What It Really Means to Be an Expat
And tips to overcome the feeling of homesickness
They call you a foreigner, an immigrant, an expat. You’re distinguished by color, culture and religion. You speak their language with a “funny” accent and, at times, you catch yourself mixing it up with your mother tongue.
You left home for a better life. Apart from the pressure adulthood puts on you, with all the anxieties of getting a fulfilling job, making good friends, and putting your life in order, you’re struggling to feel like home.
You’re looking forward to finding and creating a place which you can call home again.
The truth is that everything has changed. You have changed. You’re not the person you thought would choose the safe path after graduation and stay inside the physical boundaries of her homeplace. All these years of struggling, dreaming, living both in memories and reality, have turned you into another version of yourself. They’ve toughened you up.
There are times you long to go back, and you’re so close to giving everything up. You recall your memories from home; nice ones and hard ones. There are pictures in your head, memories of your childhood, family and friends, of the streets you used to play as a child, of the places you used to go as a student. You crave to live your former life once again. But the real thing you desire is comfort; the comfort of your memories.
After a lot of patience and perseverance, you now live in a lovely flat in the center, you have a good job and some friends hanging around. You’re getting to like your new life. You even enjoy yourself and you believe that you’ve made it. At times, you feel like home. But even then, you feel like something is missing.
Living in a new reality and trying to adapt is not easy and it’s accompanied by a feeling of homesickness.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, homesick is ‘anyone who is unhappy because of being away from home for a long period.’ This is a common feature of people who have left their country to seek a better life in a foreign land.
“Homesickness has everything to do with attachment.” Joshua Klapow
According to Dr Klapow, when we feel homesick, “we’re longing for something that in our minds is known, predictable, consistent and stable. We feel uncomfortable because we are in a place or situation, which is not familiar, that triggers our fight-or-flight response.”
When we feel homesick, we experience the same pain and grief as when we miss a loved one. We find it hard to imagine our lives without him and we long to see him again.
“The comfort of home becomes like a person you’ve lost and miss.” Joshua Klapow
All these feelings are part of the new chapter in your life and are reasonable. It’s challenging to leave everything you knew, your loved ones, your habits, the comfort of your home and create everything from scratch. But eventually, you’ll do it.
If you belong to the 9 million Americans who live overseas or the millions of Europeans/Africans/Asians who have left their country for a better life, you know what I mean.
It is hard.
Hopefully, there are ways which can help you overcome your homesickness and gradually adapt to your new life.
Get out and stay engaged.
Sure, “Netflix and chill” is very tempting, especially on a cold winter night. However, instead of continually staying at home, recalling past memories, go out, volunteer, join a fitness class and have fun.
Whether you are a ‘people’s’ person or a ‘me’ person, you need some social interaction. It could be some colleagues, the girls that you met last time at the gym or the friendly cashier at the local grocery store.
Remember that connection plays a vital role in treating homesickness and the feeling of having people in your life who you can talk to will help you wonders.
Call home and talk to your loved ones.
“Hold on a sec. How am I supposed to overcome homesickness if I call them? I’ll get stuck,” you might think.
Well, breaking bridges with your past life is not the best way to overcome homesickness. And it’s not right either. You need to keep your bonds with them, talk and stay connected as it will help you settle in that new place. Plus, it will be heartbreaking if you decide to stop/reduce all connections with them just because you left. This is not the way it works.
Do things you used to when you were home…
Don’t give up everything you used to do when you lived back home. If you enjoyed going out and listening to jazz music, find places in your new city where you can go. If you loved running around the neighborhood, go out and explore routes in your new neighborhood.
…and try new things as well.
Say yes to any new experience that might arise. You might discover that you like something you’ve never thought of before or you might make friends. You never know.
Look after yourself.
Make and take time for you. Eat healthily, sleep well, talk with positive people and do things you love.
Tap into networks.
There are so many groups on Facebook and on the Internet that organize various activities, such as MeetUp. Go on and join! You’re not the only one who wants someone to talk to.
Reach out for help.
If none of the above works for you, you can always talk about your feelings. Most probably, you’ll find out that you’re not alone.
Something to take home
Homesickness is about a period of adjustment.
It will take time for your feelings to fade away but the more you build your routine and life in the new place, the more comfortable and confident you’ll become in creating your new home.
Always remember, you’re not alone.
References: What happens to your mind and body when you feel homesick, by Caroline Bologna.