The Top Ten Ways to Overcome Homesickness While Living Abroad

My top ten ways to cope with homesickness

  1. Lay off the booze and other addictive behaviors
  2. Avoid social media
  3. Self-Care: Putting yourself first
  4. Keep your old good habits alive and well: Engage
  5. Love your new home
  6. Get involved and share your culture
  7. Get back on social media with the new you, on your terms
  8. Develop the routine of your dreams
  9. Push your limits; face those pesky fears head on
  10. Make small changes first before going home

The Story Begins…

In early October 2016, I was still living in Germany and hated it.

I didn’t feel that way at first, but after 2+ years of living there, the bad days began to strongly outnumber the good days. I didn’t hate Germany itself, nor do I now. The fault lies in the fact that I was not yet a Jedi Master in the fight against homesickness. Ich liebe Deutschland und die Deutsche immer noch!

I tried it all to stave off homesickness: went to the gym more, tried making more friends or at least interacting more with others, delved into music…

After all these measures and a few more, I knew it was time to go home. I’m a firm believer that you need the self-recognition to know when it’s time to cut your losses, pack up your bags, and go home. After all, life should be enjoyed.

So, I decided to write my letter of resignation, walked into the office of the school’s principal and bam! Try this on for size; I hit the ejection button soon after the start of the school year.

Good bye to the endless cloudy days of Germany and back to the Californian sunshine.

(Spoiler Alert: I didn’t stay in California for long.)

These Days

It’s a beautiful thing when I start to feel home sick. When you consider the wide range of human emotions and experiences, we need a variety of sentiments on the color palate of Life to create a masterpiece.

How I deal with homesickness has always been a work in progress. In my first few encounters with this foe, I was a complete novice. It whooped my ass.

Over the years, I’ve steadily improved. Now I can look it in the eye and give it a Tiger Uppercut!

I say it’s a beautiful thing because when I sense homesickness encroaching on my well-being, it is a clear sign that the honeymoon stage is over; the vacation feel has worn off.

This is where the battle begins, and I embrace the challenge. After all, self-development experts tell us that it is only in the face of adversity that we get the opportunity to demonstrate our true strength. I firmly believe this perspective. Hence, bring it on, suckaz!

A New Man

Leaving home to live and work in far off places really changes you in so many ways! To go over all the changes would require me to write a book; not a blog entry.

Now that I find myself yet again on stranger tides (Pirates of the Caribbean movie reference), I have a greater array of weapons at my disposal. I’ve learned some of these while living and working in France, Germany, and Texas.

When you’re visiting Beto’s World, rest assured I’ll always keep it real with you. So, if you’re no longer in your early 20’s (like me) and don’t look like a Sports Illustrated model (male or female), then we’re in the same boat. Because these factors change the dynamics of the game; let’s be real.

Having set the starting point, welcome. I present to you my tips for overcoming the very natural phenomenon of homesickness, the nostalgia for what we’ve left behind.

Lay off the booze!

If you’ve resorted to hitting the bottle to numb the pain or help time pass without you noticing, stop it!

  • Ideally, go cold turkey. If you can’t, decide to only drink socially when out meeting new people but don’t get rip-roaring drunk and don’t do it every day.
  • If alcohol isn’t your drug of choice, watch out for other addictive behaviors that serve as a mere distraction: drugs, shopping, gambling, over-eating, obsessive behavior like fitness or keeping your room cleaner than a science lab. Think seriously about your own thinking and behavior. Ask a friend if you have to.
Avoid Social Media
  • Ideally, disconnect completely. Go off the radar. It’s all fake news anyways.
    • Remind yourself of the people you know personally who all they do is BS on Facebook and BS all over Instagram. You know they ain’t doing a gawdamn thing with their lives, but they present themselves online as Pitbull or Beyoncé. What about the people you know who are miserable or hating their dead-end job or relationship…but when they go online and post on Facebook, they present only the happy ending of a cheesy chick-flick?
    • If you avoid this sort of media, you’ll also be helping yourself lay off the booze; because you won’t easily revert to thinking your life is crappy in comparison. You’ll avoid catching the nostalgia for all the pleasant things about being back home; the common idealization of what you left behind.
    • All of this sounds very jerkish, I get that. However, we’re talking about your life here! You only get one shot, according to Eminem. Okay. In India, you get more, but lets look at it through Eminem’s eyes. And I believe this might be the only good thing he’s ever had to say.
Self-Care: Putting You First
  • Find your Zen spot. Know your chill zone.

