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How to deal with homesickness

Homesickness is a sickness like no other. You can’t see it, you won’t need medical treatment, and yet it can cause real mental and physical suffering. Separated from friends and family, and thrown into a new culture, expatriates experience it as a rite of passage.

Often trivialised as a childish trait, homesickness can be a real issue for adults across the globe. Research published in the International Journal of Psychological Studies mentions ‘gastric and intestinal pains, lack of sleep, headaches, feeling of tiredness and some eating disorders’. 

Unsurprisingly, homesickness can affect performance, too. A separate study showed that college students who feel homesick perform worse than their non homesick peers and are more likely to drop out.

Whether you’ve just moved to a new country and are feeling a bit overwhelmed, or if the gloss of life abroad has worn off and you’re missing ‘home’, here are our top ten tips for dealing with homesickness as an expat: 

10 tips for dealing with homesickness as an expat:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings are normal. Homesickness is normal and affects most expats at some stage in their lives. Accepting homesickness as a normal human emotion is empowering and is the first step in dealing with it. Be kind to yourself.
  2. Understand the root of your emotions. Understanding where homesickness stems from can tell you a lot about yourself and the best way forward. If you’re craving creature comforts you might just need some time to settle in your new environment. If you’re missing friends from back home, you might be yearning after stability, or just a fun night out. Try to step back and identify your emotions. Keeping a journal can help you do this. Record your emotions and experiences on a routine basis. Write notes or gather visual cues such as tickets, receipts or photos. 
  3. Connect with your new surroundings. While it might be tempting to retreat into yourself, now is the time to get out. Explore your new neighbourhood, embark on a cultural awareness course or learn the local language. If the pandemic means you can’t get out physically, you can still connect digitally. Download the ExpatBuddy app and make connections, explore local Facebook forums, sign up for an online course relevant to your new country. Make every effort you can to connect with your new environment.
  4. Socialise and strive to make friends. Going out and meeting new people can be tiring, yet paradoxically it’s also energising. Remind yourself that even if you don’t click with someone immediately, every contact you make is useful in some way. Enjoy the ride, as well as the final destination. Try to be proactive in making friends – arrange meet ups, suggest weekend plans, organise group outings. If you’re stuck in quarantine, attend online events, organise a drink via Zoom or ask any questions you might have online via the ExpatBuddy app. Most expats will be very willing to answer any questions you might have and you might even make a few friends along the way. There is no replacement for meeting people in real life, but making friends online will mean as soon as the lockdown lifts, you can hang out and skip a lot of the small talk. 
  5. Share your feelings. You don’t need to delve into your innermost feelings with a stranger, but talking about the things you miss with fellow expats can be very comforting. Chances are they feel exactly the same as you. You’ll soon see that you’re not alone in your feelings, but part of a group. 
  6. Focus on a personal plan. In many respects homesickness is a choice. You can choose to fall down the spiral or take action to climb up. Boredom and isolation are the catalysts for homesickness, so get out and get busy. Make a plan of what you’d like to achieve in this next chapter of your life. Whether it’s getting fit, trying a new hobby or learning a language, having a personal plan can help shift your focus.
  7. Connect with your loved ones. While it’s important to look to the future and not dwell on the past, your family and long term friends are the bedrock of your identity. Reaching out to these people can provide a cushion of stability in very uncertain times. Don’t feel ashamed to call home. 
  8. Bring familiar comforts. Sometimes a taste of home is all you need to lift your mood. Consider all the senses – a spritz of a familiar perfume, a bar of your favourite chocolate or a comfortable shawl to snuggle under while watching a favourite movie. Look after yourself. 
  9. Remember homesickness is temporary. Homesickness is a fleeting emotion. While it can feel horrible in the moment, try to remember that it will pass.
  10. If necessary, seek professional help. Homesickness should not persist. If you are feeling down on a regular basis and it is interfering with your daily routine or lifestyle, speak to a qualified mental health counsellor or your doctor.

Join our free webinar on dealing with homesickness this Thursday 5 November:  

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