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How to Deal with Homesickness as an Expat

Missing Home: Tips to Deal with Homesickness as an Expat

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So, you’re missing home? First things first, you’re not alone. I’ve been there too. Actually, every single expat I know has found themselves in this position at one time or another. It’s VERY common to miss home.

Homesickness is a completely normal feeling that you shouldn’t feel bad or ashamed about.

Living, studying, or working abroad can seem like a dream. The influx of perfectly edited, carefree photos flooding Instagram sure present it that way huh?

But after arriving and settling in to your new home abroad, in a foreign place, outside of your comfort zone, the reality is that it’s not always all that easy. We’re flooded with feelings and emotions, one of the most common being homesickness.

And no. Missing home does not mean that you’ve made the wrong decision, or a mistake by moving to a new city or new country. All it means is that it’s time to check in with yourself, and get down to the root of why you’re feeling this way.

Perfectly edit photos don't cover the reality that living abroad and dealing with homesickness is hard.

After all, being homesick or missing home isn’t all bad, right? It means you have something or someone special back home to miss! And in the wise words of Winnie the Pooh, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Having something or someone to miss makes us pretty damn lucky.

Even still, intense feelings of homesickness as an expat can come as an unwanted surprise and make the road to settling in to a new place much more difficult. For many expats I’ve worked with, missing home is even thought to be a deciding factor in their choice to move back home or “repatriate.”

Thankfully, there are many ways to deal with these feelings, and address the problem head on without jumping to the drastic decision of returning home.

What to do when you’re missing home

1. Acknowledge your feelings & journal it out.

Like I mentioned above, the first thing you’ll want do is admit to yourself what’s going on and realize that there is nothing wrong with how you’re feeling. This might seem obvious, but if you don’t first acknowledge your feelings, it’s going to be harder to bite the whole homesickness situation in the bum.

So, engage in some self-reflection. I’ve found that journaling can really help with this. Take some time to think or write about why you think you are feeling homesick.

For example, the root cause may be:

  • Loneliness in your new home
  • Missing friends and family back home
  • Stress or anxiety related to other things like work

Actually, it very well may be a combination of all three. But, once you have worked that out, you’ll know better how to address the situation. The following tips for “what to do when you’re missing home” address some of these root causes and can help you alleviate some of those uncomfortable homesick feelings.

2. Commit to living in your new home mentally

If you’re consistently longing to be somewhere else, it can be hard to truly settle into your new home. 

Language matters. If you are referring to the place you’re living as ‘my temporary apartment’ or ‘the room I’m renting’ and not ‘my place’ or ‘home,’ then chances are you have yet to fully except your new living situation. Simply changing the way you talk about your life abroad and current situation can make all the difference.

It helps a lot if you feel comfortable and truly like where you’re living, and are proud of your new digs. So, bring as many comforts from your last home as you can, and then fill in with new items that make your expat accommodation feel 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 home feel more homey. Then, simply try calling it ‘home’. Although it may not fully feel like it at first, with time it will.

When missing home, it helps to make your new home more comfortable and homey.
My home and happy place in Santiago, Chile.

3. Establish a routine

When your days feel lonely, empty or plain overwhelming, I’ve found it extremely helpful to establish some sort of routine.

Create a similar weekly routine to the one you had before. If you went to the gym every morning before work before, find a gym close to work or home and do the same now. If you really like to watch football games on Sundays, but don’t have the channels at your place, find a bar close and become a regular. Pick a day that you head to the local market every week to buy your groceries. Seek out activities and places that make you feel good and then regularly work them into your schedule.

Forming daily and weekly habits is sure to distract your mind, get you back on track to balance and help you deal with feelings of missing home.

4. Get out and meet some new people

Although it may seem impossible or overwhelming at first, making new friends in your new home will definitely help deal with homesickness. Right now, you may be thinking … “but, where do I even start?”

Well, today in our ultra-connected world, there are endless opportunities to meet new people. All you have to do is put yourself out there.

