Today we have a guest post by Alex Johnson from Currency UK.
You’ve spent months planning and preparing for the big move abroad. You’ve applied for visas, found a new home and schools for the kids, started learning the language and spent hours on expat forums and blogs.
Finally, you step off the plane and leap into your new life. But there’s one thing that threatens to get in the way: homesickness.
Homesickness is a very common affliction. Almost every expat experiences a twinge of nostalgia for the comforts of home. It’s very likely you’ll miss family and friends, but you might also miss your favourite foods, TV shows or familiar faces at the gym.
In its mildest form homesickness is nothing to worry about and often passes quickly. But for some people, especially very young or sensitive children, it can be severe and quite disruptive.
Fortunately, homesickness can be easily managed with a little self-care and awareness. We’ve put together some tips to help. Think of it as an expat survival kit:
1: Mentally Prepare Yourself
It’s important to prepare yourself for the reality of homesickness before you even leave home. Know that even the most unsentimental individual or hardened traveller will likely experience it.
Assume that you will – at some point – feel homesick. Then if (or more likely, when) it hits, you won’t feel blindsided.
Pack things that remind you of home; photos, letters from loved ones, a cosy blanket, favorite snack foods, magazines, perhaps a newspaper from the day you left. When you need a little pick-me-up, these items will guarantee some smiles.
Is there anyone in the Western world not yet on Facebook? Social media has made the world feel like a smaller, better connected place and it’s great for combating homesickness.
If you don’t already have an account, sign up before you leave – it’s a really easy way to keep in constant contact with friends and family all over the world. Twitter and Instagram are wonderful for this too.
Make a plan to call home once a week. Schedule Skype dates with loved ones; it’s free if you call another Skype user so you don’t have to worry about rocketing phone bills. Video chat is a blessing; there’s nothing quite like seeing a friendly face – even if it is on a screen.
3: Book Flights Home
If money and time permits, fly home when you can. Homesickness often strikes when we’re missing out – on birthdays, Christmas or other special occasions – so make these a priority for returning to familiar soil.
If you’re moving to the other side of the world you may only be able to fly home once or twice a year. Consider booking these flights well in advance, it gives you something to look forward to and will help keep homesickness at bay.
4: Don’t Wallow
Allow yourself a little time to feel homesick, but don’t wallow in your grief – it will only make you feel worse. Force yourself to get up, get dressed and get out. Join the local gym, take a class (bonus points for language classes – you might meet fellow expats), check out the tourist spots, go to the local bar… just do something fun.
5: Make New Friends
This is probably one of the most daunting prospects of moving abroad. But having a network of friends in your new country will help you integrate and settle much quicker. You’re going to have to put yourself out there.
The best way to meet new people abroad is at expat clubs. There are hundreds of these clubs all over the world; here is a list of some of them [link no longer available].
If there isn’t a club in your local area, start one. There’s bound to fellow expats looking for a badminton partner or someone to sample the local wine with.
If you want to befriend some locals, try joining an amateur sports team or signing up for yoga. Baby and toddler groups, the school playground, restaurants and cafes are also great places to meet people. Be friendly and open – people respond well to a smiley face.
6: Create a Routine
Moving abroad is an exercise in change. You’ll notice differences in almost every area of your life. Your working hours, eating habits and social life may change. The way you shop, do chores and run errands (like seeing the doctor or getting a haircut) might differ. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
If you can settle into a routine, you’ll soon feel much more comfortable. Especially important is a set routine for sleeping and eating. Try to go to bed and wake at the same time every day (at least during the work week) and have set times for meals. This will be particularly helpful if you have children.
Work and school will determine how you spend much of your day, but plan some activities for the evening and weekends. According to Ryan Rivera, writing for the Go Overseas blog, “Research shows that those that feel they’re in more control suffer from less homesickness stress.”
It’s natural – and healthy – to feel a little homesick, but it shouldn’t ruin the experience of a lifetime. Following our tips above will help reduce the impact of homesickness and ensure your move abroad is a smooth one. For more advice on integrating into a new community, read this post.