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How To Cope With Long Term Homesickness

October 16, 2013

Long term homesickness is not a casual pang of nostalgia, it is more like a piece of you is missing every day. I’ve written this based on my own experience with homesickness from the perspective of an American living in the United Kingdom, however the points that I’ve made can probably be applied universally to anyone who has moved far away from home for a period of years.

This isn’t so much for people suffering the initial culture shock of moving to a foreign country, which I’ll admit is also rough, but still some of the points below may help people in that position as well.

Long term homesickness is a great deal more challenging than people who haven’t experienced it can imagine. When you first move to a new place everything is exciting and wonderful however, over time the tiniest things that you may have once taken for granted gain the power to break your heart just as much as the big things like missing holidays, graduations, births, weddings and funerals.

Some days are better than others but I do carry a degree sadness with me every day for the people and the sense of belonging that I left behind. I have written out out the tips below because it’s taken me years to develop how I cope and remain positive being so far from home. Maybe If I had read something similar to this when I went through my worst times here it would have helped to lessen the sting.


Surround Yourself With Reminders Of Home

Where you can see them every day

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The way that you decorate your living space will usually be a reflection of your personal history in things that you have acquired from places you’ve been or that were gifted to you.

I left most of my material life back in Rhode Island, largely at the side of the road for the garbage man, but I still surround myself with reminders of home because, as strange as it may sound it makes it feel like my family isn’t as far away having these mementos where I can see them every day.

I’m not talking about photographs, and I mention this because they are really the obvious choice. I do have plenty of those and they are treasured, but I am talking about little things that aren’t so obvious.

For example the items in the picture above seem pretty trivial superficially, however they each have special meaning to me in connection with specific people and events and they make me feel like I am home.

I also grow things in my garden every year that specifically remind me of home such as irises, gladiolas and dahlias.


Keep In Touch With The People You Care About

I Use Three Main Methods

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1. Email

I am the worst person for keeping in touch with people. I am not warm or fuzzy by nature and making conversation with anyone has never been one of my strong points (note how phone isn’t one of my examples) however, I still do email regularly with various members of my family. Sometimes writing those emails makes me really sad and I’ll admit that has been a real deterrent in writing them, but I still do it and when the email is sent, I feel so much better for keeping in touch. So it might be difficult to get the ball rolling in maintaining communication if you’re anything like me, but force yourself to do it because it helps.

2.  Facebook

I was one of those people who adamantly refused to sign up with Facebook because I’d seen what a fester hole Myspace was and I didn’t want to get involved. I also didn’t want to be another drone jumping on the bandwagon. As it turns out, I was mistaken about Facebook being a fester hole and I eventually got my arm twisted into setting up an account. I must now state that Facebook has been invaluable to me in terms of feeling like I’m still connected somehow in the daily lives of the people I am closest to but physically furthest from.

If you don’t have a Facebook account, get one. You can adjust your settings so that your news feed only shows you what you want to see and so that no one you don’t want contacting you can ever find you. You don’t even have to use your real name or divulge anything personal about yourself. If you find the whole experience intimidating, get someone you trust to show you the ropes.

3. Skype

Skype is also a very important communication tool and it’s totally free if both parties are using it.

Skype is a program that allows you to call people as you would with a telephone. If the person you’re calling isn’t also using Skype there is a charge but it’s tiny. It costs me about 2p a minute to call a cell or land line in Rhode Island through Skype which is better than any calling card I’ve ever used.

Skype also facilitates video calling between computers, tablets or smartphones. I certainly don’t use Skype as often as I use Email and Facebook to communicate with people back home however, I did recently use it to do something very important and it’s not easy for me to write this but I’m going to share because it’s an example of using Skype as a communication tool in a way that had never crossed my mind until it happened. My great grandmother passed away less than a week ago at the time I’m writing this. Through Skype and my mother’s iPhone I was able to say goodbye, face to face the last time she was conscious. I can not express how valuable that was to me, but besides that and equally importantly, two days later when she passed away I was able to be with her, again through Skype and that iPhone.

So I would strongly recommend that if you haven’t given Skype or a similar program a try that you consider it, it’s got a great deal of (free) positive potential.


Remember The Positives Of Being Where You Are

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Sometimes it’s pretty difficult to remember the positives of where I am in Scotland when the weather is eternally depressing. People aren’t exaggerating when they complain about the weather here. It is genuinely miserable on most days.

Besides the weather, I could go on for thousands of words about all the things that I love about home that simply aren’t present here as far as the natural world is concerned but I’m not going to because this point is supposed to be about remembering the POSITIVES of being here.

1. Outdoors

First of all there is beauty in Scotland that is completely different but with equal merit to that of New England. For example, taking a drive in the highlands when the heather is in full bloom, covering the hills with vibrant purple will treat your eyes to one of the most captivating landscapes you’ve ever seen. I’ve also become interested in wildflowers in general. I battle weeds in my garden constantly but I’ve found that if I let them grow they almost always yield lovely, colorful blooms. Flowers that I’ve never noticed or appreciated before. Now I’m starting to catalogue the wildflowers that find their way into my back yard.

2. Folklore & Mythology

Secondly there is a rich folklore here which even the locals totally take for granted. I keep saying time and time again if the tacky tourist shops would start promoting more authentically Scottish merchandise and cashing in on that rich folklore they would be vastly improved. At any rate I’ve found that once you have a rough handle on the folklore and history that has been created in this country, every single place that you visit thereafter becomes a bit more interesting.

