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How to Handle Homesickness Abroad

Dec 19, 2019

 

It's daunting and scary to transplant your life to another country. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either in denial or trying to impress you. The experience can be eye-opening, but it can also be incredibly challenging in a number of ways (that go far beyond learning to cope with a nation that prefers squatty-potties and enjoys drinking hot water).


Whether it's the food you’re most used to cooking, the friends and family you’ve had to leave behind, or the comfort of people around you speaking your native language, even the most well-traveled have missed being at home at one point. For most people, homesickness strikes anywhere from two to four months after moving to a new country, and it's harder for some to cope with than others. By this time, the novelty and newness of everything is beginning to wear off, you’ve fallen into a day-to-day routine, and you’re beginning to miss the simplicity of interaction that comes with sharing the same native language as everyone around you. It's easy to feel down about your decision to work abroad in these early stages, and many begin to deeply consider throwing in the towel and heading back home. It's important to remember that this happens to everyone! If you can take that to heart, it definitely will help.


Homesickness is one of the most significant challenges faced by expats, especially if it’s their first time living abroad. China Jobs Daily is here to tell you that you’re not alone. We’d like to also provide you with some strategies for dealing with it. Homesickness should not get in the way of your amazing new experiences, so here are a few ways you can combat homesickness and feel comfortable in your new country of residence!


1. Indulge the comforts of home!

Sometimes when we're overseas, we feel as if we’re obligated to immerse ourselves in every aspect of our new cultural surroundings–but that doesn't mean you need to deprive yourself entirely of the comforts and customs of your homeland. Go to an expat bar that plays hip-hop or country music, treat yourself to an overpriced lunch at the pizza place in town, or get some friends together for a Super Bowl party!

Moving to a new country doesn't require forgetting where you’re from or avoiding things that are familiar to you, so don't beat yourself up if you crave a Whopper once in a while. These little tastes of home will help you get through your homesickness.


2. Cut back on video calls to home and social media

Technology is a wonderful way to stay in touch with people (regardless of where you are in the world), but it's possible to be “overly connected” with your loved ones back home. It’s very difficult to explore and interact with a new society if you spend two hours daily video calling your family and friends. Of course, keeping in touch with people back home is crucial, but maintaining a healthy balance between the time you spend communicating with loved ones and the time you spend exploring your new surroundings is vital to your sense of belonging and overall well-being.

FOMO (or “fear of missing out”) is a real thing when overseas, and it can be harsh. Social media has made keeping track of what everyone is doing (or at least what they want you to see) simpler than ever, right down to what people are eating for lunch. It can be hard to ignore those notifications and pictures (especially when all your friends have met up at your favorite hometown eatery), but it can actually make your homesickness worse. Rather than watching every movement of those you left behind, focus on finding material for some of your own social media posts.

Your friends back home will go to music festivals, host backyard barbecues, and celebrate holidays together, but many of them are probably waiting to see photos of the street food you're eating or hear about your adventures walking atop the Great Wall of China.

Restrict yourself to a certain amount of time each day or week on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter and try to make sure that you contribute as much as you consume.


3. Work out!

Exercise is an important tool for dealing with homesickness. It will not only help you fight homesickness, it will also keep you healthy and in-shape while you're abroad. Eating poorly and being inactive, on the other hand, will make you feel lazy and depressed–which is a slippery slope if you’re already feeling down.

When I first arrived in Beijing, I found a Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym and signed up for a membership. Prior to making martial arts classes a part of my routine, I didn’t know anyone in my new city, I was feeling very isolated, and I was gaining weight. During my time training there, I got to know new friends from all over the world, expanded my social circle, and got in excellent shape!  Sometimes all it takes is the initiative to try something new, and you may end up with a new network of friends and a much-improved outlook on life abroad.

It may take you a couple of weeks to acclimate to your new home, but once you begin to figure out where things are, try to come up with a plan that will allow you to get some exercise and fresh air every day. Go for daily runs, travel by bike to work, or just try to walk as much as you can. Your body will be happier and your mind will follow.


Remember, you’re not alone!

As we stated before, every expat faces a certain degree of homesickness at some point. Keep in mind that these feelings will pass, and try to cherish the new culture you’re experiencing. When I lived in Ganzhou, China, I was often feeling down because it was the first time I had been away from my family and friends for an extended period of time. By the time I had moved to Beijing, the following year, I had an expanding social circle, and felt truly comfortable with my new life in China. If you are dealing with homesickness or are interested in working abroad and would like to speak with someone, reach out to me at ted@foreignhr.com.


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