“I feel homesick.”
It’s one of the most common reasons why expats return to the UK after living abroad.
Homesickness can have a debilitating effect on your ability to settle in a new country or a foreign city.
It can lead to feelings of anxiety, loneliness and — in some cases — depression.
Of course, it’s not just Brits living abroad that are affected.
Studies have shown that up to of 35% of students living away from home feel depressed from homesickness. This is a condition that does not discriminate between the young or old; those close to home, or those 5000 miles away.
The majority of expats will feel homesickness at some point.
These moments may be fleeting, and they will usually pass, but they can escalate if we fail to address the underlying causes.
The following guide to beating homesickness will help you settle in a new country without checking for flights back to Blighty every other day!
A Guide to Dealing with Homesickness Abroad
“Homesickness hits hardest in the middle of a crowd in a large, alien city.”
— Christos Tsiolkas
Here are 8 tips for adjusting to life abroad and fighting off the feelings of homesickness.
Drop a comment if you have any recommendations that have worked for you.
1. ‘Move home’… mentally, not just physically.
How do you know that you’ve yet to settle abroad?
You say, “Let’s go back to the apartment.” instead of “Let’s go home.”
It sounds like a minor point, but it hints at a serious problem.
Many expats who have moved abroad have yet to move their psychological perception of home.
If you’ve decided to settle in a new country, one of the best things you can do is get ruthless in how you deal with the physical footprint of the life you’ve left behind.
Avoid locking away ten years worth of junk in to storage ‘just in case you come home’.
Chuck out anything you don’t need.
If it’s not valuable enough to come with you, it’s probably not valuable enough to be left behind.
And vice versa once you start your new life abroad.
If Material Goods X, Y or Z would add value to your day-to-day life, then go ahead and buy them. Don’t avoid purchases just because you’re overseas, or because something is ‘cheaper back home’.
This is tourist mode.
Homesickness sets in much faster if you feel like you’re living out of a hotel room. And that’s what many expats do in their rented apartments — subconsciously — by confining their life’s possessions to two suitcases and a 40KG weight limit.
Make your home a home.
2. Take the shock out of Culture Shock.
There’s no getting around culture shock, especially if you’ve moved somewhere that follows a radically different way of life to Britain.
We’re not the most adaptable of people, are we?
Indeed, for some of us, the concept of a 10pm dinner in Spain is enough to cause the first seizure.
There are two ways to reduce the impact of culture shock:
1. Educate yourself on why a culture is the way it is. Don’t just assume an entire land of natives is irrational / stark raving bonkers.
2. Balance an open mind with your own boundaries. By all means go ahead and sample the local way of life, but don’t kid yourself by insisting that it’s ‘the new changed me’.
Culture shock can lead to homesickness if you adopt a fixed defeatist mindset, namely a) This place has nothing for me, or b) The culture I know is ‘better’.
Searching out fellow British expats is a good first step for absorbing culture shock.
3. Find your natural social circles.
Many expat guides recommend that upon entering a foreign land, you should drop your bags and run to the nearest group of locals screaming, “I’m new. Please take me under your wings!”.
The wisdom that it is necessary to fully immerse with a local community to feel part of it makes sense, right?
But it underestimates the bloody-mindedness of the British.
Our natural disposition as expats is rarely as forthright and in-your-face as our friends: the Americans, Australians and South Africans.
This is demonstrated by the fact that you can visit any major expat city in the world and expect to find a British pub selling British beer to British punters who look like they haven’t seen the sun for decades.
It is absolutely true that to settle in a foreign country, you must develop new social circles and integrate with your new home.
This does not mean you should force relationships and friendships to materialise where the culture doesn’t match. You wouldn’t do this in Britain, would you?
Most ‘settled’ expats are skilled at two things: integrating harmoniously with their adopted country, and finding enough of the things/people/attitudes they preferred about Britain.
Neglecting the latter will almost always lead to feelings of homesickness.
4. Take advantage of technology.
We live in an era of globalised hyper-connectivity.
Decades ago, living abroad meant that you’d be waiting weeks for a hand-written letter to arrive if you wanted to stay in touch with your loved ones. Or you’d face breaking the bank to call long distance.
These days the technology exists to walk down a street 5,000 miles away and stream the entire experience, by video, so your family can share it live.
We’re not saying you should do that.
Frankly, we’d rather you didn’t.
But technology has progressed to the point where many of the classic homesickness symptoms can be conquered by staying connected to friends and family back home.
Ways to Stay Connected with Friends and Family Abroad:
The Internet makes staying connected easy.
It’s disconnection that is becoming the problem!
- Skype calls
- Video blogs/diaries
- And many many more social networking apps.
