs where your fellow countrymen hang out.
Most likely you will get a lot of support from your countrymen and other expats who can give you advice, are going or have gone through the same experiences, understand how you feel and what you miss from home. You actually might end up having a few good friends. Become engaged in activities with others, it will give you a sense of belonging as well. Invest learning the language of the new country, even if it is just some basic words. The more you speak the language the more integrated you will feel.
Keep contact with your family and friends at home. There are so many ways to keep in touch: phone, email, facebook (social media in general), postal mail (for the last of the romantics), chat and my personal favorite Skype. It is nice to communicate with your loved ones at home but don’t overdo it! If you spend several hours each day locked in your house using skype, then you miss all the wonderful opportunities to build something in the new location.
Start building familiarity around you. Home is not just a physical space but also an emotional one. Make sure you have brought from your country some photos, your favorite books and cds, food or other objects to create “a home away from home”. Make your new home yours by decorating it according to your taste to feel cozy and comfortable. Your house is your sanctuary, it doesn’t matter in which country it is, it is your space. If you don’t invest the energy to make your space a place you look forward to live, it will feel temporary and it will make you feel homesick even more. Follow TV programs or the news from your country via internet or satellite TV. Find products from your country and invite your new friends for dinner cooking your country’s cuisine.
Establish routines to feel a sense of familiarity. A part of our identity lies in the things we do in our daily life: working, going to the gym, hobbies, going out, meeting friends…Simple things that we are used to doing, without which we may feel a little lost. Continue your existing routines, traditions and hobbies in your new location. Start doing (or redoing) anything that makes you feel grounded, safe and happy.
Be a tourist and explore your surroundings even if you live there for years. Invest in learning about the local culture, visit the sites and attractions that your new location is famous for. Get tips from locals about places to visit or check on the web about places “off the beaten path”. Commit to visit one new place each week, try local cuisine and immerse yourself in the local culture. Make your own little discoveries whether it is finding the best coffee in town or where to repair your bike.
In the third and last part of these series of articles exploring homesickness, I will continue giving suggestions about how to deal with homesickness and also some tips about taking care of your physical and emotional health. Stay tuned!