Expat Homesickness

The Expatability Chat Podcast

How to cope with feeling homesick as an expat

Moving abroad is an exciting adventure filled with new opportunities, cultures, and experiences. An incredibly rich experience, offering opportunities to immerse yourself in a different culture, perhaps learn a new language and make new friends.

However, expat life is not without its challenges and there are bound to be a few bumps along the way.

One of the most common emotional challenges faced by expats, particularly those who are new to a country, is homesickness. (Well, the second most common – in my long experience in the expatosphere - the first most common seems to be expat guilt!).

Homesickness - This deep longing for one's home country, family, and familiar surroundings can affect expats at any stage of their overseas journey.

In this episode, we will explore what causes expat homesickness, how it feels, and strategies to cope with it.

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transcription

[00:00:00.400] 
Welcome aboard the Expatability Chat Podcast, helping Expat parents navigate moving and living overseas with their families. With Carole Hallett Mobs, Expat Life mentor and consultant and founder of ExpatChild.com. I'm Carole, your resident Expat expert, and I'm here to help you live the Expat life you dream about and deserve. If you're planning a move abroad or if you're already living your Expat life, or even if you're planning a move back home, you've come to the right place. In this podcast, I'll offer you experienced insight, sensible advice, and practical information, along with some sugar-free, no bullshit tips and tricks to help you on your way so that you and your children can live your expat experience to the full. There are so many layers to this expat life that you need to know about, but often you don't know what you need to know, and that's what I aim to help you with, because knowledge is power, and I want you to have the best expat experience you possibly can. So let's get straight into today's episode.

[00:01:18.550]
Welcome back to the Expatability Chat Podcast. Today, I want to talk to you about expat homesickness. Moving abroad as an expat can be an exciting adventure filled with new opportunities, new and interesting cultures, new and fabulous experiences. It offers opportunities to immerse yourself in a whole different lifestyle, maybe learn a new language and make loads of lovely new friends. However, expat life is not without its challenges, and there are bound to be a few bumps along the way. One of the most common emotional challenges faced by expats, particularly those who are new to a country, is homesickness. Well, actually, it's probably the second most common. In my long experience in the expatosphere, the most common emotional challenge seems to be expat guilt. And you can find out a lot more about that on a previous podcast episode and many other things that I've written. So homesickness? Homesickness is a deep longing for one's home country, one's own family and familiar surroundings, and it can affect some expats at any stage of their overseas journey. I want to explore what causes expat homesickness. I want to talk about how it feels, and of course, I'll give you strategies to help cope with it.

[00:02:37.280]
Now, full transparency here, I have to admit at this point that I personally have never felt homesick anywhere, so I've had to dig deep to research this particular topic for those that have, and I hope you appreciate that. So what is homesickness? Homesickness is caused by missing the familiarity of our home and our loved ones. And while this is true in part, it's not the whole story. In fact, it's less about missing something than about needing something. And that's needing security, protection, love and familiarity, elements that we deeply associate with home, but that are not exclusive to home. The first thing you need to consider about homesickness is that it is a completely normal response to this huge, this major change in your life. Often when a person moves to a new country, the first couple of months or so can seem like an extended holiday. All exciting and wonderful as you explore your new environment and get to grips with cultural differences. And then, usually after a few months, reality kicks in. And I've talked about these before, the six months slump, the come down, the expat blues, and I've mentioned these in previous episodes.

[00:03:51.620] 
Perhaps the kids have gone back to school or maybe you missed a significant event back home. And if you're in a country with a huge time difference, this can also hinder communications, which leaves you feeling understandably somewhat adrift and very much out of the friends and family loop. Indeed, most expats find separation from family and friends back home to be the most difficult part of living overseas. We do try and hide it, though. We may pretend that we don't feel homesick as we chose this new life. We may see these emotions as a sign of weakness, and we may feel angry with ourselves for giving into it. But we do get homesick. Homesickness has got nothing to do with mental stability, nothing to do with being weak. It just is. And the symptoms are the same regardless of your age, because, yes, children get homesick as well. A lot of parents really worry about moving their child overseas, and they worry about homesickness and all sorts of other things, as we all know. The thing is, children do thrive on stability and they do thrive on familiar environments. And even though moving with kids to a new country will expose them to new cultures and places that help them grow, the growing pains associated with a family relocation can be difficult to deal with.

