Homesickness: The best cure is extra attention

Homesickness: The best cure is extra attention

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You’re having endless sleepless nights, you’re suffering from an upset stomach, your head feels like it’s about to explode and you cry over the slightest thing.

Actually, the only thing you want to do is to go home. That’s how it feels for a lot of people – homesickness.


A longing – sometimes melancholic, sometimes painful – for the security of something familiar.
It can happen to anyone. Migrants who leave their home countries. Children who are away from home for the first time. Elderly people for whom changes sometimes go too quickly. This summer Radio Netherlands Worldwide has produced a series of stories, tips and recipes on the theme of homesickness. A universal longing for something that is not there.

"We’re going to start with the grooming and then we’ll go riding," says the horse-riding instructor. It’s probably every young girl’s dream – a whole week riding one of the best horses in the world. A dream that many Dutch children fulfil when they go to “riding camp” in the summer. A week of adventure, but also one  away from Mum and Dad, from friends, including best friends, and also pets, and those soft, cuddly toys… it can take getting used to.

“It’s pretty exciting, because I won’t see my mother and father for a whole week. I’m sharing a room with two other children who are homesick. And they’re crying all the time, saying ‘I want to go home, to my mother and father'.”

“This is the first time I've been away from Mum and Dad,” says nine-year-old Myrthe. “I find it a little bit nerve-wracking.”

Max, aged ten, has two roommates; they, too, often turn pale and fall silent. “Before going to sleep, they repeat: ‘I want to go home.’ And then they cry for a while. But then I think - they’ll be fine eventually.”

Keeping a secret

And things do generally turn out fine in the end, as one of the instructors, Edine, can confirm. Homesickness is something she sees time after time at riding camp:

“If children have too much time on their hands, it goes wrong. For example, before going to bed. That’s why we keep them busy as much as possible. If a child is feeling homesick, I ask if they want to set the table or help with the cooking. Then I tell them a secret, just between me and them, for example that we’re going to the zoo the next day and they mustn’t tell a single soul. Usually, the homesickness passes – extra attention really is the best cure.”

Like being lovesick

But homesickness isn’t something to be brushed aside as if it’s nothing. People can actually die from an extreme form of it. Psychologist and homesickness specialist Miranda van Tilburg says the pain can be compared with what you feel after the break-up of a relationship, or the death of a loved one.

Luckily, there’s also a cure for adults, as Ms van Tilburg discovered when she left the Netherlands to go and live in the United States 12 years ago:

“Try to go out and meet people if you’re experiencing a difficult moment. When I felt lonely, I went to the post office for a chat, for example. However strange it may sound, it actually helped. Another thing, keep your expectations realistic. If you’re a city lover, chances are you’ll be miserable in some backwater village. And whatever you do, don’t go e-mailing or hanging on the phone all day with your friends and family – that’s about the biggest mistake you could make. Live your life in your new surroundings – that’s where your future lies. Almost everyone suffers some form of homesickness, but I guarantee you, nearly everyone who experiences it feels happy in their new home in time…”

Top 10 tips against homesickness:

  • Keep busy, don’t hang around brooding.
  • Give children lots of attention, take them into your confidence.
  • Make sure children have their favourite cuddly toy with them.
  • Try to distract children by talking, playing a game, or doing something together.
  • Seek out the company of others if you’re feeling lonely.
  • Keep a diary.
  • Live in the now, so don’t constantly e-mail or skype old friends or family.
  • Remind yourself before you leave that bouts of homesickness are unavoidable, but that they’ll pass eventually.
  • Don’t be ashamed of being homesick – everyone is at some point.
  • And the best remedy of all: have a good old cry from time to time…

Maurice Laparlière / Radio Netherlands / Expatica

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