It’s normal; that dreaded feeling of so dearly missing your homeland, your loved ones, and your usual routines. For those who are abroad often – or for extended periods of time – this longing can branch out into debilitating anxiety or even depression. The feeling can affect anyone too, from students studying overseas who are faced with the sudden need to be independent in a foreign country, to business people who are relocated and can’t bring their families along, and even flight and cruise personnel who are constantly away from home.
The thing about homesickness is that it can’t always be easily cured with a mere video call or a quick trip back home. Also, rarely is it just about missing family members or missing someone close to you. Oftentimes, it’s the loss of a familiar environment and habits, like having supper at your favorite mamak (open-air food establishments typically found in Malaysia and Singapore) with friends.
Sometimes, you may not feel welcome in your new environment. In such situations, it’s crucial to remember not to victimise yourself and blame those around you. You have the option to either leave the situation, change it, or accept it.
Learning how to cope through major changes in your life, forging new relationships, and embracing new experiences is easier said than done. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re suffering from homesickness.
1. Prepping yourself
Prevention is better than cure and this applies to dealing with homesickness as well. If you’re preparing yourself to go overseas, and are looking for ways to minimise getting homesick, try to get to know someone there first before even heading there. Whether it be by means of social media or through friends of friends. This way, you won’t feel as lonely once you arrive. Most importantly, this person will also introduce his or her own contacts to you.
Practice trips also do very well in preparing yourself for a big move. In fact, you’ll probably be required to do one or two of these short trips for registration or medical screening purposes. Take advantage of these trips to start familiarising yourself with the foreign environment.
2. Foster new friendships
The best way to overcome homesickness is to make new acquaintances and find people whom you can really trust and rely on. It may be a completely new environment, and you may not know a single soul, but trust me when I say you’re never alone. Especially if you’re a student living and studying abroad; the majority of people you meet will likely be facing the same issues as you.
Start off by getting to know your roommates better. Homesickness can hit people hard, which might lead them to shying away from anyone trying to get close to them. Open up your heart to others and you’ll find that both parties can help each other in familiarising themselves with this new and foreign environment.
3. Make your new space feel like home
Settling into a new country starts from right under your new roof. Even if all you have is half a room to yourself, as most students do, this still applies. Decorate your living space with items that comfort you or remind you of home.
If your old house had large Chinese lanterns hanging on the porch, you can buy mini ones and hang them up by your bedside. Or perhaps your neighbourhood was abundant with flowers. If so, plant the same flowers in little pots and place them around you. By the windowsill, in the balcony, or in the garden if you have one. However minute these little decorations may seem, creating an atmosphere you’re familiar with will help you associate your new place as home.
4. Stay in the present
Most people force themselves into thinking that they’re unsatisfied with their current environment and constantly compare it with their home country. If you find yourself having thoughts like “People here are so unfriendly. Back in my old neighbourhood, no one was like this,” then it’s probably time to take a few steps back.
Sure, it’s normal to feel that way in the beginning, but if months have passed and you’re still feeling that way, then it’s important to properly assess your situation. Try to consciously change your perspective every time you catch negative thoughts popping into your mind. Remind yourself that an environment cannot be changed, and that change must start from within. Rid yourself of the mindset that the grass is greener on the other side. Who knows? If you look down at your feet, you may find yourself standing in a field of roses.
5. Overexpose yourself
If you feel lonely or unwelcome, there’s a tendency to shun the outside world. For instance, you may not want to partake in activities such as after-work drinks, or you may even feel that you don’t like certain places. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in a rut.
Spending time to do the things you think you don’t like doing may feel forced in the beginning. Like if you feel you can’t get along with colleagues or classmates, try to socialise with them more. Over time, you’ll find that they actually aren’t as bad as you’d initially thought. Also spend more time enjoying what the city you’re in has to offer, and slowly but surely, you’ll start to appreciate its beauty.
6. Establish a routine
A case of bad homesickness can eat away at you and make you less productive. Create a routine in your daily life. No, we don’t mean unhealthy habits like going to the bar every weeknight. Try waking up early everyday to fit in a quick workout before work or make yourself a wholesome breakfast. Perhaps take a walk in the park every evening and try to make new friends while you’re at it.
Another way to establish a routine is to create a checklist of things you have to get done everyday. It’s best to do it the night before, giving yourself something to look forward to. The more control you have in your life, the more positive and productive you’ll be, and there won’t be time to wallow in self-pity. Having a sense of purpose is always good for your wellbeing.
7. Rekindle old habits
Miss those Sunday badminton sessions you used to have with your friends every weekend? Join a badminton club near you or invite your new colleagues out for a badminton session. Who knows? It might even become a weekly thing.
By doing some of the things you used to love doing back at home, you’ll be able to start appreciating you new surroundings a whole lot more as you have some semblance of normalcy. The familiar love you held for certain things or activities back home can be emulated where you’re currently staying to help blast away bouts of homesickness.
Finally, remember this. Never feel embarrassed for feeling this way. I came across this beautiful quote online once, and it rings true, “There’s absolutely no shame in feeling homesick, it means you came from a happy home.”