[00:05:09.980]
So, yes, expat kids feel homesick too, but they may not understand their emotions nor be able to explain, and we can help them in the same way that we can help ourselves. All homesickness, regardless of age, is caused by the same things. Firstly, it's a loss of familiarity. One of the primary triggers for homesickness is the loss of the familiar. This is especially true for children. Missing familiarity, being in foreign lands with different customs, different languages, different traditions, different food, all of this can make expats feel isolated and disconnected. The second cause of homesickness is separation from loved ones. We often leave behind friends and family, and the physical distance can intensify feelings of loneliness and yearning for the comfort of their presence. Sometimes a phone call or a FaceTime just doesn't cut it. And the third cause of expat homesickness is cultural differences. Things just aren't the same. Adapting to a new culture can be challenging. Differences in values, social norms, and even everyday habits can contribute to a sense of disorientation and nostalgia. So basically, homesickness is a normal response to a lack of familiarity, and it causes us to feel disconnected; adrift, isolated.

[00:06:33.250]
Homesickness can feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster. You may experience sadness, anxiety, irritability, and once again, this sense of isolation. And it's easy to drift when you're feeling isolated and you haven't got your friendship or support group set up in your new country. It is very easy to slip into wishing you were back home where life was much easier. Homesickness can also lead to physical symptoms like fatigue, trouble sleeping, and even depression if you let it take hold. And I'm going to give you some coping strategies in a moment. Longing and nostalgia. I just want to touch again on that because it is easy to look back at what's familiar, what's comfortable. Expats often find themselves reminiscing about familiar places, regular routines, and, of course, the people that we leave behind. But if we follow the latter through to an excessive degree, nostalgia for home can turn your expat experience into an absolute nightmare. You'll be forever looking back and comparing your new home unfavourably with your previous home. Chronic homesickness as an expat can have a significant impact on your mental health. Prolonged homesickness can manifest in those physical symptoms I mentioned, and can further affect your overall mental wellbeing.

[00:07:52.500]
It's a vicious circle. If you spend too long looking back, looking back towards your comfort zone, looking back towards home, missing home, missing family, you can never settle in your new country. The sense of isolation and loneliness that often accompanies homesickness can contribute to mental health issues. A lack of social connections can make you feel despairing, and prolonged loneliness is just awful and can lead to conditions like social isolation or even agoraphobia. You're so intent on making your comfort zone comfortable that you don't want to go out. And I did talk about this in the previous episode about emotional overwhelm. And of course, homesickness can strain relationships, both with loved ones back home and with new friends and acquaintances in your host country. And that can just continue the vicious circle. The constant stress of homesickness can affect your ability to cope with everyday challenges. As I say, it can become a vicious circle. If you do live like this all or even most of the time, then perhaps expat life isn't for you. It isn't for everyone. And you need to protect your wellbeing and perhaps consider moving back home. Now, I'm not saying that expat life is not for you if you are feeling homesick, because homesickness comes and goes.

[00:09:16.510]
But if you are constantly just wishing your life away and wishing yourself back home, then perhaps you do need to rethink. Overall, serious homesickness can significantly reduce your quality of life. It makes your new challenge, your new expat life, difficult to fully enjoy and engage in. And that was the whole point of your international move in the first place, was to have a new life. So it is really important to recognise the potential impact on your own mental health and seek appropriate support. This support may include building a strong social support network, practise self-care strategies, and try and mitigate the emotional and psychological effects of homesickness. Once again, please listen to my previous episode, because I've got a lot of coping strategies in there. Also recognise that homesickness is a common part of the expat experience and is usually fleeting. It usually just goes away. But you do have to force the issue sometimes. What about curing homesickness? Can homesickness be cured? No. Well, actually kind of. See, homesickness in itself is not a physical or a mental illness. It is an emotion. And like all other emotions, it's unavoidable, it's spontaneous, and it's inconsistent. It comes and goes, and it comes often when we least expect it.

