You’re a long way from home, and it really feels like it. Everything around you feels strange and unfriendly. Why did you ever leave the safety of home?
The concept of homesickness might be familiar, but it’s a difficult thing to pin down: a complex mix of social anxiety, sadness, feelings of isolation and a fear of the unfamiliar. It can strike just about anyone.
Even those who have travelled extensively or moved home regularly can suddenly find themselves struck with a horrible sense of not belonging.In extreme cases homesickness can manifest itself in depression, eating disorders and even stress-induced hair loss.
But don’t be alarmed; homesickness is totally normal and understandable. Expats face a daunting task, establishing an entirely new life in an unfamiliar country, away from the support of friends and family.
Homesickness is nothing to be embarrassed or scared by; it’s perfectly possible to overcome this temporary setback and get on with enjoying the adventure that is your exciting new life.
So if you’re currently pining for home, see what these tips can do for you.
10. Know before you go
Chances are, this move abroad is not a snap decision and there will be time to prepare for the change. Use the time wisely to make adjustment as straightforward as possible.
Research the country, its traditions and culture. Landing in India with a craving for beef steak will be the first of a few culture shocks in store. Minimize these by reading guidebooks and forums ahead of time.
Researching the practical elements of moving your possessions, enrolling children in schools, signing on with a local doctor and setting up bank accounts can save some nasty headaches at a busy, hectic time. There may even be ways of getting these tasks done before leaving, giving fewer things to worry about and letting you concentrate on making yourself at home.
As well as being pragmatic, indulge yourself. Plan some sightseeing in the early days after your arrival: it will help expose you to the new country and give you a break from the stress of unpacking. It’s important, especially for children, to avoid being cocooned from the unfamiliar outside world.
Check out forums and articles on Expat Focus and similar sites for advice particular to your situation and ask any questions you have. There will be someone out there who has been in the same position as you, so learn from their advice. Your new employer may have other expats on the payroll; see if your boss can connect you to them for advice, support and friendship.
9. Bring something familiar
Don’t treat moving to a new country as a clean break from your old life. It’s impossible to completely divorce yourself from friends, family and the familiar.
Bring pictures, cuddly toys and familiar foods to help remind you of home when the new country gets a bit much. This can do a lot to reenergize you and help boost confidence.
DVDs of favourite shows or movies from home can make for a great way to unwind from a busy day in an unfamiliar office. Keeping up to date with news from home can help quash feelings of isolation, as can following the progress of a favourite sports team.
For Brits abroad, the BBC World Service can be a good way to keep up to date with news from home, as well as hearing familiar accents. With a cup of tea and a biscuit, this method can provide a short break back to Blighty.
Remember not to focus on home too much though; there is a risk that in refusing to adapt you’ll make it harder than ever to settle in. Instead use reminders of home as a pick-me-up rather than a long-term escape from the strange new world outside.
8. Let yourself be a tourist
Get to see the fun, novel side of the country; it was probably the new and exotic things about your new home that drew you it in the first place. So take the time to explore the sights.
Imagine living in New York and never seeing the Statue of Liberty, or staying in Rome without eating pizza, or missing out on Day of the Dead in Mexico City. It would be pointless living in these cities without enjoying what they have to offer, and missing out on them will make the feeling of isolation even worse.
Getting out and about will also introduce you to new people, giving you the chance to make friends and practice language skills. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions or start conversations; the more you do it the less scary it will seem.
When enjoying the sights, make sure you try the local bites too. Food can be a major morale booster, so be curious about the cuisine and dive in for dinner.
7. Meet the neighbours
Get to know the locals. They’ll help ease you in to the country, the lingo and its traditions. Start by knocking on your neighbour’s door and saying hello; of course this may not be appropriate everywhere, but find a way to say hello that isn’t going to upset anyone. Don’t be offended by questions about your home country; your new friends are as curious about your life as you are about theirs.
Joining societies or clubs can form a new social scene, making you part of the neighbourhood and expanding your support network. See if your favourite sport has a club in your neighbourhood, or if there’s a park nearby with informal soccer matches to join in.
Co-workers can be another source of companionship. Once you’ve settled in, don’t be afraid of joining them for lunch. In many cultures long lunch breaks are the perfect time for relaxed business networking.
6. Stay connected
As you begin to settle in, make an effort to keep in touch with friends and family from home. It’ll help keep you in the loop and soothe any feeling that you’ve been forgotten about. You won’t have been, but you might need to hear it.
