When going abroad it is only natural to feel homesick at one point or another. Whether homesickness comes directly at the beginning or as a surprise somewhere in the middle of your stay, it is not fun. Two expats gave us some tips on what has helped them and their friends and family deal with being homesick.
Vanessa, a young nurse from Ottawa now working in a children’s hospital in Norway, thinks that homesickness is all about attitude and finding a hobby.
A lot of people blame the weather for feeling homesick. Now I can see where they are coming from realistically speaking, but the feelings you have during fall and winter are probably going to be the same you would have in your home country (excluding people living in places that do not have long, cold, gray winters!): depression, boredom, melancholy. What do you do in those situations at home? Most people find a hobby, join a club, go to a gym, or buy a bunch of books or movies to hold them over, etc. because we all know that sulking around will not get you anywhere.
I think this fits perfectly when applied to the expat homesick dilemma – regardless of which season you begin feeling homesick in! For example, when I first moved to Norway, I quickly realized that sitting around alone at home in the evenings was making me miss my family back home a lot, however when I was at work, I barely thought about them. So we had a solution to dilemma number one: get busy! I love to dance, so I joined a dance studio near the hospital so I could go directly after my shift. Although I didn’t meet as many people as I intended to, it did get me home later at night than before. Unfortunately this didn’t satisfy me because the dance class took place only once a week, leaving me with six other days to sit around alone at home with.
I also got lucky because I got along really well with Ingrid, one of the other nurses in my station and we quickly discovered that we both enjoy cooking. This led us to establish a cooking group with one other nurse and two of Ingrid’s friends. We met two or three times a week and tried out new recipes and wines and had a lot of good laughs. I still took my dance class regularly and also joined a book club which one of Ingrid’s friends led, which met once a week, so I was set for keeping busy!
I think the most important step towards overcoming homesickness is first and foremost to do something that you are passionate about. The great thing about most hobbies is that they are universal and can be done in most every country in some form or another. Finding friends is of course the best remedy for homesickness, yet this can be more difficult to achieve depending on the country you live in. However, if you do something that you are passionate about, you will find others who are equally passionate about it and friendships will develop, I am sure of it!
Fabian, from Ecuador, now living and working in Jordan, doesn’t completely agree with Vanessa’s gung-ho action-packed homesick remedy.
Although I would agree with Vanessa that sitting around at home sulking and blaming everything on the weather does not make things better, I would have to say that simply pushing your loneliness aside by overworking your body and mind is not a long-term solution. I speak from experience here, because I tried this method once before when I moved to Germany. I simply didn’t feel at home there so I ignored my emotions and joined a fitness center where I worked out every day, I took German lessons four times a week, and spent my weekends I hiking and biking. Anything to keep my mind off my loneliness and to avoid being alone with only my thoughts. I phoned home regularly to speak with my siblings, parents and friends, yet somehow that only made things worse than I expected.
What I did to overcome the dreary homesick feeling was to deal with it directly. I decided that escaping to the gym or a bar after work was not an alternative that I was going to be happy with, so I forced myself to stay home and confronted myself what exactly was making me miss home so much more than in any other country I have ever been in. Finally I came to the realization that it was just not a fit. I didn’t belong in Germany, I was just too different and somehow my being was fighting immersion with every fiber and ounce of strength! My decision was to move – it was the only thing I could do.
It ended up being the best decision I could make: I found my current job in Amman and I love it! The people here are so great and open and friendly and even though I still do loads of sports, it’s not because I’m running away from myself, but because I enjoy exploring the Jordanian landscape with my newfound friends!
So yes, hobbies and keeping busy are helpful when feeling homesick, but don’t forget to tackle the real root of the problem. Maybe the country is just not a match for you, as in my case, or maybe you just aren’t cut out to be an expat…
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.