“But we have to remember that we have lost the vessel, not the memories. We just have to build a new place to hold them.” – Kelli Kehler
I’m writing this as I fly back to England after a trip home for the summer break. It was an emotional goodbye this time. Last year when I left, I didn’t know how the homesickness would feel or how it would come in rough waves throughout the first few months. I was excited with anticipation and nervous for the unknown.
If you will excuse the continued wave reference from earlier, I was just home in California and I was thinking about this as I was on the beach one day. The one thing I always notice when I get in the ocean again after a long time is the strength of the waves. Even as you are first walking into the water you feel the ocean pulling and pushing at your feet and legs. As you get deeper and the water comes to your waist and then your chest the waves get bigger and stronger. As time passes you learn that you now have two options: to dive under as the wave rolls over you, or to ride them.
This reminded me of homesickness. Leaving home or even just stepping out of the comfort zone is stepping into the sea. Regardless of the reason you stepped in, this action leaves you with a new found strength and confidence that you wouldn’t have otherwise. However, this strength and confidence only comes as you spend time being impacted by the strength of the waves.
If you are moving abroad, or even just moving away from someplace familiar for the first time you will probably experience some form of homesickness. This honestly comes in so many forms it is unpredictable. I miss my family and my friends and my dog but homesickness also hit me in unexpected ways. I’ve talked about my first experience in Morrisons in an earlier post. A few months after that initial visit, I found myself in the same Morrisons for my seemingly normal weekly shop. In the middle of the bread isle I started to feel a huge wave of sadness because I missed being able to buy American coffee and ranch and V8 fruit juice (that last one is very specific, I know). I felt so incredibly stupid and overly dramatic. But that is how homesickness works. Sometimes it comes at the most expected times like during the holidays or after a phone call home but sometimes it will hit you out of nowhere.
I have put together a list of very cliche things to do when homesickness rushes over you. Even though these things are cliche and simple, they have also helped me tremendously. These are things that help me ride the wave instead of getting caught up in it like I did the first time I stepped in the water.
1.) Find your people.
I was immensely lucky to be put with great flatmates this year. It is so important to make connections wherever you end up. Create a foundation where you are at. If not your flatmates, check out your school website and social media pages for clubs and get togethers. More often than not, your school will have a variety of clubs for people with different interests. Covid made that difficult this year but hopefully as we ease back into regular human contact, opportunities like these will open up. They are great ways to meet new friends and make connections.
2.) Get comfortable doing things on your own
Connections are really important but doing things with someone else isn’t always an option and it is also important to create a sense of independence for yourself. Getting used to going on a walk or visiting a local museum by yourself every once in a while is a good skill to have. Being an expat can get you feeling lonely at times. This is a great time to remind yourself why you came in the first place. Plan to go out and explore (SAFELY) by yourself often. I call these mini solo adventures self-dates.
3.) Call home often
I have moved away from home before, each time in different circumstances. The first time I moved away from home I found it difficult to contact my family and friends. It always seemed harder after talking to them. I missed them more and it forced me to think about what I was “missing out.” I found that even when calling seems harder than just pressing forward with distractions or a busy schedule, it is so important to frequently touch base with your loved ones from home. For me at least, it is so much harder when long periods of time pass between each call or video chat. Later I will talk about how important it is to feel those feelings.
While the first three points were things to do to prepare for when those waves hit and to prevent them from consuming you, these next points will be what to do when they do hit and you are feeling the pull from home.
4.) Go outside and get some fresh air.
Whenever time goes by and you get bored, the homesickness will creep up on you. Going out, taking a deep breath and going on a walk with your thoughts is one way to refresh and clear your mind.
5.) Talk to a friend
As I said before, my flatmates have been amazing this past year. Right before we moved out of our student accommodation we sat around and shared our favourite memories from the year. My favourite memory was about 4-5 months after I had moved. It was the middle of winter and I missed the sun and my family. We had just come home from the winter holidays and straight into lockdown and I just broke down. My poor flatmates let me cry and listened while explain my feelings of missing my family and everything that was going on at home. It was my favourite memory because sometimes, you just really need to let it out.
6.) Do something that reminds you of home
Whenever I feel down, it helps me to cook something from home. Growing up, my family would have pizza and movie night every Friday. My mom makes the best homemade pizza. When we have something to celebrate my dad will make fish tacos. I love both of these dishes and found myself making either of them when I felt like I needed a pick-me-up.
7.) Feel your Feelings
I don’t study the brain and emotions but I’m sure someone who does could tell you why it is important to be honest with yourself. The emotions will hit you out of absolutely nowhere some days. When I was in Liverpool for Christmas break I would have moments where I would just break down in tears out of nowhere missing home and missing being with my family for the holidays. It’s important to be honest with yourself, to allow yourself to acknowledge those feelings and then to make a plan to move forward.
No matter how happy, excited, grateful, determined or focused you are for a new adventure, it is totally normal to feel homesick. But just like waves, they pass, you learn how to ride them, and then they become part of the adventure.
Best of luck. As always, if you have any expat questions let me know! My instagram is in my bio, send me a DM. Much love. xx
p.s. Kelli Kehler has an amazing piece titled “Eulogizing a Home: How to Say Goodbye to a Place With Memories.” Her words are beautiful and it touched me dearly. I highly recommend. Here is the link: