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Is Tough Love the Best Medicine for Homesickness?

Homesickness, it’s a feeling many, if not all of us have felt at some point in our lives — as a kid at summer camp, as a student living away from home for the first time, or a backpacker traveling the world. Homesickness is a universal emotion which also affects entrepreneurs on business trips, and of course expats. A longing for home, that can vary in severity and intensity, it is a state of mind that can impact your experience abroad in the most negative ways… that is, if you let it.

There Is No Place Like Home

At its core homesickness can be linked to different risk factors, from having little experience away from home, to moving to a country with a significant cultural difference to that of your home country. Attitude is another key risk factor that can lead to homesickness, especially in combination with bad first impressions and negative expectations of your new country. The good news is that, while you can’t change the cultural contrasts between your home and host country, your attitude is something you do have control over. As the cliché goes, every cloud has a silver lining, so remember to have an open mind. It’s time to stop feeling sorry for yourself and think positively!

Don’t Judge

One of the worst things that many expats do when moving abroad for the first time is comparing their new home to their old home. Maybe they do things a little differently here, maybe people act and engage with each other in different ways: it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means that its different. But that’s why you moved abroad, right? To experience a different culture, a new way of life? So why not embrace it, appreciate it, celebrate it, laugh at the quirks, and acknowledge the differences?

The worst thing you can do is judge a culture, a society, a community before really understanding it, before giving it a chance. Of course, at first it might be tough to adapt to things abroad, to new customs, social norms, even to the new foods. But, if you are open to these things from the very beginning you’ll probably find that you get used to them in no time at all. When you go home, you might even start to miss these things.

No Friends… Now What?

Moving to a new country where you don’t know anyone is difficult. Building a support network is an important, and challenging, aspect of starting your life abroad. One thing you have to remember is that people will not necessarily come to you. You have to find them — be brave, strike up a conversation, and remember to be yourself. Join a sports club, accept that invitation for after work drinks with your colleagues, or simply get chatting in the break room. Speak up, be heard, and make yourself present in conversations.

You might be really lucky and meet your future best friend the first week you arrive, but if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. In some cases, people may seem a bit unwelcoming, and sometimes they may come across as downright rude. However, it’s important you don’t let that put you off — you will find friends, but its up to you to take the initiative. Don’t let yourself be the victim of your own self-pity, either. Think positive, and if you come across a group of people who you might not get along with, just move on, don’t waste time holding on to negativity.

Of course, it can be hard, especially if you’re a shy person in a room full of loud voices, but sometimes it helps to push yourself. Make the effort and don’t expect to be best friends straight away. Give people a chance, let them get to know you and understand that they might be different from you. Just because you have different opinions or hobbies, does not mean you won’t and can’t get on.

Time to Cut the (Phone) Cord

Homesickness is of course linked to missing your loved ones you left behind back home. On the one hand it is so important that you maintain regular contact with your friends and family, you want to know what is going on in their lives and they want to make sure you are happy and safe. But take it from someone who knows: calling your parents, your friends, or whoever it maybe, every day to have a two-hour long conversation about your day, and how different things are abroad, and how much you miss them, will not help you overcome your homesickness, especially during the first few weeks of your move.

It’s time to accept that you are abroad and that your life is a little different now. You should be out experiencing your new city, meeting new people, and making memories you can later share with your loved ones back home. Trust me, they would much rather you missed a few calls because you’re out with your new friends than hear how miserable you are.

When it comes to homesickness the most important thing to remember is that you have the power. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, missing your friends back home, or complaining about aspects of your life abroad that you cannot change, try looking at the positive things of life abroad, and take responsibility for your own mind set. Take the tough love approach and look forward, not back.

Know Your Limits

Of course, in some severe cases of homesickness, often linked to preexisting mental health issues, or witnessing trauma while abroad, the notion that a positive mindset will offer some relief is naïve and burying your head in the sand is not a wise decision. If your homesickness is becoming too much to bare, its time to seek help. Mental health problems can have a negative affect on your life and is not something to ignore.

If you find that you have tried your best, been brave, and pushed yourself, but there is still an intense sadness and longing for home, don’t hesitate to reach out, perhaps to a friend, a colleague, someone back home, or, if necessary, someone who is trained to deal with mental health issues. Speak up and be heard and you will find that those around you will try their best to support you.



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Caroline Hayes

"Through InterNations we've met a couple of friendly expat families in Algiers - it's a great platform to share experiences abroad!"

Jonathan Brown

"We had problems to find the right school for our kids (6 and 9 years old). Talking to fellow expats on InterNations was a great help!"

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