Even expats get the blues: Moving abroad is a tremendously exciting opportunity, but sooner or later every expat has to grapple with some stressful issues.
Sometimes, you’ll cope pretty well with the dreaded culture shock – for example, because you’ve been to the country before or because it’s quite similar to your own in a number of ways. Even then, however, you may be surprised to find yourself missing home really badly at times.
Homesickness isn’t only for little kids or students during their first exchange year. It can affect everyone, no matter how old you are or whether or not you’ve lived abroad before.
Actually, getting homesick is a fairly obvious and understandable reaction. If you want to talk about it in fancy psychological terms, you could call it a slight “adjustment disorder”.
Everyone craves some measure of security and affection, and moving to another country often disrupts your usual ways of meeting those emotional needs. Fortunately, there are some tried and true measures you can take to adjust more easily.
1) Make yourself comfortable. There’s no point in trying to recreate your old apartment on the far side of the world, but moving into new accommodation, let alone living in a hotel room or furnished lodgings, often lacks the personal touch.
For starters, just bring along some cherished belongings to help you feel more at ease: your comfiest pillow, a collection of family photographs, and those knick-knack that have been gathering dust on your bedside table for the last few years.
2) Keep in touch. When it comes to staying in touch with family and friends back home, you need to find just the right balance between “clingy” and “out of sight, out of mind”.
You definitely shouldn’t neglect those loved ones you’ve left behind. On the other hand, if you spend all your time glued to Skype or staring at your Facebook phone app, this won’t help you with your new life abroad.
So, try to schedule regular phone calls or video chats with the people you’re closest to, and set aside some pre-defined time slots for updating your blog, sending a mass email, or uploading some pictures to social media. This still leaves you plenty of time for other activities.
If you’re struggling with a wonky Internet connection or still need to find a decent mobile plan, good old “snail mail” will do the trick: Everyone loves getting a colorful postcard, a hand-written letter, or a small gift!
3) Establish some routine. If you start a university course or take up a new job right away, this will structure your daily and weekly routines immediately. However, even the busiest “worker bees” need something to look forward to outside the office.
And if you have arrived early or come along as a traveling spouse, you may suddenly find yourself with lots of time on your hands. This can be both liberating and overwhelming.
It really helps to create a mini-schedule for yourself, including duties as well as pleasure. Once you have devoted a couple of hours to job hunting, grocery shopping, or household chores, don’t forget to reward yourself!
Keep up with one of your favorite hobbies, or occasionally indulge yourself with a TV show or radio program from back home.
4) Explore. There’s only one thing as important as routine – and that’s novelty and change. Starting a new life abroad is a prime opportunity to try new things. First of all, just play the tourist for a while and get to know the city and country where you now live.
In addition to that, now’s the time to shake things up a bit: Pick up a new hobby that you never got around to. Learn a new language – especially the local one. And don’t be shy to make new friends at your workplace, your children’s school, the gym, or the next expat event.
Speaking of expat events: When you meet new people abroad, it may help to avoid the so-called “expat bubble”, where you only socialize with other expatriates, especially those from your own home country.
On the one hand, your expat friends easily understand your mixed feelings about moving, homesickness, and culture shock; on the other hand, mingling exclusively with expats may keep you from ever feeling truly at home abroad.
5) Take good care of yourself. Homesickness isn’t a “real” illness, but you should nonetheless be kind and patient with yourself. Admit to yourself that you are missing home and give yourself time to adjust – but don’t wallow in your negative feelings.
It may be tempting to stay up all night to phone friends in a different time zone, or to hide in bed when you’re feeling particularly down. However, avoiding the problem at hand seldom works. It’s usually best to get enough sleep, eat healthy food, and make sure to take a brisk walk or do some exercise.
Self-care recharges your batteries, so to speak, and it’s easier to settle in if you’re well-fed, well-rested, and full of energy!
And what are your best tips for expats missing home?
Image credit: iStockphoto)