Use it as needed but don’t hide there for days on end. For example, New Delhi is super loud and action-packed all the time anywhere you go in the city. I am aware of my pre-existing need for occasional peace and quiet. So, I resort to playing my guitar, going to a library, enjoying a delicious massage, or simply staying in my room for quiet mediation and reading.

Speaking of massages….

  • Go for Massages. Not just one.
    • Massages are cheap in Asia. Go twice a week if you can. Even in Germany, where the cost of living is considerably higher, I was able to save enough feds to indulge in a calming massage at least once or twice a month.
    • It helps with your aura too. In case you’ve been lonely and miserable too long; get a scrub massage in order to scrub off the negativity. Furthermore, it will give your skin the glow you need to not appear like an asshole in public. I’m so serious.
  • Find other pleasures to indulge in!
    • For example, in Germany, my good friend and bandmate Eva and I would go for a weekly pastry and coffee. We’d call this our “Rentnertag”, our day of acting like retirees! A very simple weekly ritual, but highly effective.
  • Visit a mall.
    • It feels like an international zone, much like an airport. It’s a familiar setting because I’m sure you got malls at home. Even the malls in India have all the familiar brand names to confuse your brain and help you relax: Starbucks, Chili’s, TGIF, Häagen-Dazs, Levis, etc.
    • Exercise
      • But with others. Choose exercises that are dynamic: Martial arts, CrossFit, Zumba, a dance class.
      • TBH, I can’t stand Zumba, and I don’t care much for dancing but there’s something to be said about the benefits of getting your ass on the dancefloor and shaking what your mama gave you.
      • Yoga

Had I discovered Yoga while in Germany (and gotten a puppy), I’d probably still be living in Germany. In my previous life, I so underestimated the importance of meditation and yogic principles (beyond the stretching). Now, I full-heartedly recommend it.

  • Pimp out your room
    • I’m not saying you should start up a brothel as a side-gig.
    • For example, I’m making my room here in India comfy as all hell. I’m putting up a FEW momentos from home, but not too much. How about momentos from all your other travels? This will remind you that you’re a global citizen, embrace it!
    • Additionally, I’m going to jazz up my room big time to make it look like the most stereotypical Hindi temple or Bollywood film set. I think the art and colors are cool, it’s different for me, it reinforces why I travel… to learn about a new culture. Furthermore, this gets me out the door and keeps me busy: going to the markets to buy stuff, flirting with the cute girls at the markets…making plenty of social faux-pas, typical stuff.
Keep up your old habits. The good ones.
  • If the old you was an awesome person, that’s what people want to see. Not the miserable jerk you’re becoming from spending too much time alone and brooding in negative thoughts.
    • In my experience, I had to keep on playing the guitar even as I watched my soul whither, dragged my ass to the gym even when I wanted to sleep in.
    • What makes you tick? What makes you interesting? Keep doing that!
    • It’s so much better if your preferred hobbies involve other people. Keep yourself social. Engage with others.
    • Eventually, you’ll feel comfortable sharing something personal. Let the new people you’ve met know how you feel. That you feel a little homesick, or that you’re having trouble feeling at home with the culture. Before long, you’ll find someone who will show you the ropes or take you in like a lost puppy and adopt you.
    • Find a friend from your homeland, but no pity-parties! Also, try making a friend who is also a foreigner like you; it’s nice to have a cell mates who understand each other. In Germany, I got along great with the Polish, Russians, Turks and Italians!
Love your new “home”. Even if you don’t (yet), embrace it like you do.
  • Make a tourist bucket list and do it!
    • Pretend you’re a tourist again and you’re seeing it all for the first time. Go to the tourist center and ask them questions, flirt with the cute girl or guy working there and invite them to a cup of coffee. Tell them they’re pretty cool and you’re so happy their English is great! That you’ve only got one night in town…are you down? (wink,wink)
  • Make your new country your new classroom
    • Learn the language. Engage!
      • Join a class: I once joined a French class in Germany just to meet like-minded Francophiles and anybody else really. It was so much fun!
    • Learn a new skill
      • Being here in India, I’m delving into Yoga, Sitar, Bollywood films, trying to learn Hindi, learning the history and culture as well.
    • Then teach others. In turn, this will be the best way to learn. You’ll also realize how amazing this experience really is for you and that others wish to be in your shoes. You’re so lucky! Enjoy it.
    • Once you’re an expert, get your family and friends to visit. Plan the vacation of their lifetime!
  • Get involved
    • Join a social cause or a church.
    • Teach others about your home country and your culture. Is there an organization that will help you do it?
      • Throw a Fiesta!!
        • Don’t wait to be invited to the party, make the party happen.

