Homesickness: What to expect and how to deal with it

When I started this blog I said that I would write candidly about the realities of moving abroad. To share the bad, as well as the good. And so tonight, with a drink in hand, I’m going to share my experiences of homesickness: what it feels like, when it strikes, and most importantly, how to deal with it.

No matter how much of a blast you’re having creating a new life overseas, homesickness is inevitable. And I don’t necessarily mean homesickness for a particular place, or particular people (though that has happened to me). Homesickness comes in all shapes and sizes, some predictable, some a little strange, and some just downright weird. Homesickness puts you on a level playing field with the inner workings of your psyche. It brings you face to face with oddities you never quite knew about yourself.

To give you one example: turns out, I’ve got a penchant for jam sandwiches, PG Tips, Peanut butter, crap daytime TV, Argos, Marks & Spencers, Dairy Milk, Nandos, Barry M nail varnish, baths, and (shockingly enough) the Tube. 

These are things that, deep in the midst of a rubbish day, I’ve craved so intensely I didn’t know what to do (though luckily I usually only miss one of these things at a time - trying to satiate all of those desires at once would be an odd day). They’re also things I was totally indifferent to back in the UK.

It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve probably not eaten a jam sandwich since I was around 10 years old. And yet, something about not being able to eat one (white bread here is a disaster…) makes me miss it so much that I could cry. Don’t even get me started on Nandos. NANDOS. The beacon of all that is right in the world. I’m not ashamed to say that I miss it. Even despite the fact that I’ve pretty much given up meat since I moved away, still, I miss it. 

And these are just the material things. They're just familiar shops, tastes and sounds. The really shitty bit is missing the people you love. There have been so many times throughout this experience where I’ve felt so overwhelmed, so tired, so much in need of a hug from my parents, that I’ve almost felt like flying home for the day just to briefly see the people I love and reset my batteries.

Since I’ve been here I’ve missed births, weddings, leaving parties and the death of my beloved dog, and that’s been tough. No matter how sure you are that you’re doing the right thing, moving abroad will floor you sometimes. And that’s ok, you’ll get back up, but you should know to expect it and, if you’re a planner like me, set some things in place to help soften the blow.

Here are some of my top tips on how to manage the homesickness blues:

1. Arrange something fun following a visit from a loved one

Wonderful as it is to have the people you love come visit you for weekends, the day that they leave is often a really glum one. I hate having to say goodbye to people SO much. Even though I know that I’m only a short plane ride away (and in all likelihood, probably not that much further away time-wise than I was in London), I find that the act of leaving someone at a departure gate is really psychologically tough on me. 

I’ve learnt that the best way to manage this is to be sure to plan in something to look forward to for the day that my loved ones leave. Whether that’s hanging out with friends, a meal out with Etienne, a trip some place new, whatever. I’ll plan it in on the days I know I’m likely to feel blue. I find that it helps to follow the crappy part of saying goodbye with the realisation that you are building new and lasting relationships overseas too. 

2. Stock up on the weird shit you miss

Whatever you do, do not miss an opportunity to get a haul of the foods and tidbits that you’re likely to miss from home when people come to visit! For me that has meant kilos and kilos of Dairy Milk (which I rarely ever ate back home, but now can’t get enough of). If you’ve got visitors coming, unashamedly ask them to bring you a few tastes, smells and sights from home. I promise that there's nothing this little stash can’t fix.

3. Actively plan in visits home

I find that homesickness strikes for me when I don’t have a visit back to the UK scheduled. It could be months away, but knowing that it’s coming up gives me something to look forward to if I’m feeling blue. Somehow the act of knowing that there’s a concrete day when you’ll next see the people you miss - even if that’s still some time away - makes it much easier to manage the distance.

4. Skype & WhatsApp are your friend

It’s literally never been easier to stay in touch. On the days when you really need a hug, reach out and ask your loved ones for a virtual one. You’d be surprised how far a cat video via whatsapp, or a Skype call can go…s'all I'm sayin'...

5. Don’t succumb to the rose tinted glasses

Most importantly, don’t forget that you made the difficult decision to leave the people, places and things you adore for a reason. Don’t be tempted to view the life you left with a rose tinted hue.

You could give me all the Nandos and jam sandwiches you want, but if I had to go back to the life I lived in London I’d say stuff it.

I like to think that if it ain’t hard, it ain’t worth doing. The adventure you’re on right now was never going to be easy, and this is the reality of it. But the monumental benefits of moving abroad and carving out your own adventure help balance out the difficulties of being further from those you love. Have faith that you made the right decision, and just embrace the blues as being part of the wonderful journey you're now on.