Living abroad is packed with exciting adventures and endless possibilities. Sometimes, however, immersing yourself in a new culture and a new life can be overwhelming and stressful. After living abroad in six different countries, this is something that I have experienced over and over again, despite generally dealing with culture shock well.
It does not matter where you are living or how long you have been there, homesickness may creep up on you when you least expect it. It can affect even the most flexible travelers who adapt with ease. I experienced homesickness the most strongly when I was teaching abroad in the country of Georgia.
Everyone deals with homesickness in their own way, and there are some tricks that have helped me ease my own yearning for home.
1. Keep in touch
One of the best ways to combat homesickness is to stay connected to home, but remember to maintain a balance here. Try making a schedule to regularly call or video chat with your loved ones. This will prevent you from having to worry too much about staying in touch and give you something to look forward to. I used to get a lot of anxiety about not knowing when I would talk to my parents. By simply picking a day to Skype every week I was able to eliminate that stressful uncertainty from my life.
Another great way to keep your family and friends up-to-date on your adventures abroad is to write a blog. I wrote blogs during my semester abroad in London and while I was teaching English overseas; it was a particularly good way to keep in touch when I had very limited internet access and using Skype was nearly impossible. I also found setting aside a pre-defined weekly time slot to be the most practical way to do this.
Sending postcards and letters is also a fun way to let someone know that you are thinking of them while you are out and about. This takes little effort and is much more personal than sending an e-mail or Facebook message.
2. Make yourself comfortable
Nothing is worse than not having something to comfort you in your time of need. Something with emotional value and as simple as a childhood stuffed animal, family photographs or your favorite chocolate bar could make a huge difference when it comes to dealing with homesickness. I always find myself missing home the most in the fall and I have learned over the years that anything pumpkin spice flavored is all it takes for me to feel better.
If you are in a bigger city, having dinner at a restaurant serving cuisine from your home country might be exactly what you need to banish the expat blues. I am only a little embarrassed to admit that once I embarked on a 1.5 hour bus ride from my rural Georgian village to the nearest McDonalds. I rarely eat McDonalds when I am in the USA, but at the time it was the comfort from home that I was desperately craving.
3. Take good care of yourself
Being mindful of your physical and mental health is always important, but even more so when you are missing home. It may be tempting to hide in bed all day when you are feeling down, but this will not make you feel better in the long run.
It is necessary, however, to admit to yourself how you are feeling and give yourself sufficient time to adjust. Rome was not built in a day and you will not feel at home in a new country overnight. Feeling down and missing home is a perfectly natural response, just do not wallow in it. Make sure you eat healthy food, do some exercise and get enough sleep. These things will help give you the energy that you need to take on the world.
4. Establish some routine
You cannot get into the bad habit of spending all day on the phone with home or lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself if you have things to do. Setting up a routine will help keep your mind busy and help you adjust to life in your new environment.
Take this opportunity to do something new or keep up with one of your favorite hobbies.
When I moved to Hungary, I tried out athletic pole dancing, which is quite popular in Budapest, so I decided to give it a shot. In Russia, I volunteered at a children's home in my spare time, and since moving to Germany I have started learning to speak German and joined a poker club. Establishing a consistent daily pattern does not necessarily have to involve activities that are quite so demanding; something as simple as creating a shopping schedule or indulging in your favorite TV show from home might be just enough to boost your mood.
Change can be just as important as routine. By moving abroad, you have put yourself in the perfect position to try new things. If you have just moved to a new place, play the tourist for a while and get acclimated with your new home. If you have been there for some time, explore parts of the city that you have not seen before or try a new restaurant. Anything to broaden your horizons and open your mind will be a great distraction from missing home and will also help you feel more connected to your new home.
Meeting new people is also a great way to help you beat homesickness, especially people from your native land. An easy way to do this is to join an expat group, such as InterNations, which is what I did when I moved to Hungary. I met some interesting people through attending the events there, including a new yoga teacher. I ended up moving to Munich to work at InterNations and it has continued to help me meet new people and feel more at home while living abroad.
Victoria Borisch is originally from the great state of Wisconsin, but she has spent the past three years exploring the untamed beauty of the Republic of Georgia, becoming a whisky drinker in Scotland, practicing a new language in Russia, eating her weight's worth of Langos in Hungary and enjoying the beer gardens in Germany. She is currently based in Munich and works in the public relations department at InterNations.