Kids away at camp experience it. People on a long vacation may feel twinges of it. Almost every expat battles it at one time or another. Homesickness. Simply defined as "longing for home and family while absent from them", homesickness affects some expats severely enough to cause them to move home. Ranging from mild to severe, feelings of dread, helplessness, and anxiety are common.
The knowledge that most people experience homesickness can help. Realize you are not alone and that others have successfully overcome the feeling. It's natural to experience these sensations, you just need to avoid letting it take over your life.
If you know what you are getting in to, you are better prepared to deal with it. Research the norms of the place you are moving to.
- What kind of visas are necessary?
- Do you have the right to work?
- What kind of schools are available?
- What's the climate like?
- Are their holidays and celebrations similar to where you come from?
- Where do you shop for groceries?
Work on adjusting your expectations to adapt to a new place. Not everything is going to be perfect. Some things will be better than where you come from, and some things will be worse. Lots of things will simply be different. It is in your best interest to try to avoid comparisons and accept things as being done another way. Changing your mind frame can be as important as the geographic move.
If you don't have time to feel homesick - you won't. Get involved in your new life in every way possible. The benefits are twofold, you can gain skills and experience while finding a social network. A new social circle can be the perfect guide through your new life. Options include:
- Work - More than just a way to make money, employment provides a instant community. This is a place where you can find value in yourself and your abilities and re-develop your confidence.
- Volunteer - Work visas can be difficult to obtain and some places have high unemployment that makes finding a job impossible. Volunteering is possible almost anywhere and can offer a great outlet for your energy, and a positive outcome for the community.
- Sports/Gym - Joining a gym, local sports team, or exercise classes is a great way to improve yourself physically and make friends.
- Children's Groups - Children can be the gateway drug of making new friends in a new place. Meet-up with people through their school, parent groups, or children's play groups.
- Classes - Adult classes are the perfect way to find a group of people with similar interests. Whether it be art classes, dance, or cooking you can meet people and gain a skill. If you are in a place where there is a different native tongue - language classes can help you connect with the populace in and out of the classroom.
- Party! Attend every party, social engagement, or gathering. You've already moved abroad, this is a good time to try something different within your social circle as well.
Now that you know you aren't the only person struggling, verbalize what exactly you miss. Talk to your partner, children, or expat friends and share your feelings. Even complain a bit. It's common to feel vulnerable in a new place and uncomfortable. Once you've released these feelings, do your best to identify the biggest issues and resolve what problems you can.
- If you speak a different language, you will naturally fell a bit alienated. Learn the language as soon as possible to connect with the people around you. Also observe local holidays, customs, and celebrations to fit in.
- Connect with home through e-mail, Skype, Google Chat, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Share pictures of your adventures and ask for friends and family to send you theirs. We are lucky to live in a day and age in which we are able to interact with people all over the world.
- Decorate your home as soon as possible. Put up some pictures, paint your favorite colors, and personalize your space.
- Schedule a theme night where you cook food from home, watch a movie/tv show, and reveal in what makes your home country special. You can also connect with expats in your new country and share in joint festivities
It is important to hold on to these pieces of your culture as they are part of your identity. During this time of transition, a loss of identity can be stressful. Be proud of who you are and relish the opportunity to be different. Embrace who you are, where you are from, and all the new things in your life.
A major part of the adjustment is the passage of time. Give yourself at least six months to start to feel comfortable, although it may take longer to feel like home. Many expats report that it takes years to feel truly adjusted, and even then you may still be the odd man out from time to time. Such are the wonders and troubles of the life of an expat.