I’m a homebody. My home is my comfort place. I remember 10 years ago my parents mentioned the possibility of our family moving from Australia to Austria and I begged them to not make me leave behind my friends and home in Australia for a new life of unknowns. Will I make friends? Will I feel at home in a new house? These were unknowns I just couldn’t bring myself to face at 8 years old. We didn’t end up moving; but 10 years later a freshly 18 year old me decided that I was going to do the exact thing 8 year old me feared. I moved out of my childhood home and said “see you later” to my family and friends to start a new chapter of my life in Germany. Of course this was the toughest thing I have had to do in my life and throughout my first two months here I have experienced homesickness in full force for the first time.
So if you are contemplating moving away from your comfort place or have done so already and are in need of advice or just knowing other people are going through what you’re going through then this is hopefully going to help you. In particular if you’re like me and have an anxious mind but an insatiable love of travelling, or you struggle with anxiety or feelings of anxiousness around travel and being outside of your comfort zone like I do, then I really hope this helps you.
*Before I begin I’d just like to say that I am definitely not an expert when it comes to dealing with homesickness. I’ve been away from home for just over 2 and still miss it daily so the following are just a few things that help calm me down on days where I seriously consider booking a ticket straight back home.*
All by Myself
When I first decided to move overseas on the night of my 18th birthday I carefully weighed up the pros and cons for weeks. One advantage that I thought I would have is that I enjoy my own company so I shouldn’t struggle with loneliness or really feel too affected by not having my friends close by. Boy was I very wrong!
I was not prepared for the feelings of loneliness and isolation that I felt after moving overseas. I thought because I had spent most of last year alone due to my friends all being away at university and me being quite busy with full-time work that I wouldn’t even notice the distance between my friends and I because I was already so used to it. Again, I was wrong. In my second week of living in Germany, after the hype started to die down and I fell into a routine, I had my first taste of homesickness and the dreadful feeling of loneliness that comes with it. I’m an introvert and tend to prefer my own company in most situations so I was not all that familiar with longing for companionship or a simple chat over a cup of tea. But in this week I craved friendship more than ever. I felt like a little kid wishing summer holidays could end so that I could see all my school friends again. This also wasn’t helped by the fact that I was living in a small town who’s population only really spoke German making the ability to converse and meet new people so much harder.
Last week I finally felt confident enough in my German speaking ability and had had enough of sitting alone in my room all day, every day that I decided to take the plunge and join a local theatre group. Theatre was my favourite extra-curricular activity when I was in high school and so when the opportunity arose for me to join a local theatre group here I didn’t hesitate to take that chance. Not only am I now able to participate in something I absolutely love but it is the perfect opportunity to meet plenty of like-minded people and hopefully make some good friends. Even though I have only been to one rehearsal and haven’t really made any lasting friendships yet, the loneliness I had been feeling for the two months since arriving here has already subsided a great deal. I can’t recommend enough that you get out and find yourself something to do that isn’t just work. If you’re sporty, join a sports team. If you’re interests lie in the arts, find a theatre group or music school or even an art class to join and I promise that even if you don’t instantly make friends it will still make all the difference as you now having something outside of your usual routine to focus some energy on!
Speaking in Tongues…
If you had asked me a few weeks ago how I felt living in a place that doesn’t have English as its primary language I would have cried and told you just how isolated it made me feel. Before moving here I thought my ability to speak German was up to a standard where I wouldn’t have an issue settling in here and speaking the language however once I arrived and found myself completely surrounded by fluent German 24/7 I began to lose confidence in my abilities and felt as though I sounded like a 3 year old when trying to communicate with adults in German. I very quickly started to crave somebody to just speak fluent English with. I felt selfish but, more than anything, I was just hoping someone would come along who was Australian (I’d settle for an American, Canadian, anyone who natively spoke English) just to understand the way I felt being the English speaker in a sea of German speakers. It seemed so silly to me to want this because my host family spoke perfectly good English and most people I met could speak English too and I hadn’t come all this way from Australia just to speak English but I couldn’t help the way this language barrier was making me feel. It wasn’t really the language I sought but the connection with another native-English speaker who knew what it was like to have to constantly be translating and rehearsing sentences in your head. Of course you might not have this problem if you are living somewhere that speaks English but I don’t doubt that you might still seek that familiarity like me of having someone else there who is also a foreigner.