[00:10:42.140]
The good news is that there are things that we can do to lessen its impact, and they start before we even leave home. So before you move abroad, be positive about the experience, embrace the change, get excited, and most importantly, avoid indulging people who would like you to let their doubts become yours. You know the ones I mean, don't you? The ones that put the guilt trips on you. So yes, homesickness can be prevented. It can be avoided. You have to work at it, though. If you wallow in the homesickness, then you're not going to cure yourself. You can put systems into place to help avoid homesickness hitting you too hard. And the same goes for you helping your kids as well. The key to dealing with homesickness is to prevent it whenever possible, and this means using all the relocation assistance that you can to help make you and your kids environment as familiar as you possibly can, and also to try and create an excitement about your new life. The tips here follow the same ideas as I've shared before about helping your children settle in their new home. So go and check out my episode called Happy Kids, Happy Mum.

[00:11:55.540]
And do remember that you have chosen this new life, so I know that you're embracing all the new, but yes, the need to feel at home does find you. So make sure that you have a home, not simply a house, so that you can grab comfort in the house, in the home as you need it. For this next bit, I'll focus on the children, and then rather than repeat similar ideas for adults, please take from this what you need to make your house a home. So bring familiar things with you. Tempting as it may be to use this move as an opportunity to clear out all of that clutter, all of those toys that have long been ignored. Try to give as much priority as possible to your children's belongings. Finding an old toy can be a great comfort. When your room smells different, the noises outside is strange, and you're surrounded by boxes. And talking of smells, don't underestimate the power of scent. Some feel this more than others, but a familiar scent can help immensely. A candle, room diffusers. Use your other senses to create a comfort zone too. I think I've done a YouTube video on this somewhere.

[00:13:03.380]
So something uplifting to look at, something relaxing to listen to, something familiar to taste, your favourite chocolate, the kid's favourite cereals, for example, something comforting to touch. Kids have their teddies. Adults may choose a familiar dressing gown or something. Or you can bring your own teddy as well. That's fine, I'm not judging. Track down your favourite food or take it with you. For centuries, whenever people have moved countries, they've brought new cuisines and foods with them. Just think of the original spice route. A great trip is to indulge yourself occasionally, if you can. See if you can buy some familiar food locally. Us expats do have a bit of a food thing going on, and we do like our care packages regularly sent from our home country. So take some of your comfort food stuffs with you, especially the kid's favourites. English teabags, for example. Sorry, yes, I am a complete walking cliché. Favourite cereals, chocolate bars, just little treats that can overcome that momentarily strong feeling of homesickness. They're all chicken soup for the soul. All these things are comfort for anybody, whatever their age. And for fussy eaters, this is even more important.

[00:14:18.240]
Children who are in the middle of discovering a new school system, which is placing huge new demands on them, may focus their unhappiness on the different, aka wrong foods. It's their way of gaining a little bit of control in an uncontrollable new world. So bring as much as you can from home and make use of trips back home and visits from friends to gather fresh supplies. You'll quickly discover which products can be replaced locally and which ones you do need to have from your home country. Obviously, try and wean them off them as soon as possible because it gets a bit expensive. And yes, you would be perfectly normal to bring back an entire suitcase of teabags. Honestly, it's quite normal. The next method is try not to complain about anything. It's easy to get wound up by your new country sometimes, particularly in the stressful early days when you're doing all the bureaucracy and sorting out all this stuff. Things are done differently and not always in the most sensible way in your mind. The process of moving home is hard enough. Moving to a new country requires lots of support, which is why we have a support system called the Expatability Club (Hint-Hint).

[00:15:33.100]
Getting set up takes time, patience and determination, and somewhere to vent from time to time. But do try to shield your children from these frustrations as much as possible, because they will see things differently. They're going through their own upheavals, and they have their own emotional overwhelm going on. To avoid homesickness in children, they need to be able to see their new home as positively as possible, and they will use your moods and reactions as a barometer for their own perceptions. So even though you feel really frustrated, try and keep it from the kids. And also for you, try not to get frustrated because things aren't done the same way as they were at home. Remember, you are overseas for the experience, so experience it, frustrations and all. Now, I've mentioned visits home as a place to stock up on teabags... Sorry, to stock up on familiar foods and treats. Visits home can be double edged, though. While they provide an opportunity to see friends and relatives, they also mean yet another round of goodbyes, and it can be exhausting seeing everybody when you just want to relax. That's why it's important to commit to your new location as much as possible before you go home, so that your children can get the chance to make new friends as well as keep up with old ones.

