If you were looking forward to working and living abroad, homesickness as an expat is one of those things that can come as an unexpected and inconvenient surprise. The dictionary defines homesickness as ”being sad or depressed from a longing for home or family while away from them for a long time.” It’s also not uncommon. Homesickness is something I endured a lot in the first year of living in Vienna, so much so I even wrote a blog post on tips I used to stay emotionally stable.
For example, if you have only recently moved abroad to work, homesickness can make settling into a new country much more difficult. It’s even thought to be a contributory factor in your decision to go back to your home country (repatriate).
Thankfully, there are steps to help you deal with homesickness without making the drastic decision to return to your home country. Here on American in Vienna, I partnered with Allianz Care to bring you six solutions if you’re in a new country and dealing with homesickness:
1) Live in your new home mentally:
Language matters. If you still refer to the place you live abroad as ”the apartment,” then chances are you have yet to settle in, emotionally and physically fully. Bring as many comforts from your last home as you can, or if you can afford it, purchase items that remind you of it. Make your expat accommodation feel familiar, and like home. Then, try calling it ”home.” Although it may not feel like home at first, in time, it should.
2) Acknowledge your feelings
A useful way to deal with homesickness as an expat is to acknowledge your feelings. Feel them, embrace them, and then engage in some self-reflection: Journaling can help with this, or talking with a counselor. Think or write about why you are feeling homesick. The root cause may be loneliness, missing friends and family, stress and/or anxiety. It may well be a combination of all three. Once you have worked that out, think about ways you can alleviate those feelings; maybe join a local yoga class, or a book club, sports team, or start your own group for people with the same interests as you.
3) Meet New People
Although it may seem overwhelming at first, meeting new people in your new home country will help deal with homesickness. Connecting with people and making friends was the KEY for me to settle in Vienna and lessen my homesickness. I first started going to Yelp hiking events, and this led to me feeling more comfortable and settled in Vienna.
There are the obvious options like joining a sports team or taking a class, but what if you are too busy to commit to either? There are SO MANY ways to join in for the non-committed folk. Just check out Facebook groups, Meetup.com, or Internations.org. There is bound to be something for you. Try to push yourself into joining one of the many expat forums, or expat groups for various unique activities such as chess or skydiving.
Just recently in Vienna, there was a U!Meet event where you could meet a large number of people individually for 2 minutes, similar to speed-dating, but as a way to make friends. There can be some cool, wild events going on where you live, and you may regret it if you don’t check it out for a bit.
4) Use technology – but not too much
Technology, while working as an expat abroad, can be your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to settling in. It is a brilliant way to stay in touch with family and friends at home regularly, but social media can make you feel more aware of what you are deemed to be “missing out’’ on. Nights out, birthdays, and family reunions can be hard to watch from a distance. If certain online accounts are hurting you instead of helping you overcome homesickness, stop watching/following them until you feel stronger.
It is important to remember that social media is a highlight reel of only a small percentage of someone’s life, so you may not be missing out on as much as you think. Perhaps use that time to work on constructive things, like meeting new people, and taking the time to explore your interests and hobbies living abroad.
5) Plan trips to your home country
Getting home to see family and friends in person is crucial to the long-term success of the expat experience. However, if you are someone who would not want to see them (i.e.: coming from an abusive home, family trouble, etc.) then skip this step.
Try and book trips to your home country at regular intervals. Some expats try to visit once a year, and others, every six months. For me, as Michelle, I try to visit my family in Connecticut, USA, once a year. It just depends on how much you can afford, and your schedule. Crucial occasions, like going to your religious holidays or milestone birthdays may be a trip you want to get involved in, but for me, I go when I honestly can, and try to stay for at least two weeks.
6) Take care of yourself
When you first move to a new country and don’t know anyone, it can be very easy to slip into unhealthy routines. Staying at home every evening and watching TV can be nice in the short term, but after a few weeks, it is likely to have an impact on both your physical and mental health.
So, reduce your chances of homesickness through exercise. What sport or activities do you like? Indeed, there are YouTube videos you can follow online or classes you can attend in person. I went through a 30-day yoga challenge with Yoga with Adrienne that totally changed my life for the better. The endorphins of exercise will help you keep feelings of homesickness at bay.
If you do still find yourself struggling with feelings of homesickness, it may help to talk to someone. Allianz Care expat health insurance plans include an Expat Assistance Program which provides a confidential and professional 24/7 multilingual support service that can help expats and dependents address a wide range of life issues and challenges.
For those in Vienna, you can also check out U!Shine Vienna, which is a community of people bringing awareness of mental and emotional health – homesickness included!
This post is in friendly collaboration with Allianz Care.