Moving to a new country can be the most thrilling adventure.
There are new places to discover, new people to meet, and new opportunities to explore. Yet, while working overseas certainly has its pros, sometimes, you might find yourself wishing for a little less new.
It’s completely natural to be homesick.
The disorientation of being in a foreign environment can make people feel an intense longing and grief for the familiarity of home.
Though it is a common experience, medical and psychological evidence shows that homesickness can create serious physical, cognitive and behavioural problems. Physical symptoms can include ‘gastric and intestinal pains, lack of sleep, headaches, feelings of tiredness’ and even eating disorders. As shown, homesickness is not something childish to be embarrassed by, but is a serious condition that is worth being addressed.
Although you may feel isolated and helpless living and working overseas, the first thing to understand is that you are not alone. Research published in the International Journal of Psychological studies showed that “all migrant workers and expatriates acknowledged going through [homesickness], despite the apparent joy of having the opportunity to further their professional experience and send remittances to relatives back home” (Hack-Polay, 2012). Homesickness is the proof that you have moved out of your comfort zone and should remind you of your courage.
Remember, no matter what your circumstance is, homesickness is almost always a temporary phase that can be overcome with a positive and healthy mindset. It’s normal to miss home and family, but with the right approach, you’ll be able to think of them with fondness rather than pain.
So, how do I deal with homesickness?
For some people with extreme homesickness, returning home may be the best choice. But it takes time to adjust to any unfamiliar situation, so don’t be hard on yourself if you’re finding it particularly difficult. Every person is different, so what makes one person feel better might not do the same for another. However, there are some proven coping strategies that may help you deal with the grief of living away from home.
Get out there and socialise!
Although homesickness might make you want to hide away, there is a whole new exciting world out there just waiting for you to explore! Active interaction with your host country can keep your mind busy and focused on the present.
However, studies also show that increased contact with relatives and friends from home while exploring your new environment can create psychological balance. Using social networks to constantly keep in touch with relative and friends back home can help you as you make sense of your foreign lifestyle.
Additionally, integrating with community organisations that allow you to meet people from your own background can create a firm sense of solidarity. Being able to experience pieces of home in your host country—native cuisine, speaking your native language, celebrating your homeland’s holidays—can make your transition smoother.
Prepare yourself beforehand and seek assistance
Preparation is the best way to combat the initial culture shock that may lead to homesickness. Seeking out input from returnees and taking time to learn the language and culture of your host country can brace you for your move. Don’t be afraid to ask questions from people who have experienced what you are, or will be, going through.
Additionally, attending educational courses upon arrival can also greatly assist you during your transition. In a study of migrants who took formal courses in the UK, migrants were shown to benefit in ‘language acquisition, cultural awareness and socialisation’ as they were given ‘more opportunities to meet host country nationals and experience real-life interactions’ (Hack-Polay, 2012).
By educating yourself and being aware of your new surroundings, you can decrease the strain of your transition into a foreign place.
Stay positive and motivated!
Though you aren’t dealing with this alone, the key factor that will help with homesickness is your effort—nobody can do this but you. Without the drive to adjust to your host country, you will waste the prospects in front of you and be stuck wishing to go home.
It can be hard to see sometimes, but being overseas is an opportunity that should be taken full advantage of. When you find yourself thinking negatively about your situation, reflect upon why you moved to where you are now and why this is important. Remembering your purpose in your new environment will strengthen your self-worth and motivate you to embrace change.
Furthermore, put in daily effort to educate yourself of local cultures and practices by establishing a routine. In a study of homesickness by Professor Hack-Polay, participants stated that they would watch programmes on local TV stations, read books, and attend tourist events to advance cultural learning. As a result, they actively decreased the effects of their homesickness.
But remember, do enjoy the moment.
You’re allowed to feel sad and miss your family and friends back home; it’s part of the process of being home sick. Tale care of yourself and give yourself time to adjust to your surroundings. Discussing your feelings to your family rather than bottling up your emotions. This is vital in keeping a balanced mental state.
Though reminding yourself of home all the time may do more harm than good, crying if you need to from time to time can help you release your emotions. If you need to, talking to someone about how you are feeling can help you better understand yourself and your surroundings.
It isn’t easy to take such big steps in life. Although it may take time to adapt, missing home is completely natural and is nothing to be ashamed of. You should be immensely proud of the courage you had to leave home and move to a foreign place. With kindness, perseverance, and patience for yourself, you’ll soon be able to take full advantage of all this new adventure has to offer.