[Collaborative post with Allianz Care]
With St. Patrick’s Day just gone, I’ve been thinking of home a lot. Big occasions like that can bring on bouts of homesickness for all of us living abroad, whether we are new to the scene or here for almost 16 years, as I am. Equally, banal moments like hearing a particular song or a turn of phrase can have you longing for the faces and places you miss. There are times when I think we should just up sticks and head back to Ireland, but then the moment passes and life goes on happily again in my adopted home here in Germany.
For anyone who was looking forward to working and living abroad, homesickness as an expat can come as a surprise, and not a good one, but it is not uncommon. In fact it is normal to miss what you know. If you have only recently moved abroad to work, homesickness can make settling in to a new country much more difficult. For many expats, homesickness can be a contributory factor in their decision to repatriate.
If this is hitting home with you, don’t despair just yet. I can assure you – and I have had years of practice at this – that there are ways of getting through it. Allianz Care has come up with several steps you can take to help deal with any feelings of homesickness you may be experiencing without making the drastic decision to return home and I have elaborated on them below.
Live in your new home mentally
Language matters. If you still refer to the place you live in abroad as ‘the apartment’ then chances are you have yet to fully settle in. Bring as many comforts from your last home as you can, so your expat accommodation feels familiar. Then, try calling it ‘home’. Although it may not feel like it at first, in time it should. Make it a place you want to be and in which you feel comfortable.
Acknowledge your feelings
A useful way to deal with homesickness as an expat is to acknowledge your feelings. Start with some self-reflection: journaling can really help with this. Think or – and I find this more helpful – write about why you are feeling homesick. The root cause may be:
• Missing friends and family
• Stress or anxiety as a result of moving to a new country, new job, new language
It may well be a combination of all three. Once you have worked that out, think about ways you can alleviate those feelings. I have found that joining in with local events really helps, be that yoga class, sports or whever happens to be available locally. Planning a visit home can help in perking you up too and improving your feedlings.
Meet new people
Although it may seem overwhelming at first, meeting new people in your new home will help deal with homesickness. I might seem like no-one can replace the friends and family that you are missing, but believe me, in the four countries I have lived in outside of Ireland, meeting new people has always helped. So where do you meet people? Well, there are the obvious options like joining a sports team or taking a language class, but what if you are too busy to commit to regular training sessions and classes? Other options include joining one of the many expat forums or expat groups around, allowing you to meet other expats and locals on an ad-hoc basis for group activities from wine-tasting to rock climbing.
Use technology…but not too much
Technology, while working as an expat abroad, can be your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to settling in. It is a brilliant way to stay in touch with family and friends at home on a regular basis, but social media can make you feel more aware of what you are ‘missing out on’ too. Nights out, birthdays and family reunions can be hard to watch from a distance. FOMO will find you. Keep in mind that social media is a highlights reel of life and in reality you may not be missing out on as much as you think.
Plan trips home
Getting home to see family and friends in person is crucial to the long-term success of the expat experience. Try and book trips home at regular intervals or at least for the most important occasions, like religious holidays or milestone birthdays.
Take care of yourself
When you first move to a new country and don’t really know anyone, it can be very easy to slip into unhealthy routines. Staying at home every evening and watching TV can be nice in the short term, but after a few weeks it is likely to have an impact on both your physical and mental health.
Reduce your chances of having to deal with homesickness through exercise. The endorphins will help keep feelings of homesickness at bay and help your overall lifestyle.
If you find yourself struggling with feelings of homesickness, it may help to talk to someone. Allianz Care expat health insurance plans include an Expat Assistance Program, which provides a confidential and professional 24/7 multilingual support service that can help expats and dependents address a wide range of life issues and challenge.
[This is a collaborative post. All images are my own work.]