Love abstract art? Jazz music? Slam poetry? Use websites like Eventbrite and Meet Up to find art, fitness, community or charity events happening in your city. The more niche the event, the more likely it is that you can connect with others on a common topic, which should help break the ice.Take part in your favorite activities to meet like-minded people.

There are other options, such as joining one of the many Facebook or LinkedIn 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 a similar situation to you. 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 on a deeper level.  

Here in Madrid I belong to several expat groups that I regularly attend events for, and I’ve even reached out randomly to interesting people on Instagram to meet and grab a coffee! Like I said, it’s all about putting yourself out there.

Looking to meet locals? Try exploring business networking events or language exchanges.

5. Use technology to stay connected…but not too much

Having easy access to technology while living as an expat abroad, can be your best friend or worst enemy. It is an amazing way to stay in touch with family and friends back home on a regular basis, but spending too much time on social media can also lead to some serious FOMO.

While it’s nice to keep up with what your friends are up to, consistently checking your social media feeds can make you more aware of what you’re ‘missing out on’ too. Nights out, milestone moments, holidays, birthdays and family reunions can be hard to watch from a distance.

It is important to remember that social media is a curated gallery and a highlight reel of your friends’ lives. You’re probably not missing out on as much as you think.

So, 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 present moment and get out and enjoy your new home!

6. Plan trips to see loved ones

Occasionally going back to where you’re from to spend “in-person” time with family and friends is crucial to the long-term success of the expat experience.

Try and book some trips back at regular intervals, or at least for the most important moments and occasions, like holidays, weddings or milestone birthdays. Having a few trips planned ahead of time will give you something to look forward to and will help deal with homesickness. How can you really be missing home, when the next time you’ll be there will be here before you know it!? 

When missing home, it helps to have trips planned to see friends and family ahead of time.
Me & my best girl friends from high school in a trip I planned home for my friend’s wedding!

If you’re working with a tight budget, 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.

7. Stop thinking of yourself as a temporary resident or “just an expat”

Sure, you are an expat, I won’t deny you that, but you’re also so much more than just an expat. Even if this new place is a temporary home, or simply a stepping stone on the way to somewhere more permanent, if you keep thinking of it that way, you’ll never let your guard down or fully settle in.

If you’re consistently thinking about, or planning for the future, you’ll let the present moment in this new special place and experience slide right on by.  

When you start to live in the present moment, you never know where your path will take you. I moved to Chile with a 6 month work contract, and ended up staying for 3 fun-filled amazing years!

8. Remember to take care of yourself

When you first move to a new country, it can be very easy to slip into unhealthy habits and routines. Staying at home every evening and indulging in ice cream and Netflix may seem comforting in the short term, but after a few weeks it is likely to catch up to you.

Make sure to prioritize your physical and mental health during this transition process. Not only will regular practices like yoga, meditation and exercise help you feel more centered, present, and mindful, but they will also reduce your chances of having intense feelings of homesickness in the first place!

Meditation and practicing mindfulness can help deal with feelings of missing home.

9. Talk to someone

When going through a major life transition, like moving to a new country, it can also be really useful to talk it through with someone. I’ve moved and reestablished myself several times now, and having an unbiased person to talk to and work through my complex feelings with made all the difference. 

In Chile, I found a local therapist that natively spoke my language, and in Madrid, I sought out the guidance of a coach. Both instances provided a lot of clarity, helped keep me on track, and set me up on right the path to ease my transition. Actually, it played a big part in why I decided to become an expat coach myself!

Companies like Allianz Care have expat health insurance plans that 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.

When in doubt and intensely missing home, don’t deny yourself a good wallow. Listen to some sad songs, like Flora Cash’s “Missing Home,” (video below) treat yourself to some junk food, and then most importantly, SNAP OUT OF IT!! You can do this! ??

Have you ever lived, worked or studied abroad? If so, do you have any effective strategies to deal with feelings of missing home or homesickness?

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