In my experience, it’s difficult to predict what expats will miss most about their home country. In many respects it’s a personal thing, unique to the individual, but sometimes patterns arise. The British, for example, often seem to miss simple little things like the ability to find a decent cup of tea, or the distressing absence of Marmite! So I thought it’d be useful to take a look at the things people miss, and propose some sensible ways to overcome the unpleasant feeling of not quite belonging.
Missing familiar foods
If you’re desperate for a certain food that you just can’t buy in your new home country, there’s always the internet. Order stocks online, or ask a relative or friend to send you a supply by mail if that’s an option. You can also try seeking out the local alternative and exercising patience. Your taste buds will eventually tune in to the new taste. It’s worth the effort because eating and drinking the same things as the locals can be a powerful way to make yourself feel more at home on an emotional and physical level..
Missing the weather
If you grew up in a country with distinct seasons, being deprived of them can have a surprisingly strong effect on the way you feel. Take the phenomenon of ‘Bouncing Poms’, where British people move to Australia for the lovely climate but return to the UK after a few years because they miss the rain. Strange but true! The same goes the other way round: if you’re used to an endless parade of beautiful sunny days, the sheer variety of spring, summer, autumn and winter weather can prove a shock.
It sounds ridiculously simple, but something as straightforward as dressing for the weather in your new country helps you acclimatise. Donate your old clothes, buy suitable alternatives locally, go native and look the part for a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.
Missing friends and family
Skype and other VOIP telephone services have made the life of the expat so much easier, especially when one of the most difficult things to cope with is missing your friends and family. With many of these services, you can see who you’re talking to, which makes the experience a lot more vivid and satisfying.
Writing real letters, by post, can help enormously because while it’s old fashioned, it’s such a personal way to communicate. The time and effort spent makes a traditional letter something really heart-warming and special. The same goes for parcels, greetings cards and postcards.
It’s good to have something to look forward to. If you’re feeling homesick, plan your next trip home and book it well in advance so it’s there on the horizon, sustaining you whenever you find yourself feeling the blues. Do the same with family visits to your new country and it’ll help you feel less isolated.
Assuming you’ve moved for good, with no plans to return, it’s vitally important to build a lively, supportive network of friends and acquaintances and create a good social life in your new country. When you first start learning a new language, it feels like an uphill struggle. The basics are useful, but you can’t have a satisfyingly in-depth intelligent conversation if you only know how to order a beer or ask the way to the town hall. Stick with it, using every learning tool at your disposal and remember that people are people – friendly, approachable and helpful – wherever you live.
Using your internal dialogue to help you acclimatise
If you’re all at sea in your new location, try to use the power of your own words to change the way you think, feel and act. It’s a powerful practical tool in all sorts of circumstances. Here’s a simple example. It’s hard to settle into a new country when you keep calling your country of origin ‘home’. Try calling your new country ‘home’ instead, and it’ll help change the way you feel about where you live.
Acknowledging your feelings and getting on with it
You might find you never really feel 100% at ease. But if you acknowledge the fact and do your best rather than giving yourself a hard time, it’ll help you reach a level of acceptance that’ll take the sting out of the long term situation. But with luck, you’ll wake up one day and realise you really do feel at home.
Our detailed expat country guides
For more information about making a success of your move abroad, why not download our free eBook, The New Expat, which covers medical considerations, family matters, accommodation issues, financial arrangements and much more. You might also enjoy our special country guides, which include the ins and outs of living as an expat.