28 September 2015

8 Ways to Battle Expat Homesickness

Every now and then I get an email from a prospective expat that is peppered with all the questions I was asking before we moved to London. But one of the questions I've always been surprised by is, " How do you deal with homesickness?"


I'm embarrassed to say that I've been pretty dismissive of these questions in the past. Before the last year, the only time I can remember feeling homesick (as an adult) was in the first two hours at university. Thinking it was social anxiety rearing it's ugly head again, I swallowed it by grounding myself in something that made me feel safe. I've travelled the world and never once felt it again.

That is until about eight months ago, when I was hit with some serious yearning for home.

MY STORY

About the time we bought my ticket for Matt's wedding, I started to feel really homesick. It was the kind of I-can't-get-out-of-bed-because-I-wanna-be-home kind of longing. We went to the wedding, then came back with Jon's family's entire collection of home movies. I basically bathed in nostalgia all day every day for six months while I digitised everything and worked on our film festival. Finally, we went back to the states for both our Young and Bingham family reunions, and by the time we got back to London I had learned some very valuable lessons on how to deal.

So to answer all of your earnest questions, here are the 8 ways I've learned to battle homesickness as an expat:

ANCHOR YOURSELF + FIND FAMILIARITY

First, it it important to realise where homesickness is coming from. Most of the time, it is because we want to feel safe and happy, and not alone and afraid. Newness, especially for expats, is scary... it usually means the places and people we love are far away.

Perhaps your trigger is the nervousness of your new job, or a really painful cultural flub. When you feel that panicky, longing feeling of just wanting to be home,  stop and ask yourself what you are really looking for.  Do you just want to feel safe? Do you just want to feel loved?  Do you want the ease of familiar things? Get to the root of your feelings.

Once you've identified the cause, look for a way to anchor yourself. Maybe that means snuggling up in bed with popcorn and movie, maybe that means writing in your journal in a special spot, or maybe that means making a friend that can calm you down and make you feel safe. Find your triggers, then anchor yourself.

STAY IN TOUCH WITH FAMILY + FRIENDS

I think the biggest reason I've avoided homesickness (prior to this last year) was because I talk to my family ALL. THE. TIME. I seriously talk to my mom every other day.

But it doesn't just have to be with Skype or Whatsapp, you can actually call (for free) though your phone as well! Staying in touch with the people you love is one of the most important ways to feel close to them. Technology in our age is such a blessing-- don't waste it!

DON'T BE ALONE + FIND COMMUNITY

In a very practical sense, being Mormon has lots of advantages. Wherever you go in the world, there is a built-in community of people that share similar beliefs and that will be there to help you and integrate you.

So, if you are religious, check out your local church. If not, find like-minded people through a meet-up group, work, or school.

If you are moving to a new country alone, I highly recommend getting roommates. They not only help bring rent costs down, but also can give advice and a mate to run around with.

EMBRACE CULTURE

Get out and try new things! When we moved to in Queens, I was not a fan. In fact, NYC just seemed like this dirty, crime-filled city that I had the misfortune of being stuck in. However, when I started organising photoshoots, and get out and look for photogenic spaces and people... it suddenly opened my eyes to the beauty and glory that was New York City. I fell in love with it.

In most expat situations, you probably won't be in your current country/city forever.  Make use of your exciting time abroad and see, taste, touch and smell as much as your brain can handle.  The more you learn about a place and people, the more you usually love it.

FIND YOURSELF A GOLDEN THREAD

A friend of mind once described a herself as having golden thread tied between herself and heaven when she prayed. I've always thought that was the most beautiful visual metaphor for for prayer and meditation, which I have found it very helpful in my own life.

Even if you aren't particularly religious, what do have to lose, really? At the very least, hearing yourself discuss your needs and desires out loud could give you a new perspective.

MAKE NEW TRADITIONS

I have noticed that homesickness comes around quite a bit more around the holidays. Whether that is Christmas or Thanksgiving or Independence day, Jon and I usually have our wistful wouldn't-it-be-great-to-be-home-right-now conversations when we remember traditions that we loved as kids.

Fortunately, we have a planet full of traditions! No matter where you are in the world, there are new customs and practices to be discovered. You'll learn new ones to add to your own repertoire, and get a better understanding of the country you find yourself in.

GRATITUDE

When all else fails, express gratitude. For me, this comes in the form of a journal, for Jon this is usually expressing it to someone or saying it out loud. Being conscious of the good around you can be so beneficial to feeling happiness and safety in your new space.  Dwell on the positive, not the negative. 

VISIT HOME

There are times when you just got to see your mama. With my spout of homesickness earlier this summer, I know it was cured by simply spending time with my family. While I think this should be a last resort, it is definitely one that deserves a mention, because sometimes it is the only thing that will do the trick.

What do you do to combat homesickness? Let me know in the comments below!

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