[00:16:53.380]
I think I've said this before, don't visit home too soon after moving. It's too disruptive and it adds another layer of homesickness. Ideally, I'd suggest about a year before you go back, but I know that isn't practical for most of you. The next one I want to talk about is about speaking up and reaching out. Please don't suffer in silence. When dealing with homesickness, it's important to be kind to yourself. You may feel guilty that you're not relishing every minute of being in this exciting new place. See, expat guilt again. Don't beat yourself up for feeling sad. It's normal, and it is generally passing. If you feel disconnected and need to speak to one of your loved ones back home, set up regular sessions, Skype, FaceTime, whatever is in fashion at the moment, so that you don't feel as though you're missing out. I think people are having Zoom parties at one point in the last few years. If you have a partner or are lucky enough to have a solid friendship base in your new country, let them know how you're feeling too. If not, come and chat in the Expatibility Club. As I always say, being proactive is really important, and particularly in this age of social media, when people are prone to presenting a very highly curated version of their lives online.

[00:18:15.160]
Don't be afraid to reach out and confide in the people who can help. And as I say, if you want to talk to other expats or me, most of whom have been through what you're going through, join the Expatability Club or find my Expatability chat group on Facebook. Now it's important for you and for your children to create structure in your life. Make sure you establish a new routine, and your new routine may look like your old routine. Kids thrive on routine, and you will too. It's a safety net if you like. It's a safe boundary, and it helps you know where you stand. Keep busy. Don't spend ages navel-gazing. Establishing a routine can be helpful in conquering symptoms of homesickness, and also it helps you keep busy, if that makes sense. By creating structure in your day, you'll be less prone to ruminating on the negative thoughts. You'll have less time to think. Thinking isn't always good for us. Overthinking is a bad thing, and all this deep navel gazing that I'm seeing so much recently, it really can damage your sense of self. Don't be afraid to seek out the familiar in your new home.

[00:19:25.870]
It's all very well moving to a new country, and you can get all the excitement and adventure. Sometimes you need to reinforce your comfort zone. Maybe you can find an international supermarket, so go and have a little shop there and see if you can find some of your favourite treats from back home. Or perhaps you can find a pub frequented by fellow expats. There is a reason why you find an Irish bar in most cities. You aren't alone in needing this connection. You must take control. Awareness of the actions or behaviours likely to trigger baits of homesickness is important. It can be all too easy to slip into a spiral of negative thoughts and emotions, which, if not carefully managed, can develop into depression. For example, you may find that scrolling for hours on Instagram or Facebook, seeing what friends and family are doing back home may spark feelings of loneliness and disconnection. They're moving on without you, but you're also moving on without them. Don't stay stuck. Maybe try and limit the time you spend on social media, at least until you feel more settled. If you're feeling this disconnection with friends and family, plan ahead.

[00:20:35.490]
Whether that's a call with your best friend or visiting a country in between the two of you, for example, and going on a holiday, plan ahead for interesting events within your new country, within your new city, within your new town, perhaps visiting an art exhibition or a new restaurant. Plan holidays to places that you wouldn't be able to visit from your home country. For example, from Japan, we went to Hawaii, which wasn't that far, whereas from the UK it takes something like 24 hours to get there and you lose a day by crossing the international date line. Have a busy schedule, keep yourself occupied and lots to look forward to, and that will help keep you going through the tough times. Make sure to surround yourself with positivity. Sometimes contact with home needs to be regulated or emotions can get in the way. Phone calls can end up with one or both parties sobbing because they miss each other. Far from providing some much needed reassurance and comfort, this only validates and reinforces negative emotions. What you don't need is dear old Mum, sobbing down the phone and saying, Life will never be the same without you.

