If you’ve ever packed up and left home for more than a holiday, you might have experienced a sudden feeling of grief triggered by a million things you miss… even things you never thought you would.
One moment you are totally exhilarated by all the new and exciting things happening your life - the next, your mum is on speed-dial and you just want to be back in a familiar setting. Homesickness can strike at the most unexpected times.
I’ve been living abroad for 7 years so far. It started with a semester abroad, turned into a Masters abroad, and finally a whole life abroad. I’ve extended both the time as well as the distance away from home; starting with moving to a different country, a different continent and finally to the other side of the world.
So it’s safe to say I know a thing or two about homesickness, and how to cope when times get tough!
Here are my top six tips for dealing with homesickness. This is how I’ve lived abroad for seven years without losing my incredibly close ties with my loved ones back home in Germany.
1) Customs & traditions
Introduce your favourite customs and traditions to your new home - your new social environment will love you for it! You bring something new to their lives while sharing something that’s close to your heart, which is exciting for both of you and lets you share something personal that will bring you closer together. For example, I introduced ‘St. Nicholas Day’ to my flatmates in London, while my friends from Canada invited me for regular Thanksgiving dinners in New Zealand. Share the love and the celebration! It’s a win-win!
2) Photos & decorations
This might not be for everyone but I DO love ‘homemaking’. The first thing I do when moving into a new place is to somehow make it feel like ‘home’. There, you’ve got it! Nothing makes me feel more at home than putting up photos of all my friends and family and sprinkling my favourite decoration pieces all over my room, flat or house. As well as my favourite pieces of clothing, I’ve always shipped one box of my favourite photos and decorations to every new place I’ve moved to. Trust me, the transformation is magical.
3) Home visits & shared holidays
This tip is kind of obvious but I think it’s important to remember, so I have to mention it. Planning regular home visits (even if it is just once a year) breaks up the time you are apart from all your loved ones back home and gives you something to look forward to. If you can’t go home regularly because it’s too far away or too expensive, try and plan shared holidays with your friends and family in other destinations. For example, I’ve caught up with friends in Asia before because it’s pretty much halfway between Germany and New Zealand. We got to spend some amazing quality time together while both being on holiday and sharing costs for flights!
You don’t have to be a passionate cook for this one but your favourite food from back home is bound to make you feel good! I for one can’t live without a good German sausage or some decent bread! Sometimes I crave these delicious treats so desperately that I’d consider jumping on a 24 hour flight! Luckily I’ve found both a German butcher and German-style bakery in New Zealand, which saves me the horrendous journey and still lets me enjoy what I miss so much. I also love having German style breakfasts on the weekends or to cook my favourite meals for dinner. Never fails to make me feel at home :)
5) Fellow expats
Surround yourself with other fellow expats! No one will ever understand better what it means to live a life far away from home than people who are in the same situation. No matter what nationality they are themselves, they know how you feel and can relate to you not only in your darkest hours but also in times of endless excitement about the new life you are creating for yourself.
A lot of the fellow expats I’ve met over the past few years are now my closest friends. This is not just because they are incredibly amazing and inspiring human beings, but also because we chose each other in terms of all the things we have in common. Living a similar kind of life often means that you have a very similar kind of mindset which facilitates forming the closest bonds through mutual understanding, support and appreciation for each other. You choosing each other within the similar and challenging situation you are in makes you form bonds for life that will help you conquer even the most severe feelings of homesickness.
Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype, you name it! Use all that’s available to you, as often as you can. The more the better. It’s not just about staying connected but about using these platforms to spend quality time. For the five years I’ve been living in NZ, I’ve had regular weekly Skype catch ups with both my family and my best friends.
I used to spend up to two hours every single Sunday catching up with my parents and siblings back home. Them sitting on the sofa while my face was displayed on the family TV talking about all the small and big things that had happened the past week. If you do have these catch ups regularly you realise how much actually does happen within only one week. It’s the little setbacks and victories that you experience every day that make your daily life what it is. If you only check in once a month these small important things might be lost and you might even think back on your past four weeks and feel like “nothing happened/nothing changed” - but if you do check in regularly (even if it’s not once a week) you ensure that you keep these close ties where every little detail of your life remains important to the other person which helps you stay connected despite any physical distance.
On this point as well, I don’t just catch up with people, I try to spend virtual quality time by planning shared virtual activities. These can be as tiny or as big as you want. I find nothing more comforting than brushing teeth with my little sister in front of Skype, having a coffee date with my mum or having dinner with my dad. I sometimes even arrange to watch a movie with my sibling where we both have the laptop up while watching the same movie on our TVs talking and laughing about it together as if we are in the same place. I once even joined an entire Christmas dinner with my family because I couldn’t fly home to be with them. Thanks to technology, you really are only ever a phone call or a message away - this is what me, my friends and family still tell each other and what I cherish like nothing else. “True friends are never apart. Maybe in distance but never at heart.”
Some of you might think that regular catch ups are hard to arrange, especially when you are living across continents, having to deal with the most frustrating thing in the universe called time difference! Let me tell you, time difference is a biatch that does make staying connected to your life and loved ones back home a whole lot harder, but if you look at it as a challenge, I promise you you feel an endless amount of gratification once you nip that sucker in the bud! Don’t let it put you off. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You can do it!
Author - Natalie Gruner
A travel girl at heart, Nat co-created Travelher and is currently working remotely on a few different projects from her homeland, Germany. She is planning to settle in New Zealand in the near future, while building a more flexible life for herself that allows her to live in paradise without compromising regular home visits and continuous globetrotting.