When trying so desperately to get my head around a language I had previously thought I knew so well, I couldn’t help thinking of this scene from Modern Family where Gloria tells Jay that he has no idea what it’s like to speak a second language constantly. I knew it was silly to feel this way especially being a native English speaker because no matter where I go there are signs in English, films in English and most of Germany’s population can speak English as a second language. But to be constantly surrounded by TV, books and people who were speaking German zapped so much of my energy. Having to constantly translate everything just to end up feeling like an idiot when the sentence I had carefully constructed in German comes out all wrong became really disheartening and made me not want to leave the house. It’s a small thing but it definitely added to the feelings of isolation I already had.
What I did is play the tourist card for the first couple of weeks. When I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say in German I would say it in English to check if the person I was asking was able to understand, if that didn’t work then I tried pointing and signing and using German words and phrases that I did know to try and communicate. At times I felt like a child who hadn’t yet learned how to speak and it was frustrating when theses things still didn’t work but perseverance is key and eventually you will pick up more words and phrases or find people who are willing to help you learn and you will get there. Remember to stay open minded and persistent, don’t let the frustration of not understanding keep you from trying to learn and know that you will eventually find it easy. It also helps to give yourself credit for trying. You are speaking a second language and nobody expects you to be fluent at both. When non-English speakers talk in English with me I never judge them when they mispronounce a word or use a word incorrectly so I don’t know why I criticised myself so harshly for not being able to speak German fluently with no proper training. Remember, the only limitations you have in your ability are the ones you put up for yourself!
Without a doubt, the most difficult part of homesickness is the longing for things you can’t have that comes with it. Since moving to Germany I have longed to go to the beach. For 14 years I lived a short 10 minute drive away from the beach, my school was a mere 5 minute walk from the beach yet I hardly ever went because I hate sand! Despite the fact that I only ever went to the beach on somebody else’s suggestion when I lived in Australia, ever since arriving here it is a thought that so often pops into my head and goes “hey, remember when we lived in Australia and we could go to the beach whenever we liked? Well now that we’re not within miles of the nearest beach I think I’d really like to go.” With homesickness the heart and the brain seem to have two different agendas. My logic knows very well that I am doing the right thing by following my dreams and being here but my emotional side constantly makes me pine for the familiarity of home and to see my family again.
I would recommend firstly to figure out the time difference between the country you’re living in and the country where your family and friends live and familiarise yourself with it. For me there is currently an eight hour time difference which means that in the morning when I woke up and eat breakfast is the perfect time to message my family and friends back home in Australia where it is their evening. I am very lucky in the fact that my work schedule means that during my day I could message/skype my family and friends then when it becomes late in Australia and they all go to bed I start my afternoon shift. The messaging and video chatting isn’t the same as actually being with friends and family and can sometimes make you feel a bit more homesick but you have to work with what you’ve got and remember how fortunate we are to be living in a technological age where people half the world away are only a simple text or call away any time, day or night. Just keep checking in with yourself and make sure that living abroad is the right thing for you at this time and remind yourself of that whenever the silly thoughts of regret or booking the next plane home pop into your head. There are still days where work is stressful or I hear of something happening back home that makes me feel as though I made a mistake and should be back in Australia but at the end of the day I have to remind myself that, apart from my family, there’s nothing at home for me that I can’t have here.
I would also definitely recommend setting goals and making plans for throughout the period of time that you will be living abroad so that you always have something to look forward to that isn’t just the day you move back home again.
I hope that if you are struggling with homesickness or are considering moving abroad but are worried about how you will deal with homesickness than these might help you. Homesickness is a natural reaction to the culture shock and shift in routine you experience when uprooting your life and moving it to another country but please don’t let the fear of being homesick keep you from following your travel dreams. It is completely bearable and trust me when I say that less than two weeks ago I didn’t believe anyone who told me that the homesickness will subside but it does, it really does. For me it happened almost overnight and though I still have the odd moment of missing home or wishing I could go somewhere or do something that I used to do back home but for the most part my perspective has changed and I have finally found a way of enjoying this adventure for what it is and accepted the fact that I’m here now, next year I might be back in Australia or I might be somewhere completely different in the world but I’m not about to let this year (and all the money I spent getting myself here) go to waste by constantly sulking about the things I miss.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post, I really appreciate all of your support and let me know how you deal with homesickness in the comments!