How to cope with feeling homesick as an expat
Moving to another country can be an incredibly rich experience, offering opportunities to immerse yourself in a different culture, perhaps learn a new language and make new friends along the way. However, expat life is not without its challenges and there are bound to be a few bumps along the way. One of the most common challenges faced by expats, particularly those who are new to a country, is homesickness.
A normal feeling
The first thing you need to consider about homesickness is that it’s a completely normal response to a major change in your life. Often, when a person moves to a new country, the first couple of months can seem like an extended holiday, as you explore your environs and get to grips with cultural differences. Usually after a few months, reality kicks in, perhaps the kids have gone back to school or you miss a significant event back home. If you’re in a country with a big time difference this can hinder communications, leaving you feeling understandably adrift. Indeed, most expats find separation from family and friends back home to be the most difficult part of packing up their lives and moving overseas.
Speak up and reach out
When dealing with homesickness it’s important to be kind to yourself. You may feel guilty that you’re not relishing every minute of being in this exciting new place. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling sad. When you feel disconnected and need to speak to one of your loved ones back home, take the time to set up regular Skype or Facetime sessions so you don’t feel as though you are missing out. If you have a partner or are lucky enough to have a solid friendship base in your new country, then let them know how you are feeling.
Proactivity is important, particularly in the age of social media, when people are prone to present a highly curated version of their lives online. Don’t be afraid to reach out and confide in the people closest to you who can help. And if you want to talk to other expats, most of whom have been through what you’re going through, come and join my Expatability Chat group on Facebook.
Create structure in your life
Establishing a routine can be helpful in conquering symptoms of homesickness; creating structure in your day will leave you less prone to ruminate on negative thoughts. Don’t be afraid to seek out the familiar in your new home, whether that’s some of your favourite treats from back home in the international food aisle at your local supermarket or locating a pub frequented by fellow expats.
There’s always a mountain of admin to be done when moving anywhere, never mind to an entirely new country. From finding a house or flat, school for your kids, or opening a bank account, it can seem like a never-ending list of bureaucracy. While these are all an essential part of the process, you should also take the time to prioritise actions that will help you feel more settled in your new environs. These could be anything from decorating your new home with items from home to make it feel more familiar or enrolling in a new language class, a great way to learn a valuable new skill and meet people.
Awareness of the actions or behaviours likely to trigger bouts of homesickness is important. It can be all too easy to slip into a spiral of negative thoughts and emotions, which, if not carefully managed, can develop into depression. For example, you may find that scrolling for hours on Instagram and Facebook, seeing what family and friends are doing back home may spark feelings of loneliness and disconnection. If this is the case, try to limit the time you spend on social media apps, at least until you feel more settled.
Be sure to plan ahead, whether that’s a call with your best friend, or visiting an art exhibition or new restaurant. This way, you’ll have a busy schedule to keep you occupied and lots to look forward to, which will help to keep you going during the tough times.
If even after a significant period of time and having taken steps to conquer homesickness you still feel dislocated and miserable in your new surroundings, then don’t be afraid to raise the possibility of moving home. Many people suffer through their unhappiness just because they’re ashamed to be perceived as having ‘failed’. Just remember that your move doesn’t necessarily have to be a permanent one. Set yourself a time limit, in agreement with your partner/family, that 6-12 months down the line you’ll evaluate the situation and if things haven’t improved, then you’ll take the steps toward coming home.
Even if this isn’t an option, it’s vital that you face your feelings and discuss them openly with your partner. Your life isn’t all about other people; it’s important to take control over your own life, whether home or away.