Technology is no substitute for time shared together in the flesh, but it keeps the people you care about anchored in to your world; part of your everyday life.
If you break off all communication with friends and family for months at time, then wonder why you are suddenly feeling homesick… well, duh.
Thanks to the Internet, we are only ever one free mobile phone alert from the people we care about.
5. Don’t wait until you ‘need’ to go home
If you’re panging for an event that you know you wouldn’t get particularly excited about if you were living in the UK, watch out: homesickness is in effect.
Nostalgia levels are rising.
Now is not the time to move home.
Now is the time to visit home.
Say, for example, you have found yourself salivating at the thought of a Wetherspoons breakfast, or that glorious Wimpy pork bender, or a ‘proper pint’.
This is bad news.
Like a mountaineer starved of oxygen, you’ve been out of your comfort zone too long.
Your brain is starting to hallucinate.
Book a trip back to the UK as soon as possible and remind yourself exactly what you’re not missing.
A better solution is to make sure you never ‘need’ to go home in the first place.
By visiting regularly enough that you see things as they really are.
And not through the nostalgia lens.
6. Take up new hobbies to associate your new home with current ambitions
One of the best ways to deal with homesickness is to snap out of Future Mode and learn to associate your current home with your current ambitions.
Many expats who’ve moved back to Britain report that they ‘knew’ it was the right time to go home because they’d stopped living in the present and started subconsciously planning for a future in Britain.
In little ways.
- Not buying that new set of plates because “I’ll be leaving in a few months anyway”.
- Not meeting new people because “I don’t plan to stay here forever”.
- Not exploring a city because “I’d rather just head to the pub with the other Brits”.
Once you slip in to this spiral, it’s game over.
Your homesickness multiplies to the point where it will suddenly rupture and catapult you arse-first through Heathrow Arrivals. Your body is waiting for a taxi, but your mind and soul already grabbed it months ago.
A great way to defeat this spiral is to associate your new home with the hobbies, pursuits and aspirations that you know are true to you.
Living abroad, it’s more important than ever that your daily routine includes activities that inspire you, that force you to learn new skills or make progress in areas of your life that are tangible and forward-thinking.
Adopt enough enjoyable hobbies and any foreign city will start to feel like home — because you’ll actually be living in it.
7. Get it all out in a journal
Keeping a daily journal is one of those pieces of advice you’ve heard a billion times before, for a number of different situations: from losing weight, to conquering an addiction, to perhaps one day having a memoir to sell.
The reason why journalling comes so highly recommended is because it works.
The process helps to clarify thoughts and internalisations, whilst reducing stress and improving your emotional wellbeing.
Journalling is a great cure for homesickness because it forces us to confront the root causes of why we feel the way we do.
The simple act of getting thoughts on a page helps us to engage with them — before they snowball in to an ugly unspoken assumption: “All my problems will heal if I just head back to Blighty.”
Remember, homesickness is an accumulation of negative feelings and emotions.
Journalling is legendary for its ability to provide a better control of both.
If you’re homesick… start a journal.
8. Plan ahead to avoid homesickness triggers
What are the events and occasions that are likely to cause homesickness?
Often we don’t consider this question until we’re feeling sorry for ourselves.
When it’s too late.
A good rule here is to ask yourself: “What would I be very sad to miss if I wasn’t back in the UK?”
Occasions to rule out:
- “Tony’s having a few drinks after work on Friday.”
- “Karen’s hosting a party with a bunch of my friends.”
- “It’s Dad’s birthday.”
While Dad is unlikely to agree, the reality is that there are plenty of events that would be ‘nice to attend’ back in the UK, but very rarely are they worth altering your life for.
However, there are some events that we can admit we’d be sad to miss:
- The Christmas period
- New Year with loved ones
- Weddings and large family gatherings
Christmas can exasperate feelings of homesickness if you are alone abroad, surrounded by happy families, while Mariah Carey blasts out of every speaker in a 10 mile radius.
Note: Yes, that happens outside the UK too!
Likewise, there are family events and occasions that really are ‘once in a lifetime’.
To fail to plan ahead and then not be able to attend a major occasion will lead to resentment, sadness and homesickness. You will feel that you are missing out; and unlike the pang for Tony’s work drinks, those feelings will be justified.
Look ahead at the next 12 months.
What don’t you want to miss?
If it’s possible… don’t miss it.
Once you’re committed to coming home for the things you truly care about, you have permission to not worry about the 1001 events that would be ‘nice but not necessary’.
This can empower you to carry on living the rest of your life abroad, free from loneliness and homesickness.
Are you suffering from homesickness whilst living abroad? Have you beaten homesickness in the past?
Let us know your tips and struggles!