Homesickness: The Expat’s Enemy

Homesickness is a funny thing. It can strike at any time, without warning and for the most peculiar reasons. Sometimes you can fight it, but often there is no cure. You don’t know beforehand whether or not it will affect you and you can’t prevent it. It’s a sickness with no cure. That being said, it doesn’t have to get the better of you. When I moved to Brunei, I wasn’t expecting to get homesick. I had lived in Aberdeen (in the North-East of Scotland) for five years before we relocated to Brunei. I only saw my family a couple of times a year because flights were expensive and the journey by car or train took around seven hours each way. So I was used to living away from home. I think I was a little unprepared for how ‘foreign’ Brunei would feel at first, but I threw myself into life here and after a few months I was busy and happier than I had been before we moved. I felt a little homesick from time to time, especially when I missed family events and special birthday celebrations that I would have made the time to go back for when we lived closer. But usually a visit to the UK in winter would remind me how lucky I was to not be living there and I would congratulate myself at having escaped from the affliction of homesickness which sent some people packing as soon as they could. I had been in Brunei for two and a half years before I got properly homesick. It finally hit me when my son was born. It didn’t help that I had a complicated birth and was ill afterwards. We had to fly my mum out for an emergency visit as my husband had to go back to work as I was being discharged from hospital for the second time. Suddenly I realised how far away we really were, and that we were all alone with a new baby to care for and no idea what to do! There is not much follow-up care for new mothers in Brunei; if there is a problem you go to see the doctor or pediatrician but otherwise you are left to it. The internet can answer many questions, but what I really wanted was to be back in the UK with my family and friends and have a health visitor popping around every now and again to put my mind at rest. I’m sure, looking back, that life in the UK would have been nearly as tough, it was a difficult situation and wouldn’t have been much easier back home, but at the time I just wanted to be gone. Now I’ve got into my stride a little with the baby thing, as much as that is ever possible, I don’t feel the same way. Yes, it would be nice to be closer than a sixteen hour flight away so that we could visit our family more often. But I’m not desperately homesick anymore. I wouldn’t say ‘cured’ but I won’t be packing my bags too soon. Homesickness can occur at any time, even when you think you have it all under control. And it doesn’t have to be a life changing event like having a baby to trigger it. When I first moved here I found that my emotions were heightened and life became  – as cliched as it sounds – a bit of a roller-coaster. The highs and lows of everyday life were violent: one day I would be planning to spend the rest of my life abroad; and the next I would be in tears because there were weevils in the rice and dinner was ruined. There was no middle ground. This settled down after a while, but these peaks and troughs do still come back after a particularly bad or good day. You just get better at handling them and being able to reassure yourself that you will feel different the next day, and in that respect I feel like I have a better handle over homesickness. But I also recognise that one day either myself or my husband will say enough, and then we will call it a day and move back to the UK. I just don’t know when that day will come.

England in the Autumn - one of the things I miss.
England in the Autumn – one of the things I miss.

Have you ever suffered from homesickness? Do you have any tips for dealing with it? I would love to hear your stories. (Image from Wikimedia)

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13 thoughts on “Homesickness: The Expat’s Enemy

  1. I think the combination of post-birth hormones and being so far away from home is a recipe for PND – it would be more of a surprise if someone giving birth so far away DIDN’T get it to some degree or another than they did! I’m glad you’re feeling okay again now but I totally agree about the highs and lows of expat life. I always thought this – definitely more lows, but also more genuine highs over there than back here. Here, life sort of runs on the level. I’m still not sure what I prefer – sometimes it’s good to experience both as going back to the other is also nice.

  2. I agree, it’s always harder after having a baby, but then again – it would have been hard for you even if you were at home. I do feel homesick, but I miss my family more than the place itself, I guess, it’s because I left, when I was so young and now my family lives in another place as well.

  3. I came over to Florida, from Venezuela to get married and the idea was to go back and forth as we both have flexible agendas. But… The unraveling socioeconomic and political conditions have made that plan a puff in the air. So to my surprise, as Inhave been coming to USA forever, even though I came for a wonderful reason and I am very happy personally. I not only miss my city and country… But I’m grieving for it…

    1. That must be really difficult. I think what makes it easier for me is the knowledge that I am only in Brunei for a set amount of time and then we have to move on. Every so often I feel like I’ve had enough, but a holiday or a trip home puts it into perspective. I hope that things are resolved so that you can go back.

      1. Well, it is… But as things are looking right now,mI think I will have my cherished memories forever while my country goes down the drain. But.. Making connections with other venezuelans in my community helps a lot, keeping very busy, tending to my beautiful orchids and last but not least today I found ready mad” arepas” our daily cornflour bread has made my day. I still dream about the beautiful Avila mountain which guarda my beloved city in pancake flat Florida… But at least I have my dreams. For now…

  4. While I haven’t lived abroad, I have lived many different places in the U.S. I find that I always feel a little bit homesick for each place, but it waxes and wanes depending on what else is happening in my life. My current mantra is to focus on the great things about where I am now. Who knows how long it will last?

    1. That’s great advice, and something that I try to remind myself of when I do feel homesick. It’s very easy to get caught up in wishing you were somewhere else, but I tell myself that nowhere is as perfect as I remember it to be!

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