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Sick of being homesick?

Sick of being homesick?

Expatriate years offer a wonderful time and opportunity to experience first hand a whole new way of life in a country where the weather, culture, dynamics, language and much more – are quite unlike anything we might have experienced before. The weeks that immediately follow our arrival in a new country can be extremely exciting. However, as life settles into a routine and the surroundings cease to feel quite so 'exotic'; feelings of homesickness might begin to appear.

Expatriate years offer a wonderful time and opportunity to experience first hand a whole new way of life in a country where the weather, religion, culture, dynamics, language and much more – are quite unlike anything we might have experienced before.

The weeks that immediately follow our arrival in a new country can be extremely exciting. A Pandora’s Box of new sounds, sights and experiences distracts us while the unpacking and formalities of acquiring essentials – from accommodation to a local driving licence – keep us well occupied for a further few weeks.

However, as life settles into a routine and the surroundings cease to feel quite so 'exotic'; feelings of homesickness might begin to appear. In fact, it would be rare to find an expat who hasn’t, at one time or another, felt the twinges of homesickness whilst living abroad.

Simply put, homesickness is the distress we feel when separated from people, places and things that give us a sense of belonging. The feelings of longing associated with homesickness are often accompanied by anxiety and depression, the symptoms of which can range from mild to severe.

For some people homesickness may be very intense, making them feel dejected and miserable. Often they will feel excessively tired and want to sleep long hours, or they may have trouble sleeping at all. Small issues may upset them and make them unusually tearful or they may get angry and frustrated and become very critical of their new environment. They may worry about their ability to cope with their new life and surroundings and wonder whether they made the right decision when they chose to so completely change their lives.

Chris* has been in Australia 10 months. “I miss the UK terribly,” she says. “Logically and financially moving to Australia was the right thing for us to do, but I miss all my family’s traditions around birthdays and Christmastime. I also pine for Sunday lunches, picnics by the river and the friends at our local pub. There are just the four of us here and I feel very isolated and sad for my daughters who were so close to their grandparents. Some days are worse than others – sometimes I just can’t stop the tears.”

Thankfully, the initial stages of homesickness and stress usually pass quite quickly and, although the pining may occasionally reoccur, it will be less intense each time. It helps if one bears in mind that this is a stage in the adjustment that will pass. Fortunately there are many things one can do to make the experience less traumatic.

Connect – Having a good connection with old friends and family enables you to keep informed about their lives so telephone, email or write whenever you can. It’s also a good idea to keep a diary or start a blog – transferring your thoughts and feelings to paper or onto a screen may help you “˜download’. Get online and download programs such as Skype that allow you to make free PC to PC videocalls and consider using MSN which gives you the ability to videoconference with farflung friends.

Use technology – Use the Internet not only to keep in touch with your family and friends abroad, but also to reach out to other expats through online forums such as the ones right here on BritishExpats.com – reading how others are coping (or not) will make you feel less alone. The adage, “˜Misery loves company’ may well be true, but it is also true that sharing your feelings with those who can best understand them is a big help. Many expats also find comfort in watching online webcams. These bring familiar roads and squares into view so that you can virtually revisit your favourite haunts and a Google search for a webcam in your home town may result in quite a few finds.

Buddies – It sometimes helps to have positive, supportive people from your own country around you. Involve yourself in new activities or find a group of people who share one of your interests.

Talk – Don’t think you’re the only person feeling sad. Your partner or your new expat friends and neighbours may also get the blues occasionally. Sharing your feelings will help and you will be surprised how many have walked a mile in your shoes.

Give yourself time – Adjusting to a new environment takes time. Be gentle with yourself. You don't have to get everything right or unpacked straight away, there are boxes in my garage the contents of which haven't seen the light of day since we first arrived in Australia nearly six years ago.

{mosbanner right}Make a list and check it twice – List all the reasons you came here in the first place and be elaborate. The next time you’re feeling down, review your list.

Laugh – It helps immensely if you can retain your sense of humour.

“But why do I feel his way?” you might ask. Well, familiar surroundings, people and routines provide all of us – whether in Durban, Dublin or Dubbo – with a sense of security and comfort. In a new place, it’s possible to feel vulnerable and to find ourselves missing the comforts of home and loved ones.

“I am not really homesick,” explains Sharyn, “I would describe it as being peoplesick. I don’t miss the USA as a whole or Texas in particular. I rarely long for the home we used to own there or for the way of life, but I desperately miss having certain people in my life.”

With homesickness, some sufferers may only feel a little loneliness, sadness or anxiety while others may feel physical symptoms, like stomachache or headache, or even become truly depressed. Most of the time however, once the new surroundings and people become more familiar, the feelings of homesickness tend to fade.

Nonetheless, if you are feeling completely overwhelmed, or if you have additional stress in your life such as a death in the family or an impending divorce, it's a good idea to seek help.

Moving away from home either voluntarily as is the case with tourists, expatriates and students or forcibly as in the case of refugees, has often led people to feel homesick.

Homesickness is a normal response to separation from the people, places and things that give us a true sense of identity and belonging and there would be something wrong with us if we never did – upon hearing a familiar accent, tasting a certain meal or seeing a long-forgotten landscape – feel the sadness and ache of its twinges.

Dominique Lummus has been writing for over a decade and contributes to media worldwide. Her articles have appeared online and in publications as diverse as Australia's Sydney Morning Herald, Dubai’s Connector Magazine and the UK’s Cat World Monthly.

Dominique, who is an Anglo-Italian hybrid, has lived in Italy, England, the USA and spent twelve years in Dubai, UAE, before emigrating to Australia in 2002. She now lives on Australia's Gold Coast with her architect husband Bryn and their two teenage children. Her blog is http://pomsinoz.blogspot.com

©Dominique Lummus