How to Cope with Expat Homesickness
Living in another country can be an incredible experience, with many new opportunities to keep you busy and certainly some challenges to overcome along the way. One of the most common challenges for expats to experience is feeling homesick.
Although you may have thought you were unlikely to be affected, it’s natural for most expats to experience at least some level of homesickness, regardless of how settled they are or how much fun they’re having. Ultimately, expats are bound to miss some of the elements of their previous life and missing close friends and family will likely be one of the most difficult aspects to come to term with.
There are of course varying degrees of homesickness, as it will affect everyone on an individual level. However, not taking any action to alleviate any homesickness symptoms you’re experiencing can lead to it worsening overtime. In some cases, this can lead expats to feel there is no other choice than to return home. Whilst that is of course a viable option, there are also ways of coping with homesickness which are worth trying before taking such drastic action.
Homesickness can strike at any time. You might feel it instantly, or later down the road. It may be a constant feeling, or it might come in waves and in certain situations.
But, how do know it is in fact homesickness you are experiencing, when it can manifest in a variety of ways? Here a some of the more common symptoms you may experience with homesickness.
- Social withdrawal
- Constant thoughts of home
- Missing people, places and other familiar aspects
- Lack of motivation
- Pessimistic outlook
In general, homesickness can be best described as emotional distress experienced as a result of disconnection from a familiar and safe environment.
Find the familiar
Moving overseas is a huge change, meaning most things will be unfamiliar to you. However, there may be more things that are familiar, than might be immediately obvious.
A good strategy can be to utilise this, by finding the familiar within your new environment. Where possible, quickly establish some of your familiar routines, and create a home environment that feels homely – that may be as simple as putting up your family photos and locating the local pub!
Proactively seek support
As soon as you notice feelings of missing home, try to reach out. After all, a feeling of disconnection can really only be resolved with a seeking connection.
Whilst it can be tempting to feel like others should reach out to you, its important to be proactive and find the support you need rather than wait for it to come to you.
If you miss someone, call them. If you’re feeling lonely, tell someone.
When first moving to a new country, your to do list can be quite overwhelming. This can make it more likely to put off important tasks that if completed, may just help towards alleviating some of the homesickness symptoms you are experiencing.
To help you to prioritise your long to do list, you may wish to focus on the practical tasks that have to be done i.e. setting up your bill payments. But, more importantly where you can, prioritise the tasks which will make you FEEL better. That may include, settling into your new home so it ‘feels’ homely, setting up your gym membership so you can continue some usual routines.
More than anything else, taking action towards solution focused outcomes – such as making new friends – can be a sensible approach. For example, if you feel language is a barrier for you and you are struggling to make new connections, perhaps enrolling on a language course could be a step towards achieving both of these outcomes.
It can be easy to slip into negative feelings and emotions. Before you know it, things can quickly spiral out of control and lead to isolation and overtime potentially depression. As such, a useful strategy to try to adopt, is to increase your awareness of any specific situations that may trigger you to feel homesick.
One of the major culprits for this can be social media. FOMO (fear of missing out) can have you in its grasp before you are even aware. Therefore, you may like to limit your social media usage or come off entirely until you are completely settled. Clearly, you need to maintain other forms of communication with friends and family, otherwise this could be a counterproductive step.
Having something to look forward to can be incredibly useful. Plan ahead and schedule dates for your Skype sessions, visits home, or visits from family and friends, as far in advance as possible. In doing so, you will always have something positive to keep you going through the tough times.
To remain focused on the positives, keep a visual record on a calendar and locate it in a prominent place, where it can serve as a constant reminder that you are not alone and have lots to look forward to.