Living, studying, or working abroad can seem like a dream. The influx of perfectly edited, carefree photos flooding Instagram sure present it that way.
But the reality is, when spending a good amount of time in a foreign place, outside of your comfort zone, certain hardships and difficulties inevitably arise from time to time. One of the most common being homesickness.
Homesickness as an expat can come as an unwanted surprise, but the truth is, it’s more common than not. It’s a completely normal feeling, that you shouldn’t feel bad or ashamed about. Still, if you have only recently moved abroad to work, it can make settling in to a new country much more difficult. For many expats, homesickness is even thought to be a contributory factor in their decision to repatriate.
Thankfully, together with Allianz Care, I’ve brought you 7 steps to help deal with any feelings of homesickness you may be experiencing without making the drastic decision to return home:
Step 1: Acknowledge your feelings
The first thing you’ll want to do when dealing with feelings of homesickness, is first recognize what’s going on. If you don’t acknowledge your feelings, it’s going to be harder to take the following steps to bite the whole homesickness situation in the bum.
So, engage in some self-reflection: journaling can really help with this. Take some time to think or write about why you are feeling homesick.
For example, the root cause may be:
- Missing friends and family
- Stress or anxiety
Actually, it may well be a combination of all three. But, once you have worked that out, think about some ways, and use some of our steps to alleviate those feelings.
Step 2: Learn to live in your new home mentally
If you’re still longing to be somewhere else, it can be hard to truly settle into your new home. So, start taking steps to really live the life of the people and culture where you are. Let me explain further.
Language matters. If you still refer to the place you live abroad as ‘my apartment’ and not ‘home’ then chances are you have yet to fully settle in. Simply changing the way you talk about your situation can make all the difference.
Tips: Bring as many comforts from your last home as you can, so your expat accommodation feels familiar. Proudly display your beloved childhood snuffaluffagus. Put up some heartwarming photos of family and friends. Buy some comfy pillows. Get a plant. Do whatever it is that makes your new ‘apartment’ feel more homey. Then, simply try calling it ‘home’. Although it may not feel like it at first, with time it will.
Step 3: Establish a routine
Create a similar weekly routine to the one you would have back home. If you went to the gym every morning before work before, do the same now. If you like to watch football at a bar on Sundays, find one close to your house and become a regular. Pick a day to head to the local market to buy your groceries. Seek out activities and places that make you feel comfortable and then regularly work them into your schedule. Forming these daily and weekly habits is sure to help you deal with homesickness.
Step 4: Get out and meet some new people
Although it may seem overwhelming at first, meeting new people in your new home will definitely help deal with homesickness. You may be thinking … “where do I start?”
Love abstract art? Jazz music? Slam poetry? Use websites like Eventbrite to find arts, community or charity events happening in your city. The more niche the event, the more likely it is that you can speak to others on a common topic, which should help break the ice. Also, you can go to events such as networking or language exchanges to meet locals.
There are also the obvious options like joining a sports team or taking a yoga class, but what if you are too busy to commit to either?
Well, there are other options, such as joining one of the many Facebook groups, expat forums or other expat groups, where you can meet other expats. Although you may be looking to fully immerse yourself in the local culture, don’t avoid befriending those who are in similar situations. It will be nice to have someone to talk to about your struggles, including language and cultural barriers. Only other expats will truly be able to understand your feelings and relate to them.
Step 5: Use technology…but not too much
Technology, while working as an expat abroad, can be your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to settling in. It is a brilliant way to stay in touch with family and friends back home on a regular basis, but social media can make you feel more aware of what you are ‘missing out on’ too. Nights out, holidays, birthdays and family reunions can be hard to watch from a distance.
It is important to remember that social media is a highlights reel of life and you may not be missing out on as much as you think. Use apps like Facetime, Skype, and WhatsApp to stay connected with your loved ones back home, but also learn to put your phone down, live in the moment and get out and enjoy your new home.
Step 6: Plan trips to see loved ones
Occasionally going back home to see family and friends in person is crucial to the long-term success of the expat experience. Try and book some trips home at regular intervals, or at least for the most crucial occasions, like holidays, weddings or milestone birthdays. Having a few trips home planned ahead of time will give you something to look forward to and will help deal with homesickness in those moments of feeling lonely.
You can also urge family and friends to come visit you abroad. There’s nothing more exciting and meaningful than sharing your new home with familiar faces. Having visitors will help you get to know your new home on a deeper level and see it in a different light. You’ll be able to visit all the typical tourist attractions with your loved ones, while also showing them your “local” off-the-beaten-track spots. This is sure to make you proud of your new city and make it feel more like home.
Step 7: Remember to take care of yourself
When you first move to a new country and don’t really know anyone, it can be very easy to slip into unhealthy routines. Staying at home every evening and indulging in Netflix can seem comforting in the short term, but after a few weeks it is likely to have an impact on both your physical and mental health.
Reduce your chances of having to deal with homesickness through regular practices like meditation and exercise. The endorphins from exercise will help keep feelings of homesickness at bay and you’ll feel more centered and mindful after meditation.
Still, if you find yourself struggling with intense feelings of homesickness, it may help to talk to someone. I found a local therapist that natively spoke my language. Also, Allianz Care expat health insurance plans include an Expat Assistance Program, which provides a confidential and professional 24/7 multilingual support service that can help expats and dependents address a wide range of life issues and challenges.