[00:21:42.230]
Because then her negativity becomes your negativity and you can't move on. Expat guilt raised its ugly and demoralising head yet again. Sometimes real-time contact can bring a lot of overwhelming feelings to the surface, so you may feel that this could be a problem. Get on top of expectations really quickly. Say no to, for example, everyday phone calls. Yes, some people do expect phone calls every day. Perhaps keep the phone calls to once a week or whatever works for you. Definitely not every day. I don't think anyone's really got the time for that, surely? Keep up with each other on socials if they have them. Now back to you. Maybe you need to find a way of decompressing, if you like. Your comfort zone, your new home, is your comfort zone. You still need to get out of it and be proactive in your new life, but when you come back into it, you want it to envelop you in a warm, cozy hug. Maybe find a way to watch something familiar on TV, make yourself feel at home wherever you are and the homesickness feeling will lessen. This may explain my obsession with British TV programmes while I lived abroad.

[00:22:53.930]
I binged programmes like Downton Abbey and Midsomer Murders quite a lot. Now while I never felt homesick, I did enjoy the comfort TV viewing as a relaxation tool. And just remember that overall, homesickness is an emotion. Don't be scared of it. Like all emotions, it comes and goes. When you're feeling homesick, you might feel as though something's wrong, but nothing's wrong. You're missing your old lifestyle. You're missing the easiness. You're missing the familiarity. You've got a lot going on right now. You've got a lot of new things to work through. The feelings of homesickness are also a sign that you are beginning to adapt. You recognise that you're not on holiday. This is your life, and you're adapting to that. You don't feel homesick on holiday, do you? So homesickness does tend to kick in when you adapt, when you begin to adapt to your new country. And over time, these feelings will grow less acute. To handle homesickness, it's important to not get too carried away in thoughts of home, as these can become an addiction that brings you down even further. Instead, stay engaged in the now, in the moment. Soak in your surroundings.

[00:24:08.880]
Go out and explore. Meet up with new acquaintances. Adapt to your new job. Don't spend time looking back. Live in the present and plan new exciting things in the future. Think about all of the wonderful new experiences and lessons that being abroad is bringing you. Stay focused on the likelihood of your success in your new environment. Remember why you came here in the first place. Talk to somebody if you need to. Take advantage of your wonderful new phase in life. You will see many strange, exciting, breath-taking and totally foreign things. And this is excellent. The memories that you make on your expat experience will turn you into a better person, a more complete individual with a better understanding of your place in the world. By the time this episode is published, you may well be thinking about the family-oriented festivals that are coming up: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year, etc. Now these are times that many expats find quite difficult, especially the first time that they're overseas, simply because they are family-based and tradition-based. Be prepared for all the feelings to bubble up and go listen to my podcast episodes on these topics that I've done in the past, so that you can discover what to expect and how to cope with them.

[00:25:29.340]
For example, the style of celebration in your new country may be radically different than home, and this can open up an avenue to homesickness very easily. Children, in particular, may notice the difference between the build-up to Christmas, for example, and feel that they're missing out. Japan, when I was over there, didn't celebrate Christmas at all, really, so there was no Christmas decorations, and that made it quite strange for my little girl, who was five at the time. Whereas Germany basically invented Christmas, so it was very magical. Now, what about if you cannot get over the homesickness? Over the past few years, I've definitely been seeing a huge rise in expats desperately wanting to return home. They say, due to homesickness, a lot of the time they're wanting to go back for ageing parents, for example, and they still believe that their home country is the same as when they left. Oh, my goodness, it is not. And go check out my reverse culture shock episode for details on what to expect if you are considering repatriating. Don't get sidetracked, Carole. So if you can't get over homesickness, if even after a significant period of time and having taken all the steps you can to conquer homesickness, but you still feel dislocated and miserable in your new surroundings, then don't be afraid to raise the possibility of moving home.

