It crept in without me noticing, maybe around three months in. At first it just highlighted simple things such as why can’t I get a KitKat in the local shop?? Why does every vehicle I travel in seem to have a death wish???
But soon it was time to move on, so my thoughts got distracted with exciting new sights and scenes. Then Christmas came and I was stuck in Montevideo. That’s when the more serious wave came – thoughts of family, friends, cat, and life left behind. Christmas Eve was almost unbearable as it became a physical tugging on the heart. I watched mothers and daughters, families, and groups of friends hurrying home together with bags of presents. Then the city fell silent.
It was the first Christmas I had ever wished to be over as quickly as possible.
When the New Year came, I thought, was when it would all get better – I could move on again. As you know, that didn’t quite happen. However, I did move on eventually – to the bright lights of Buenos Aires, the thundering Iguazu Falls, a multi-week adventure across Bolivia. But no matter how many sights, smiles and sunbeams the days might bring, the feeling was firmly planted there inside. Sometimes it would come to the fore, with tears and desperate thoughts of running to the nearest airport.
“But no! Don’t give up!” – everyone, and part of me, cried.
So I carried on.
Before I knew it, I had got an apartment in Cusco and was looking for jobs. Weeks went by and the jobs didn’t come. Money dripped away and so did my sanity. Nothing to do, no one to go out with, barely enough food to eat was a cocktail for a rapid descent into depression.
From my apartment window I could see the planes taking off every day from Cusco airport and I would fantasise about being inside one.
The worst thing of all, is I felt guilty and isolated – no one else I saw walking round the streets of Cusco looked unhappy to be here, nobody else looked like they dreamt of home every night. But then a saviour came, in the form of the internet. A tentative quick typing into Google of ‘homesickness’ brought up a torrent of blogs and professional advice. I was not alone!! Hundreds of people all around the world were feeling the same way as me and were all exchanging kind words and support. So it was completely normal how I was feeling! And there were ways to help me feel better!
So it’s only fair I share them for anyone who hasn’t found those blogs, but mine instead:
- First of all, know it’s normal, don’t fight it, ride it through. Homesickness is comparable as a type of grief, so expect the same emotions, and know that this too will pass.
- Keep busy! This is an excellent cure for any kind of depression. Do something, anything. Go for a walk at least once a day. Get work, study, volunteer, seek out local cultural events, exercise, stream films, read and write, join a club.
- Bringing me to – join an expat club so you can chat with like-minded people and create a support network. (See your local Meetup and Craigslist webpages).
- Chat with friends and family back home as often as you want – be it by phone, Skype or email – even if to share the silliest, smallest story, that will help you feel as connected to them as if they were down the road.
- Finally, don’t be afraid to pack it all up and go back home. If that’s where your heart really lays, then lay it there – life’s too short to be miserable.
I’ve skimmed the surface – check out my lifeline Grit and Glamour’s Getting Over Homesickness and 10 Tips for Managing Homesickness – in particular, scroll down to see readers’ comments and her thoughtful responses.
And what did I do? Did the homesickness fade? Did I stay or did I go? Well that’s another story…