Invite people from that class you joined to dinner at your house. Or the cute girl from the tourist center.

  • Organize an evening related to things from your home country: food, music, décor, games, etc.
  • In my experience, cooking Mexican food for others has worked wonders. Outside the USA, I’m shocked how interested a lot of people are in learning about Mexico. Bienvenidos!
    • For this, I’ve had to learn more about my own culture so that I can explain it well to others. Get ready for questions that will catch you off guard!
  • Limit Skype to once or twice a month. You can’t pretend to love your new home if you’re constantly skyping mom about how miserable you are.

I’d skype even less; especially if you’re not the emotional type (like I pretend to be).

Remember, even if you video-call with your mom or close friends for hours per day, their life still goes on…as should yours.

Get back on Social Media wh en you’re no longer a drunkard or an emotional wreck.

  • Unleash your inner Photographer: See the beauty of your new home and share it with other.
  • Before you resurrect your old Facebook profile (and go back to stalking your exes) create a persona and start a blog. Hence, the birth of Beto’s World.
    • Start a blog to document your adventures. People from around the world will think what you’re doing is awesome, even when you doubt yourself and when your family and friends might not really think it’s so awesome either (This is probably not the case but it’s just another negative thought floating around in your own head that you need to eliminate).
  • Once all the kind and supportive words of like minded individuals from around the world have fortified your spirit, resurrect your old Facebook profile. If you really must know how many kids your exes now have.

Develop a routine on your own terms: the routine of your dreams

  • Who breaks free from the life-draining routines of their home country only to go somewhere cool and get stuck in a new rut?
    • No one. That’s why your new routine should be one of your own making, and I’d recommend you make it a master piece!

For example, I’ve scheduled two sitar lessons per week, lots of yoga, daily visits to a Sikh temple along with a new local friend, who happens to be a believer and goes every day. I normally go when I’m not hungover (nobody’s perfect)

  • Develop a routine that keeps you committed. Look for high-commitment activities like: sports, clubs, leadership roles in a club or social group. And work: see your job as a networking opportunity. If you don’t have to work, work anyway but something that you like and can limit your hours. I’m thinking here of students and dependents of diplomats, etc.

Push your limits

A real personal quirk is that I hate crowds. Even a small group of people puts me on edge. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a people-person. As a teacher, I have no problem standing in the front of a classroom and doing my job. Outside the classroom, vastly different story.

However, I’ve found a hack that works for me; give it a try if you relate to my struggle.

  • Go to a busy place and watch the madness until it becomes a beautiful show of the human experience. Write in detail about what you see and/or listen to some classical music while you observe the human spectacle.
    • I’ve often gone to a busy street side café looking out towards a busy city square. I order a cappuccino and observe the crowd, jot down some thoughts and try to find some reason behind all the madness. The café is a controlled environment which is similar almost anywhere in the world and this helps to make me feel comfortable and eventually move beyond being stressed out by the crowd.

Know Yourself

If you’ve really done all you can to overcome homesickness and in the end it’s still too much, make small changes first. Move to an expat community, get a roommate, change jobs, change up the city or try a different country. Any slight baby step for starters. I probably should have gone to Portugal or Italy after having my Nose full of Germany.

If this doesn’t work, go home. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. However, I understand that this solution is country dependent. I have no issue going back to California; my family lives 5 minutes from the beach. However, if my home country were under siege by violent drug cartels or facing widespread famine or another dire calamity, the decision to go home would be radically different.

If this is the case, please let me know what your options are or what you have done. I’d really like to know!

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