[00:26:57.720]
Many people suffer through their unhappiness just because they're scared, they're ashamed to be perceived as having failed. You have not failed. Expat life isn't for everyone. Just remember that your move doesn't necessarily have to be a permanent one. Set yourself a time limit, obviously in agreement with your partner and your family, that maybe 6-12 months down the line, you'll re-evaluate the situation. And if things haven't improved, then you'll take the steps towards coming home. It's all about having the conversations. Even if this going home isn't an option, it is vital that you face your feelings and discuss them openly with your partner. Your life isn't all about other people. It is important to take control over your own life. I know, as a mother, that's really hard to get your head around, isn't it? But self-care is so important, and we are so used to sacrificing our own wellbeing for everybody else's, it can become hard to differentiate the two. Let me just repeat that. Your life isn't all about other people. It's important to take control over your own life. I'll be doing a podcast episode, or actually, maybe a masterclass on how to know when it's time to go home in due course.

[00:28:19.530]
So please make sure that you follow me on social media, so you know when this will happen. You're most likely to find out about it on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. So make sure you're following me there. Homesickness is a natural part of the expat experience, but it doesn't have to define your whole overseas journey. By understanding its causes, recognising its effects, and employing coping strategies, you can thrive in your new environment. And as I said, not everybody does get homesick. Embrace your adventure, make new connections, and remember that, in time, your new home can be just as cherished as the one you left behind. Let's have a quick recap on how to cope with feeling homesick. Create your comfort zone. Create a home away from home. Decorate your living space with familiar items from your home country and create a sense of comfort, belonging, safety, familiarity. Stay connected. Use technology to your advantage. Regular video calls, messaging. I do like the old-fashioned phone calls, but stay connected in a healthy way with home. Build a support network as quickly as possible. Make an effort to connect with fellow expats and locals alike. Sharing your feelings and experiences with others who understand can be incredibly comforting.

[00:29:43.750]
Embrace the new culture. And while it's natural to miss your home culture, what you're doing is missing the easiness, the familiarity. So try to engage in local activities, learn the language, immerse yourself in the new culture and enjoy it for what it is. Practice self-care. I want to emphasise this even more. We aren't all about facilitating other people's happiness. We have to work on our own self-care, our own happiness as well. Pay attention to your physical and emotional wellbeing. Exercise, eat well, and find your support network in my Expatability Club. Google it or look for the link in the show notes. I'd love to see you in there. Set realistic expectations for yourself as well. Understand that homesickness is a common part of the expat experience, and it's often fairly fleeting. It comes and goes, particularly at certain times of year. When you've just visited home, for example, and around Christmas and the familiar party times. Give yourself time to adapt and don't be hard on yourself. You can't change the fact that occasionally you may feel homesick, so try to think differently about feeling homesick. Perhaps think of it like this. You feel homesick because you are loved, treasured, and valued, and because, in turn, you love, treasure, and value those that you've left behind.

[00:31:12.990]
That's not a negative thing, is it? That's great. It means that you have a safe, secure and nurturing place in the world that you can return to at any time you want. But right now you don't want to because you're off on an adventure. And as ever, make your expat life your own. Be proactive. Get out there. Make the most of your new country. Make new friends. Connect with people. Join clubs. Take up a new sport. Fill your days with love and laughter. By recreating the feelings of safety, security and familiarity in your new home country, you will stop needing them and you will move on from missing them. Home sickness does pass, and I wish you every success in your expat life.

[00:32:04.250]
As ever, thank you so much for being here with me today. I hope you found this episode useful and interesting. If you found this podcast helpful, I'd be really grateful if you could subscribe, share and give me a review. It really does help other people who may need to know about this stuff to find it, and I really, really do appreciate it.

[00:32:26.410]
In the show notes that accompany this episode, you'll find information about my websites, about my downloads. I've got lists, I've got e-books, I've got masterclasses, all sorts, and these will help you with every step of your expatting journey. You'll also find details about how you can work with me one to one if you wish, so that you can get personal advice tailored for your life and your move abroad, because everybody is different. And of course, you can find me on your favourite social media. I've got a presence on most of them. Tag me, message me, tell your friends about me, and I look forward to learning more about you and your move overseas. Please do get in touch. Please check out expatchild. Com for more free information and resources. Don't forget to join me next time for another episode. Until then, goodbye.

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