Gullfoss Iceland

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I'm an expat whose goal is to visit every country in the world.

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5 Tips for Beating Homesickness

5 Tips for Beating Homesickness

It is never easy to leave home and establish yourself in a new place.  At home, we have a routine, friends, family, and this creates a sense of comfort and stability.  Of course, when you move overseas or travel for an extended period of time, that stability often goes away (for at least a short time), and that is when homesickness can hit.  It can strike anyone at anytime.  People don't even have to travel far to get homesick.  A person can get homesick from simply staying overnight in an unfamiliar place.  The first time I ever felt homesick was when I went to a foreign language camp when I was probably 12 or so.  Even though I was just in a neighboring state (I think it was Minnesota) for two weeks, I distinctly remember feeling homesick at different points.  Prior to that, there would be times I would stay over at my grandparents house, and I would never be able to sleep well since I would want to be in a more familiar surrounding with an equally familiar routine.

My apartment in South Korea.  The picture makes it look bigger than it actually was.

The next time I felt somewhat homesick was when I moved to South Korea in August 2010 (almost 15 years later).  Making it through the week of orientation in the country with many other newly-arrived teachers was easy.  It was only after I got to my shoebox-sized apartment in the evening that I truly started to feel homesick.  That night, I barely slept and was expected to be ready for work the next day with a lesson ready.  During my time in Korea, that was time time when I truly felt homesick.  I was lucky.  I knew of a couple other expats that had been so homesick, they actually broke their contracts to return to their native countries.

Of course, while living in a foreign country is never easy or smooth sailing, here are 5 tips for beating and minimizing the effects of homesickness.

1) Develop a Routine
This is probably the most important way to overcome homesickness.  When people develop homesickness, it is because they are new to the country and are still trying to figure out what to do with themselves.  This often means they have more free time than they are probably used to.  This extra free time often causes a disruption to a routine, and this can cause confusion and unnecessary stress since people will not know what to do with themselves.  If you add that to the fact everything is new, it is very easy to develop a yearning for home and something familiar. 

However, if you develop a routine as soon as you arrive, it will make the transition to your new home a lot easier.  Therefore, one should try to keep the same routine they usually would with bedtime and waking up (once you get over jet lag).  In addition, if you are working in a new country, it is best to set your schedule around your job.  This will keep you busy, and when you are busy, it is unlikely you will feel homesick since you won't have time to dwell on that fact.  Once you establish a routine with your job, your home life will probably begin to revolve around that, and then before you know it, you will have a daily routine with errands, chores, and work that must get done.

2) Embrace the Experience
When people live overseas and get homesick, they often start complaining about how things are done in their new home, and how things are not done the same way as in their home country.  Maybe government bureaucracy is particularly cumbersome or slow?  Maybe the same type of food or comforts you can usually find in your home country cannot be found?  Maybe it is frustrating since no one seems to speak your own language?  Maybe there are cultural differences that seem strange or illogical to you?  All of these things can often result in someone developing homesickness and desiring home.  Believe me, I've experienced all of them at some point or another.

The only way to get over this is to always embrace these issues as a life experience that will make for interesting stories later.  It is also important to think of these differences as challenges.  Can you actually handle these challenges?  If you can show and prove to yourself that if you can survive in a foreign country with a completely different culture from your own, you can survive anywhere.

I remember when I first moved to South Korea.  There were quite a few people who were skeptical about my ability to be able to adapt to a new culture; let alone living there.  Aside from study abroad a couple years prior, I had almost never traveled overseas before.  Many people thought I would be begging to come back to the US within my first three months because I wouldn't be able to handle it.  However, I ended up staying in South Korea for 2 years, and I have now been living in my current home in the Middle East for 5 and a half years.  Believe me, there have been many frustrations, and there will probably be many more.  However, despite the problems, I always reminded myself that this was just part of the experience of being an expat.  I've now been living overseas for 7 years, and whenever I get frustrated with something, I always remind myself to embrace the experience as something unique and special that only a relatively small number of people will ever get to experience.

3) Call the New Place Home
When people first move to a new country, they often refer to themselves as the foreigners, and they continually keep this mindset that it is a temporary situation.  While most likely this is a temporary situation, it could end up lasting for a long time.  I know people who thought they would stay in a place for a year or two, but now they are entering their fifth, sixth, or even tenth year in a place.  Needless to say, it is best to abandon this type of mindset of being a foreigner with a temporary home once you arrive in a country.

Bulguksa Temple in South Korea

On my first night in South Korea and in the Middle East, I immediately told myself that this was my home now, and I needed to get used to it for better or worse.  I came to both of these places with no set plans on when I would leave, so I started to refer to them as my home as soon as I walked in the door.  I found that when I did that, I did not miss the US as much since the idea of calling these new countries my home gave it a sense of permanence.  For me, this helped me adapt and get used to the inevitable frustrations that often happen when an expat moves to a different country.

4) Keep Contact with Friends and Family
One of the key reasons why many people who move overseas often return prematurely to their country of origin is because they miss friends and family.  Luckily, the days of heading off to a far-off place and sending occasional letters via snail mail and waiting an equally long time for a response are long gone.

We are now in the 21st century.  Communication across the globe has never been easier, faster, and convenient.  The 21st-century expat has it really easy since it is possible to keep in contact with friends and family via a huge variety of social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, and FaceTime to name a few.  All of these options are free for the most part, so even if money is an issue, it is still possible to keep contact with those closest to you across the world for very little if any money.

5) Go Out and Explore
In my opinion, the best way to beat and overcome homesickness next to establishing a routine is to avoid staying in your home all day and shuttering yourself away from the rest of the world to binge watch Netfilx.  Instead, go out and explore your new surroundings and home.  No matter what country you move to, there are going to be many different things to see, explore, and experience.  You'll be able to check out historic sites, nature, museums, and of course, you'll have the opportunity to truly go off the beaten path and experience the country as a local would.  In addition, unlike casual tourists who are probably on a time limit with what they can see, it is a lot easier to visit more places at a more leisurely place.  The more time you spend out and about doing something, the less time you will spend feeling sad and wishing to go back to your home country.

When I lived in South Korea, I spent almost every weekend for 2 years traveling to different cities and towns to check out different sites.  It definitely kept my mind off of wanting to return home, and I also got to see many things that a casual tourist would have never gotten to see.  In fact, these weekend outings really developed my fondness for day trips.  Nowadays, whenever I travel, I always make it a point to take as many day trips to different places as I can.  Of course, day trips can be a challenge to plan out depending on where you are and where you want to go, but that can be saved a later blog entry.

Overall, even though all people handle homesickness differently, these five tips will hopefully provide some ideas on how to beat those inevitable times when life in a foreign country becomes lonely.

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