Homesickness can be a serious downer in the face of all your globe-trotting and passport-stamping. There you are, eating gelato while looking at the Leaning Tower of Pisa and allofasudden you’re overwhelmed with a desire for some mall food and a matinee with your best friend.
There’s not one-size-fits-all, airtight cure for homesickness, but these tips have helped through five years of living abroad and 35 countries.
Ways to Cure Homesickness
Stay in touch with people from home.
No, I mean really stay in touch with them. Not just the ‘once a month’ update stay in touch, but the ‘several times a week, hey remember how I told you about that guy?’ stay in touch.
This will really help ease you into your new home, before you’ve made any new friends or really gotten accustomed to your surroundings. It is not an exaggeration to say that when I move to a new place, my best friend can expect daily emails, detailing the new food I’ve eaten, my most recent cultural faux pas and the caliber of fashion in my new home.
Good friends will probably be really excited/intrigued by your new adventure and email you back pretty quickly. You won’t feel so alone in this strange new place, knowing that someone knows exactly what you’re up to.
Think about what you’re really homesick for
Are you homesick for your friends? Your family? Food, language, weather, hobbies?
Of course, you probably miss all of these things in varying amounts, but it can be helpful to parcel them out and decide what you miss the most. If you really miss your friends and family, Facetime ’em.
Find an expat group, travel somewhere that has the snow/beaches/maple trees that you’ve been missing, find some restaurants that serve a reasonable facsimile of your homeland’s food.
Create a go-to homesickness ‘first-aid kit’
When you feel a bout of homesickness coming on (mine usually came around 2 pm on overcast Sundays) turn to your fail proof treatment. This might be a comfort food from home coupled with familiar TV shows or movies and a call home. Or it might be a visit to a mall or an ice skating rink or a national park.
When I was living in Taiwan, my triage plan was 1) go to the import store and buy refried beans and salsa a) eat burritos with Tamara while watching SATC c) go to the upscale bookstore and pay $7 for a copy of Glamour. This got me through the two typhoon seasons.
Try to push through it
I think it’s also important not to indulge your homesickness too much. Just as we often sugarcoat our time abroad, it’s easy to view home through rose colored glasses and lose sight of all the amazing things going on around you.
Get out an explore your new home, even if it’s just for a few hours at a time. Limit yourself to a few phone calls per week and one session of emailing per day. Try not to compare this new place to home. More likely than not, they’re apples and oranges.
Realize that homesickness is an unavoidable part of travel
Just like there will be days where you hate your job and nights when you question your decision to be with your partner, there will be times that you are fed up with being away from home.
You can’t read the signs, everyone stares at you and you can’t find clothes that fit to save your life. That being said, I know that one of the proudest days in my life was the day that I had to send in my passport to get more pages added.
You never hear people say “God, you know I really wish I hadn’t spent that summer volunteering in Greece.” Travel isn’t always easy, but if you realize that there will be tough days, you will be less likely to take them to heart.
And you can always, always go home.
What would you recommend, friends? How do you deal with homesickness?
We all have Christmas lists, right? Chock full of stuff and non-stuff and maybe a new Wii. Here’s my list of unwrappable, slightly unpurchasable things that I’d like for Christmas. In event that you haven’t bought me anything yet, any of these will do.
The ability to speak and understand any language
Yeah, I know I asked for this for my birthday, but nobody bucked up and got it for me. C’mon guys. This would be mighty handy with travel looming on my horizon. It would also help me live out my personal fantasy in which I overhear someone running their mouth in another language and I calmly (and shockingly!) respond in their language. With one eyebrow raised and intense eye contact. Ooooh.
Hang time with Little Sister Yes and Yes
A month after my return to the states, Little Sister Yes and Yes packed her worldly belongings into a tiny car and drove herself down to Phoenix. And while I envy her weather these days, I do miss the girl. So, sis. Let’s meet somewhere in the middle and hang for a week, eh? I will even bring some of Grandma’s chocolate/peanut butter/Ritz cookies. Or I’ll bring them and try not to eat them on the way.
A White Christmas
This will be my first non-tropical, Northern Hemisphere Christmas in four years. If it is not positively snow-filled, I am taking my toys and playing elsewhere. Possibly Bolivia.
Several Calm, Drama-Free Months
The next four or five months of my life are shaping up to be, well, rife with plans and changes and Big Important Decisions. I am 80% excited, 20% pukey about this. So here’s hoping that it all goes as well as possible.
Giselle Bundchen’s Jawline
So. I come from a long line of button-nosed blonds. And while we have been blessed with nice feet and good calves, DNA has not smiled on us in terms on jawlines. Friends, I fear there is a waddle in my future. I think I have a few good years left, as the waddle traditionally arrives in tandem with our 35th birthdays, but I’ve been preparing by compulsively applying neck cream every night and developing a method to suck in my jawline. So if anyone has Giselle’s number and knows if she’d be willing to share the love, hook a sister up, kay?
What un-wrappable things do you want this Christmas?
So. I teach ESL to southeast Asian refugees. I love my job. I do. It’s amazing and humbling and I spend a good deal of time playing bingo and teaching chants about ‘be’ verbs. It’s a pretty sweet gig.
Several of my students are KaRen, an ethnic minority from eastern Burma. In the past fifty years, the KaRen have made several attempts to lead insurgencies against the military dictatorship and failed. When these attempts failed, the military began to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the country of KaRen, forcing more than 120,000 of them into refugee camps along the Thailand-Burma border.Though only intended for temporary use, many refugee camps housed KaRen for 10-15 years. The camps are halfway between a shanty town and a prison, where refugees live in tents or huts, aren’t allowed to leave the camp without a permit and aren’t taught the language of their host country. Refugees bide their time until they are allocated to a new host country, something that they often have no say in.
This is the history of my students. Now that they have been in Minnesota for a few months, they know how to take the bus and where they can buy coconut milk. They’ve experienced snow and escalators are officially old news. Now that they’re experts on American life, they get quite excited at the prospect of new students who they can surely ‘break in’ and impress with their knowledge of this cold, new place. They were all a’fluster when I told them on Monday that we’d be getting new students the next day.
On Tuesday, I ushered three demure KaRen women into the classroom when one of my students jumped out of his seat and started yelling … because thousands of miles away, years ago, in the mountains of Thailand, they all lived in the same camp. And now here they were again, in my tiny classroom in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Needless to say, I had to busy myself with my dry erase markers for several minutes so I wouldn’t weep over the joy of it all.
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