3. History

Which brings me to my third point, History! There is so much history here. Ancient history is very interesting but more recent history is also fascinating. Since I moved here I have certainly developed a much greater appreciation for the UK’s role in WWII for example. It never occurred to me before how terrifying it must have been to be here, so close to the action or how many key roles British armed forces as well as British scientists and engineers played. When you’re educated by the American public school system all you get drilled into your head (for the most part) for 12 years is cheer-leading for the good old USA. I’m not saying that the USA isn’t great in its own right, I’m just saying that it is very young and learning about less than a few hundred years over and over again is a bit tiresome. Also whenever world history is touched upon it’s really superficial, at least it was for me. There is so much to learn about the rest of the world. Being in the UK and this close to Europe, with the help of many a wonderful BBC documentary it all feels much more real and I am so thankful for the opportunity to have my eyes opened. I have learned more watching documentaries and then following up with my own research in the last few years than I ever learned in high school and college combined.

4. Entertainment

For my fourth and final example, having just mentioned wonderful BBC documentaries, I will say that in the time I have been here I have developed a taste for British films and television which otherwise, I may not have bothered with. I enjoy the dry humor and wit. The commercials are even entertaining.


Treat Yourself To Nostalgic Comfort Foods

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I am one of those people who overeats when they’re sad and overeats when they’re really happy. Food is a big part of my life and it always has been.

When I’m feeling particularly homesick it does make me feel better to delve into my nostalgic comfort foods and it gives me some of the relief I need on a really bad day. Food has the ability to not only satisfy your sense of taste and smell and to satiate hunger, it also triggers memories and feelings that are associated with those tastes and smells. So I would absolutely recommend that anyone else in the same situation gives it a try, no matter how obscure the food.

I’ve been in the UK long enough to source just about all of the ingredients I need to make just about anything I want, but someone who has only recently moved here in the last couple of years could very easily go broke importing american ingredients needlessly. Before you shell out the cash to import consult the internet first. I DO import a few things but It’s crazy what people will spend money on not realizing the equivalent might be going by a different name or it might be a different color but it’s staring them right in the face.

For example, I was on an american food (UK) website a few years ago reading a review someone left for Kraft boxed mac and cheese. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the healing value of Kraft mac and cheese having grown up on the stuff, but what the reviewer probably didn’t realize was that she just shelled out an obscene amount of money for mac and cheese in addition to shipping charges and then thanked the people who ripped her off profusely when Kraft mac and cheese is actually dirt cheap and readily available in most supermarkets. It tastes exactly the same, it just comes in a red box and they call it cheesy pasta. I know, it is sacrilege to replace the blue box with a red one but there it is. So it does pay to do a bit of research before you start importing.

Food tips for any Americans in the UK

This is my favorite website to acquire american foods from in terms of variety:

The Stateside Candy Co also has a lot of American foods through various suppliers

Tesco now has a small American food section which you can also view online HERE

Asda carries a lot of American products on and off, you just need to be keen to spot them


KEEP Your Traditions

Your Past Is Important

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I make an effort every year, without fail to celebrate my own traditions and holidays which are completely foreign here such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving and to include some of my own traditions in celebrations which are mirrored in the UK like Christmas and Easter.

Why do I bother? Well, I bother because I am afraid that if I do not maintain my traditions I will lose them. Even though it makes me sad that I’m far away from the people who I share a history of these traditions with, it makes me happy that I am still honoring them. I am honoring my grandparents, my parents and my extended family for bringing me up with these traditions by keeping them alive wherever I am, and that’s really important to me.

So I can’t stress enough that if there are traditions you hold dear, don’t let them slip away. Just because Mom isn’t there to put up the decorations and make the turkey doesn’t mean you can’t learn to do it yourself. Keep those traditions alive, remember the people and the places and how they made you feel. Then share these things with the people you are presently with.


Make New Traditions

Moving Forward

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Life is about moving forward and making new memories. So do keep your traditions but be sure to leave room to make new ones as well.

I have started a family in the UK and I will teach my daughter the value of tradition as my mother taught me, not only verbally but through action. Tradition is an enormous part of what makes holidays so special.

Christmas especially is still really difficult for me to get through. I hide the tears, put on a smile and immerse myself in a culture that isn’t my own with a family who has welcomed me with open arms, but I still can’t help longing for the company of my mother, my grandparents, my siblings and my cousins.

I can’t help that I will always miss my family even when I’m surrounded by family but I also know that I don’t have to just immerse myself in their traditions without bringing my own to the table in addition to helping to create new ones. Families are always changing and evolving and so are their traditions. Each generation brings a little something new to the mix and that’s where these new happy memories are made.

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In Conclusion

That’s the end of the coping skills and tips that I have to share for the moment for anyone who is suffering from long term home sickness.

It’s been difficult to put this all into writing but it has also been somewhat therapeutic at the same time, and if it reaches out to even one person who is spiraling into misery, it’s worth the effort.

The way that you cope depends largely on the sort of person you are and how your brain is hard wired. Also the way I see the world certainly isn’t the way that everyone else does, so the ways that I distract myself from being homesick won’t necessarily work for someone else, but I hope that what I’ve written might provide a helpful starting point for someone.

If you have any of your own tips to add to this article, please do share them in the comments section.

From → Ramblings

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