You’ve arrived you’re living the dream and then it hits you. This strange unknown feeling, that comes from out of the blue from nowhere and threatens to swallow your every positive thought. You find yourself missing your family and friends more than you ever thought were possible. Suddenly old Aunt Dottie round the corner, become your most favourite aunt with her quaint and eccentric mannerisms. Your sister’s dreadful brats suddenly become the most adorable little angels and you long to plaster them in slobbering kisses and hugs. In the early months, the feelings of homesickness will arise and you will miss the familiarity of all that you knew. Suddenly this huge adventure may feel rather overwhelming.
Before you book yourself into your GP and pay a hefty fee for trying to figure out what is wrong with you, I think I may be able to help. This huge force you are feeling has a name and that name is none other than good old fashioned, ‘Homesickness’.
Homesickness is defined as a ‘longing for home and family when you are absent from them’. You may recall it as a young child going off to school for the first time and longing to be back home or those early days at university when you had spent years thinking that you wanted to be rid of your nagging parents only to find yourself missing the comforts of home life. Well I’m afraid to say that moving yourself across the world is going to stir up some similar emotions in you even though this is a move you had planned for and desperately wanted. It is no use trying to ignore these feelings or see them as a sense of failing in any way. In fact, it is extremely important that you acknowledge these feelings of homesickness — because that is all they are and there are ways to overcome them.
Homesickness occurs when there is a sudden, extreme change even when we have been preparing and thinking about these changes for several months and even years before hand. These huge changes affect the way we think about ourselves and in essence it is just as if we are starting again — a new life in some ways with the bare bones in which we have to build the flesh around. It makes us face who we are and what we are here on this earth for. It is suddenly a scary place that we haven’t had to confront for a while and if these feelings are left unchecked, they can lead to huge bouts of depression. Suddenly all those changes you thought you wanted leave you in uncharted territory. You have by your own actions taken yourself out of your secure, comfort zone and transported yourself into a stressful one and into unknown territory.
When you move to a new environment you will naturally find yourself longing for the comforts of what you know. If you go into any migrants home you will notice that they will attempt to re-create the home style that was familiar in their old home. For example, I have a Portuguese friend, who had settled in the UK, but had everything familiar to her from Portugal. When she stepped into her home, for her it was like being back in Portugal. So you may wonder why move across the world to recreate what you left behind. It is just an inherent feature, a human flaw in some ways, which causes us to prefer this comfort and security zone. Creating these objects of familiarity around you, helps to reassure your brain and creates a sense of safety and well being and that’s why one of the first things we do when unpacking is to hang photo’s, pictures and ornaments that evoke a sense of attachment and belonging. Think back to this period and how you placed everything in your new home. Is it the way you had it in your old home? Homesickness just draws up these feelings of a sense of safety and security.
The way that you cope with homesickness is going to play a huge part in the final stages of your emigration journey and it is important that you acknowledge these feelings. Homesickness is a normal reaction in response to losing something familiar. It brings on a longing for places family and friends left behind that remind us of our security and comfort zones. At these times, many migrants start to experience a strong sense of national identity and pride in the country that they have left behind. They develop a strong sense of Britishness and reminiscence about Blighty.
One way to overcome this is to stay in regular contact with old friends and family back home. Skype has made this so easy and this contact can lessen any feelings of homesickness. Every once in a while do something to remind you of home to help boost your spirits; in doing so it is important to remember not to idealize. Perhaps read a copy of the newspaper from your country of origin to remember the things you don’t miss. Most importantly of all adopt an open mind where possible. It is important to remember that in order to get the most out of your new experiences you must maintain a positive frame of mind and remain open and objective. This will help in settling down and becoming comfortable and integrating in a much shorter period of time.
So if you find yourself suffering from the first attacks of homesickness here’s my handy little cures.
Keeping in touch with other expats abroad
Being part of a network of others who have been and come out on the other end can be just what you Will need at this stage to get through any bout of homesickness. By developing a bond With others who have experienced what you are experiencing and who have made it out unscathed on the other end will help you to manage these feelings.
Create Routines and Habits
We are creatures of habit and even though we may at times believe that we don’t like these ‘boring routines’, having a pattern of things you do regularly will create a sense of settling down. Doing your shopping on a regular day, meeting up with a friend or joining a regular class are all part of the process of settling into your new environment.
Find familiar things around you
It’s natural to miss things from your home country and that’s why there are many successful local shops that have been started up by migrants all over the world. They realize the need for providing this type of familiar products. Just look around your local UK shops, here in London there are stores that cater for Polish, African and Caribbean people, to name a few. Individuals from those countries still want to eat and drink products that are familiar to them and they will seek out those items that are familiar in order to create a sense of home for them. It happens all over the world, just walk around any main town in Spain and you will see the ‘English breakfast’ and ‘Roast Dinners’ being offered as having this sense of familiarity helps migrants to settle in.
Now, I’m not for a moment saying don’t integrate and try the local fare and products and in fact you will by the law of economics have to adjust to using new products which you may even come to like, but there is no harm in finding your nearest local stocker of UK products. Just a trip to pop in to your local stocker and see the familiar offerings of Bisto and Heinz Baked Beans on the shelf can restore a sense of balance again. We often did just that when such feelings of homesickness started to prevail. We would have a chat with the owner, who was originally from the UK and
had lived in the town for over 20 years. She saw the mche many years ago and saw the need to help fellow migrants to obtain that little sense of ‘back home’. Don’t underestimate small things such as this in helping you to cope with homesickness.
If these pangs of sadness and feelings of missing loved ones continue to prevail, then it may be wise to recall the minute details of why you have chosen to leave in the first place. Revisiting that checklist of reasons you prepared at the start of this process may be what is needed and to change the images that you hold in your head of the UK.
It is time to drop all those romantic notions of log fires in cosy pubs, replace the image with queues to enter your local UK restaurant for a quick meal, queue for a table and pay pumped up prices for soggy veg and a glass of wine.
Forget notions of having a wide range of top UK stores replace with busy, congested shopping centres where you have to queue to park, and queue to pay at the tills.
Give way to notions of the thriving economy of London replace with tube strikes, congestion charges, high cost of living, over priced housing, smog and pollution, limited school places, overstretched health care. The list could go on. Many leave Britain for reasons of ‘dissatisfaction with the lifestyle’ so it may come as a surprise when you find yourself defending Britain at the first given opportunity and you need to stop and take a swift reality check.
It is now time to adjust those rose tinted glasses and time to adjust to your new life.
- Have a read of a UK newspaper – the Daily Mail may just be enough to bring you back to a sense of reality.
- Telephone or Skype a friend and ask what the weather is like.
- Speak to your ex-work colleagues and see if they are saying the same things they were when you left.
- Take a swift reality check — there’s no other way!
Remember that emigration is not just about changing countries, it’s about reinvention of you and you are the master painter with a blank sheet of canvas, so get out your brush and start creating what you see ahead for yourself. Instead of focusing on what you have lost, remind yourself of all the exciting and unique opportunities you have gained.
I’m Jenny and I whilst I love being an expat in Auckland I could not find any reliable advice or guides online from someone who had actually made the move to New Zealand. So I decided to create this blog which offers free advice for expats by an expat. Hopefully you will find everything you’re looking for (and what I wish I knew before) here but if you can’t please do contact us.