Jolly English Pirate: Getting rid of expat-homesick-blues
The Jolly English Pirate relays her personal experience about how expats can get rid of the expat-homesick-blues and feel truly 'at home' while living abroad.
I have lived the life of an expat for five years now. There have been many difficult times I have had to live through, and I've had to deal with the sadness which comes from missing friends and family just like anyone else would do. However, I have never wanted to give up my expat life and return to the UK to the life I had before. Something about living overseas has always kept me above water, fighting to create a real home for myself abroad.
Looking back on my experiences, I can certainly say that there were a number of things I did, started doing or stopped doing, which helped me get to the point where I truly feel like I have a second home in the world, no more and no less than the home I will also always have in the UK, should I ever choose to return.
Based on my experiences, here's some friendly advice from a veteran expat who's very happy living abroad and is now, as of only a few weeks, godmother in her foreign land too!
Use technology to stay connected – but not to escape your new life
Technology in the 21st century allows us to stay in contact with loved ones who don't live in the same country as us, sometimes for free and sometimes for very little financial investment. What's important is to take the time to experiment and find the method which works best for you. I find Facebook a little stressful at times. Seeing photos and constant updates from friends and family in other parts of the world all the time takes me out of the present and makes me 'miss being at home' more than I normally would if I wasn't constantly glued to this social network in particular.
Whatsapp, on the other hand, works brilliantly for me. I focus on living and enjoying my present without seeing what I am 'missing out on' in other parts of the world. I can catch up with those across the water as and when I choose. Whatsapp messages from afar arrive as happy, personalised surprises, which makes them even better in my book. I love the fact that I can receive videos and photos directly to my phone without living in a constant state of obsessive curiousity which comes from having access to social media with news feed.
Cook and get creative with local produce
Even if you don't think you've missed home-cooked favourites, or particular kinds of chocolate bars, it's hard not to excited about certain foods when you visit your native country. When I visit London, I always get excited about peanut butter and roasted parsnips.
There's little I can do about not having parsnips to hand when I return back to foreign lands, but I can quieten down my need for peanut butter (which doesn't end up costing me a ridiculous amount of money for a small pot thanks to importation taxes) on a regular basis by finding local substitutes to get equally excited about. All it takes is a little creativity, time and, of course, a treat of peanut butter when I have a real craving.
Focus on developing friendships – with patience
Without developing 'real' friendships, living abroad will never be something you naturally associate with the word 'home'. Of course, it's well known that one of the best ways to make friends is to join clubs and get involved in activities which you love doing. But the most important thing is to acknowledge that it doesn't happen overnight or by forcing it – but it will happen if you are relaxed, patient and full of positive energy to get involved and start sharing. Gradually, over time, the people you see and spend time with on a regular basis in these clubs will become people you confide in, people you share things with, people you invite to your home for dinner, or people with whom you go out at night to paint the town red.
Learn the language to engage in popular culture and local humour
If you live abroad in a country whose first language is not English, you must make language learning a very high, if not your first, priority. One of the best ways to really feel part of another community and make solid friendships is to be able to not only speak their language and communicate on a basic level, but to be able to participate in the humour which comes as part and parcel of that community.
To be able to join in with jokes you will need to be completely bilingual and immerse yourself in the popular culture of that community too. This takes years and lots of dedicated time, but it's very important and incredibly beneficial.
Make investments in living things which need care and attention
Buy some plants or get a pet. Make your rented accommodation a home. Committing to living things means making a real commitment to where you are, and means you have to be attentive to returning to your home to care for the things you have around you.
The Jolly English Pirate / Expatica
The Jolly English Pirate is a freelance writer from London who is based in Latin America. She travels the world writing features for female-interest publications and independent travel blogs, including reviews of Latin American Cinema and ecological travel. She performs outreach work, writing for a variety of companies covering topics which include online marketing, health, cultures and customs and volunteering abroad. Feel free to email her directly, send her a tweet or visit her blog for more information.
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