8th February 2015 was our first wedding anniversary. But instead of going out to a restaurant, my husband and I sat at home watching Netflix and eating cereal. Before you ask, no, we’re not on the verge of a divorce! In fact, after 11 years together, in the last 12 months, we’ve become closer than ever.
So why didn’t we celebrate this momentous occasion?
We had just spent two very happy weeks with my parents who had come out to visit us in our new home in San Francisco. On 8th February 2015, we drove them to the airport, hugged, kissed and waved farewell. We left the airport with heavy hearts and my eyes brimming with tears. When we got back to our flat in Bernal Heights neither of us was in a celebratory mood, so we sat down to a marathon of How I met your mother episodes and bowls of Shredded Wheat.
When I’ve had a tough day I normally find it fairly easy to bounce back. A glass of wine, a bath, and a good night’s sleep normally improve my mood. But this was different. I slipped into a bit of a gloom that hung around for a few days. All I could think about was family, friends and what I was missing back at home.
I asked other expat friends whether they’ve experienced homesickness and if they have any particular triggers or tips. The response was overwhelming. Some of them made my laugh and others made me cry. But above all they were reassuring: it was so good to know that I’m not alone, that however much expats love their current home, they still get homesick for their old one.
Here’s what expats miss, what makes them homesick and how they deal with it:
I feel most homesick once a relative or friend leaves after having a holiday with us here. When my mum left, the quilt on her bed still had her smell so I wrapped myself in it and had a little cry. Even hearing the theme tune to BBC news makes me homesick. When I come back from a trip from the UK the smell of Lenor (mum’s washing powder) on my clothes also makes me homesick. Sometimes when it rains here it kind of makes me happy because it makes me feel more at home.
Alex, British, living in the US for 3 years and a half
Sometimes I’ll just really want to do something that I used to do at home all the time, like going to the pub with my mates or having a curry. Instead, I force my American friends to come out with me to the closest dive bar – it’s not quite the same but it always cheers me up.
Albert, British, living in the US for 8 months
Strangely I miss the huge amount/variety of frozen vegetables and fruits we have at Picard (frozen food company!). I miss the French farmers markets, which are more affordable than here, and I miss the Parisian terraces and people watching – a national activity!
What do I do when I feel home sick? I pick up the phone and try to reach out. If the time difference doesn’t allow it I remind myself of all the positive reasons why I am here.
Val, French, living in the US for a year
Some of my homesickness triggers which I either try to avoid or have learnt to mitigate:
Very American situations such as the all hands for the company where there was lots of whooping and high-fives.
Large supermarkets or Costco where there were a lot of products and an overwhelming amount of visual noise, I limit my time in these places to an hour.
Things that make me feel better:
Regular Skype chats with home and parents and friends makes you feel like they are not that far away after all.
A continuous Facebook messenger chat with my friends from home that I missed so that I could tell them when fun stuff happened or send them stickers and let them know when I was thinking of them and I saw something that I thought they might like.
I have a stock of my favourite foods from England that I have been very much enjoying, I am trying to find American equivalent that I like just as much or more for each of these.
Accepting that some days will be harder than others and if work is accommodating taking a day off to hide underneath the duvet and watch English murder mysteries with a cup of tea.
Natalie, British, living in the US for a year and four months
A few days after my parents had left my gloom lifted. I put it down to a combination of English marmalade, Scandinavian crime dramas, and knitting. In the next couple of months I have a hoard of friends and family coming to stay and I can’t wait to see them. But this time, as well as preparing for their arrival, I’m going to prepare for their departure too. I’ll be extra kind to myself for a few days, I’ll line up some meals with expat friends, I’ll stock up on marmalade and search for something new to watch on Netflix.
And this time I’ll do so in the knowledge that I’m not alone, being homesick is just another part of the rich, fascinating and sometimes challenging experience of being an expat.
Let me know in the comments if you have any particular homesickness triggers and or any tips for dealing with the days when you miss home.
A rollercoaster of emotions is felt when going through a big international move. This experience is the phenomenon known as culture shock.