If you’ve ever been an long-term expat or even lived in another country for a couple of months, it’s highly likely (okay, basically 100% guaranteed) that you’ve experienced homesickness in one way or another.
Coping with homesickness as an expat is inherently difficult, as you’re effectively trying to establish a new “home” in another place and it can be all very emotionally confusing and enough to make you want to rip your hair out/cry/sit in your room and never go out again.
I have struggled with homesickness as an expat to varying degrees, no matter how long I’ve lived in another country, and I have to say that I don’t think it every truly has gone away. There is also a twinge of homesickness there, and I don’t think the answer is to try to overcome homesickness as an expat, but rather to learn how to cope with homesickness as an expat.
These are my top tips on dealing with homesickness as an expat that I’ve discovered over the years, but I’d love for you to share your own below!
1. Set up regular times to talk
Part of homesickness is missing the connection to your friends and family back home. I’ve found that the time difference makes it much worse, as there have been so many times when I just felt I needed to call somebody, but because of the time difference, they were in the middle of a work or school day.
That is one of the worst feelings in the world, and to combat this the best thing to do is to set up regular times to talk to people back home. This could be a regularly schedule Skype call, phone call, or even just a Facebook chat, but make sure that you have a schedule so that you know you can always look forward to it.
It will also help you to not feel like you constantly need to be Skyping or on the phone with people back home. If you know when you’re going to talk to them next, you can go out and live your life with the comfort of knowing that you will be able to tell your stories and anecdotes of what happened in your day to someone later on.
It also prevents you from what I call ‘panic-calling,’ where you basically get so overwhelmed with homesickness that you’re just panic dialing any single person who will answer you back home. You can work through these moments better if you know you can look forward to talking to them tomorrow or the next day or what have you.
2. Always have your next trip planned
This has helped me to cope with homesickness as an expat SO MUCH. I almost always like to have two trips booked at a time so I don’t return from a trip home to then wonder when I’ll be back next.
I know this isn’t always the easiest depending on your work schedule or circumstances, but this has made a huge difference in helping me adjust to my life in a new country while also knowing exactly what dates I’ll be traveling and seeing people in my home country. There’s something just so mentally freeing about not having to worry about when you’ll see them next.
If you can’t actually book two trips ahead of time, at least have a general idea of when you’re planning on coming back the next time.
3. Work harder to make friends in your new home
I know that making friends as an expat is hard. It really is. But if you put yourself out there more and work a bit harder at it, you’ll start to make friends in your new/current home, and suddenly that will make it a much happier place to be.
If you’ve moved somewhere and literally know no one, join some groups based on your interest. Or take an interest in your coworker’s lives so at least you can have friendly people to talk to at work.
Join a religious club if you’re religious, join a sports team if you like being active, or join one of many Meet Up groups that you can find that are just for the purpose of making friends.
And don’t forget – in many instances, you won’t be the only one looking for friends. There will be other people who have just moved to the are that may be from that home culture, but aren’t from that geographical area. Push yourself out of your comfort zone to talk to people and try and establish bonds.
I have a couple really good friends in my new country that have made being here so much easier, especially when I need someone to talk to in person who isn’t my husband (love him, but still – you need more than one person!)
4. Adjust your definition of “home”
Part of the trouble with homesickness as an expat is the ultimately confusing thoughts that go through your head about where “home” is. In some ways, you can feel like you have no home at all if you’ve been away from your home country for a while and don’t feel like you fit in in your new country.
I would encourage you to be a lot more flexible with your idea of “home.” Sure, you have a home where you grew up and when you go there and look around, it will feel like “home,” but what if you went there and none of your friends or family were there? Would it still be home?
Surely you have a house or an apartment that you live in in your new country – that’s your home too!
I find it hard to take the “home is everywhere and nowhere” approach, so I try and stick to the “home is everywhere” thought process. Home is where you live now, it is where you lived in the past, it is where your friends and family are, even if that’s far away from where you are now. Home is a concept, not an actual place that you can always pick out on the map.
Once you embrace the idea that you can have more than one home, even if they feel slightly different, the “homesickness” lets up a bit because you don’t spend all of your time feeling like you’re missing your one, true home.
5. Be honest about it
It can be difficult to open up about feelings of homesickness, as it feels a bit like something that only plagues children at summer camp. It sounds like a childish word, but really, it’s one of the biggest obstacles that expats face of all ages, and you should feel comfortable discussing it with the people closest to you.
You are not pathetic or weak or “not adjusting” because you have feelings of homesickness. You are not ungrateful or whiny. You’re going through a normal part of expat life, and there are plenty of people who would be happy to talk to you about their experiences with it if you just reach out in expat circles or in online expat groups.
Another option is to go talk to a therapist or counselor, particularly ones used to dealing with expats. They can help confirm that your feelings are completely normal and not something to be ashamed or afraid of. I haven’t gone to a therapist for expat homesickness yet, but if it got to the point where I felt I needed to talk to a professional about it, I would absolutely go.
Their whole job is to help you deal with your emotions and give you the tools you need to cope with homesickness in a more positive way, so take advantage of their expertise.
6. Write down a list of things you like about where you live
Something as simple as a gratitude journal can make a big difference in your feelings of homesickness. It can be super small things, too, if you can’t quite muster up the energy to feel grateful for the bigger changes that are maybe contributing to your homesickness in the first place.
If there is a day of nice weather, comment on how great it is that there are days like this where you live. If someone does something nice for you, make it a point to thank them and remind yourself that there are nice people where you live.
Maybe there’s a band coming to your new town that would have never come to your old town, or maybe there’s a type of food that’s much better in your current country than in your home country.
Whatever the positive things are, acknowledge them in a way that makes them stick out in your mind and gives you something hopeful to cling on to rather than going through all of the things you perceive as negative.
7. Learn the local language
If you’ve moved to a country where they speak a completely different language to you, you should get yourself in language classes ASAP to start learning the basics. For instance, if you’re an expat in Mexico and you don’t speak Spanish beyond “hola!” then it’s time to get learning, mi amigo.
Language is communication, and learning how to talk to the locals is going to be your key to making friends and feeling like you belong, even if you just speak enough to get by at the grocery store.
This also goes for people to a country that speaks a different dialect than you, whether that’s someone from the US moving to the UK or Australia, or someone from Mexico moving to Spain. Even if the basics of your languages are the same, there are going to be different phrases and local slang that you should really try and understand to help you feel more at ease.
It sounds daunting at first, but if you put effort in each and every day, over time you’ll be able to communicate in ways you never thought possible when you first moved.
If you keep yourself in a bubble of just speaking with people who speak the same language as you in your new country, you’ll find yourself in a bubble of expat isolation and that’s never a good thing.
8. Evaluate if it becomes more permanent
If your feelings of homesickness are so strong that they feel overwhelming every day and you find it difficult to go about your normal schedule, you need to really take a step back and evaluate whether you might be suffering from expat depression or if you need to make a change in your current situation.
I have had days where I just want to lie in bed and be homesick, but these days are far outnumbered by “normal” days where I go about my routine and can cope with any feelings of homesickness that come up.
If that isn’t you, you need to have a serious look at whether being an expat in this pariticular situation is right for your mental health. Sometimes you don’t have a choice if you’re moving with your partner, for instance, but other times it’s okay to say “Hey, I tried this, and it wasn’t for me.”
Find the balance between prioritizing your happiness and “new adventures” and know when it might be time to find a new adventure or take a different path.
Have you dealt with feelings of homesickness as an expat? Let me know your top tips for coping below!