Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How to deal with homesickness: tips and tricks from someone really far away from home

In my hometown with Peter and my dog. 
A few weeks back, I got an e-mail from an old friend asking how I deal with homesickness.  Ready to embark on a new journey, she and her husband moved from our hometown in California to a midwestern state over the summer.   Despite the fact that moving was exactly what they wanted, she had been feeling a bit homesick.   

It's a conflicting feeling that I know really well.  I chose to move to Germany 3 years ago and most days I love it.  We have seasons (gorgeous, gorgeous fall), churches, 500-year-old houses, castles, castle ruins and so much history.  (Oh, and World War II bomb scares, let's not forget those! ;-)  But my home is a part of me and always will be.  There are times when I have been completely heartbroken with homesickness in spite of the fact that I am living what, for many, seems like a dream.

How could you NOT miss this face?
So, I thought long and hard and I wrote her back.  I came up with more tips and tricks than I knew I had and I realized that, actually, I am pretty happy here.   Then, I asked her if I could share the information with you and she thought it was a fabulous idea.   She's really awesome.

Of course, the only qualifications I have to give this advice is that I live really, really far away from home and have for almost 3 years.  Really, I have no idea what I am talking about and I am just dealing with it on a daily basis like everyone else who has moved far away.

A walk behind our house while at home in California.
Trust me when I say it is not easy and there is no way to really get rid of homesickness.  The only things you can do are learn to accept it and not let it get you down.  Here's what I do:


1. Let yourself be homesick.

Don't be too hard on yourself for feeling homesick. When you feel it, indulge it.  It comes from a really positive place--a place of love for your home, your family and friends--so there is no reason to turn it into something negative or beat yourself up over it.  Once I have yielded to it a bit, I just get over it and go about my business here. When I give into the feeling, it passes more quickly.

I also used to let myself confuse homesickness with many other feelings, like discontent or uncertainty about my relationship, but they are not the same thing. Remind yourself of that and don't let yourself start to overanalyze the feeling. 

2. Keep yourself busy and involved in the place that you live. 

Since I have been here, I have gone through periods that are better and ones that are worse. They range from being totally happy here, to being content but homesick to being completely miserable.  I find those feelings are directly related to how busy I am.  There is nothing worse than having too much time to dwell on things.  Being alone in a house all day also isn't good.  Those things will cause homesickness and blow it up into a huge deal.  Don't let that happen.  Fill up your days in any way possible, preferably with other people. 

Hometown at night.
3. Establish rituals where you are.

Part of homesickness is missing that feeling of familiarity and comfort.  These are what rituals and traditions provide.  Establishing new rituals in your new home provides the same feeling of familiarity, but one that is associated with the here and now. We've started Christmas traditions here, for example, that mean a lot to me and actually make it hard for me to go home for Christmas now.   Although I will always miss home, I know now that I can create a life elsewhere that I will then miss when I leave it.

4.  Make your house a home.

As you all know, having a warm and cozy space is extremely important to me.  Even in college, when I moved just about every year, I always put a lot of effort into making my room the perfect sanctuary. If it looks temporary it will feel temporary and you will reminisce about the good old days when you had a cozy place to take refuge from the world in.  One of the biggest parts of feeling at home is actually being in a space that is a home.

These dinner are one of the things I miss most.
5.  Home is where the heart is.

Cliché, cliché but oh so true.  My heart is here with Peter.  He is a home to me in a way that my hometown could never be and I know that because I wouldn't be here otherwise.  When I get homesick, I remind myself of that a lot.  Then I ask him for a hug and he makes me laugh by pretending to be a sloth or a panda bear.  It works wonders...and is a bit weird. 

6.  Make good friends who you can rely on.

This took me a long time to establish over here, but now that I have, my homesickness has decreased considerably.  I still miss everyone I love at home, but with people to keep me laughing and smiling here, I am reminded how lucky I am to have people I love on two continents! 

7. Have a plan to return.  

Although expensive and difficult, I try to always have a time in mind when I will be able to go home next.  A booked flight is even better.  With the sweet relief of home near and the promise that I will see my parents, sister, dog and best friends soon, I get less homesick and can enjoy my time in Germany more. Each time you are at home, figure out a good time to go again--even if it is 6 months or a year in the future. 

8. Don't romanticize or idealize home.  

I spent most of my life wanting to get out of my small California cow town.  I dreamed of bigger, better places where going to the movie theater or Baskin-Robbins wasn't the only thing to do on a Friday night and where people had minds that were open to different people, races, religions, sexualities and world views.  I went to Berkeley and didn't want to move back to the foothills (which I visited frequently during my time there) after I graduated.  I still wanted to see more. 

So why is it that as soon as it became difficult to go home (a 13-hour, 1,000-EURO plane flight), I started thinking it was the best place in the world?  (My theory, if you really want to know, is that it's a little bit like having to go pee pee at the beginning of the movie in the theater--it seems urgent right as the movie is starting and you won't be able to go for another two hours and then you go to the restroom and...nothing!)

It's easy to idealize home when you only go there on vacation and for a week or two.  But all places come with their downsides and difficulties, as long as you are dealing with real life.  It's important to remember this and to realize that it wouldn't be all roses even if you moved back.  You would probably just want to leave again anyway.  


In the mountains, where I grew up. 
You need to work hard and have experiences and time to make a place a home.  It's not going to happen overnight.  It's okay to feel homesick and it doesn't mean you are unhappy.  It's normal, a part of growing up and moving on.  And, hey, nothing is permanent.  If you don't like it after some time (my belief is that it really takes 2-5 years) you can always go someplace else.  

1 comment:

Shira Anderson said...

Jamie! It's been years since we talked, and like you, I have been busy building a new life in a new home very far away (in my case, Israel). It's funny how disparate and yet parallel are experiences are - like you, I moved immediately after graduation and like you, I've built a relationship with a wonderful partner with a different background than me (and in his home country, which of course also affect our dynamic). I found this post to be insightful and - in fact, I am sending it along to a few of my friend here that have also experienced the trials and pleasures of settling abroad. Good luck to you and Peter,and I look forward to reading more!