Make use of video calling when you can, or even better arrange a regular chat every week. It’s great to hear familiar voices, and even better to see a friendly face. Calling parents is important, but also call friends and siblings who can make you laugh as well as listen to the things you might not want mum and dad to know.
Laughter is important, but having a cry can be even more beneficial. Use calls home as chances to talk about your worries and concerns rather than bottling these fears up. Simply saying things out loud can help them seem manageable, and having a friend offer a few supportive words can help conquer anxiety.
Get out and pound the pavement, or dive into the pool: anything to raise your heart rate. Exercise is one of the best remedies for stress and anxiety. A hit of adrenaline whilst active can help clear the mind, making it easier to work through issues. A rush of endorphins after exercise can make you feel happier for longer and ready to face any challenges.
Keeping active helps to energise mind and body as well as boosting immunity. Homesickness sufferers may withdraw to a safe, comfortable sofa and chow down on junk food, but this doesn’t help. Break a cycle of negative behaviour with fresh air, sunlight and physical activity.
Healthy eating goes hand in hand with exercise; don’t pig out on local desserts. Ensure a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, which will help keep your body healthy and your mind clear.
4. Make your new home into a home
Don’t pine for the green, green grass of home; make the new house a welcoming cozy haven.
Chances are your new home is at least partially furnished, but don’t let this stop you from adding your own touch. This is going to be your home for some time, so make it feel familiar. Bare walls and plain furniture aren’t homely and can have an adverse effect on your mood.
Buying cheap blankets or fabrics can give threadbare couches a new lease of life and make them a cozy space to unwind at the end of a busy day. Photos and local artwork can add bright colours to even the smallest, most drab accommodation. Your home makeover doesn’t have to break the bank, but spending money on small things can have big benefits.
Invest in comfortable bedding; a bad night’s sleep often results in a bad day to follow. Get a desk that you can work at; this means stressful office work and boring admin can stay in one corner while the rest of your pad becomes a haven of peace.
3. Stay positive
There will be down days, that’s normal. Even back at home there were days in which nothing went to plan, often followed by a day of fun and laughter. Don’t let the bad days ruin the good.
Keep a diary of positive things: lessons learnt, jokes you heard, new friends made. These are the milestones with which to mark your progress in establishing a new life. Make sure you take the time to remind yourself of the amazing adventure you are on and the good things you’ve enjoyed. Go back to the diary on down days and revisit these memories to bring your mood back up.
Tell yourself positive things in the mirror. If you have particular concerns this can work wonders. Look yourself in the eye and tell yourself how good you are at things. If you are worried about meeting new people, tell yourself; “you can tell a joke that makes anyone laugh”, to build up confidence.
If you do find negativity holding sway in your thoughts, it might be worth seeking professional help. There’s no shame in solving problems you may have and therapists can be a great help.
Avoid excessive drinking and drug use: these will not improve your long-term mood and can cause nasty legal problems.
2. Make time for quiet time
Your new hectic lifestyle can be overwhelming, so make time to do things you enjoy. It’s important for mind and body to have the chance to unwind regularly.
Read a good book, dance, meditate, listen to music, play video games. Whatever you enjoy doing on your own, make time for it.
Spending time with people is important, but it’s also important to spend some time winding down in your own company.
1. Know that adjustment takes time
It’ll take a long time to settle in and go native, so don’t beat yourself up for feeling like an outsider. Eventually you’ll be haggling like a local, speaking the language fluently and playing the local sports, but the learning process will not happen overnight.
Enjoy the progress you’ve made and look forward to the next adventure. Remember the first few days, when you didn’t know the baño from the banco, look back on it and laugh now that you are fluently negotiating daily life.
By the same measure, be aware of the next hurdle and try to see it as a fun adventure. There will also be a new social situation to stumble through or a challenge to your language skills, so enjoy the process of learning and know that it’s ok to make mistakes. When you do, apologise with a smile, ask for guidance and learn from it, try not to get overwhelmed.
There may be some parts of the world where you will always look like an outsider or be treated differently. Be aware of this ahead of time and know that you can be a foreigner but still respected and liked by the locals.
Lastly, remember that homesickness can come back. It will rear its ugly head at predictable times like birthdays, Christmas and Easter. Any time which you would normally spend with friends or family, or when you might be missing out on events at home. Remember to make calls home to your nearest and dearest, but also redefine the traditions for your new circumstances. Why not hold a St Patrick’s Day party, or a Thanksgiving dinner? Invite new friends and share your culture as they’ve been sharing theirs.
Do you have any tips for combating homesickness? Let us know in the comments!
Article by Andy Scofield