Homesickness is not talked about enough. Thousands of international students flow in and out of London every year and are expected to assimilate into British culture without a word of complaint. But the turmoil of culture shock makes true assimilation almost impossible – nowhere truly feels like home once you’ve moved countries. Hopefully these tips will be of help to people like me who have struggled with homesickness.
The most important thing to understand is that you are not alone in your situation and it does get better.
1) Handling culture differences
Probably the hardest part about culture shock is feeling isolated and misunderstood by the country you are in. When I moved back to the UK, I felt incredibly unloved by England and its people because no one seemed to care about the specific set of life circumstances that shaped me from living abroad in Lebanon.
I didn’t find British jokes funny because I didn’t get them, and people didn’t get my humour either. I thought no one would ever truly connect with me because they wouldn’t understand my culture. But that’s where my thinking was completely wrong. It wasn’t the people around me’s fault they were ignorant – in a way, my ignorance toward their culture was just as guilty. Their ignorance came from having no exposure to the other culture, and I had no right to be angry at them. If you’re in that position right now, try and have sympathy for the people that don’t understand you so you don’t become bitter.
Friendship is so much more powerful than culture, and the closer you get, the easier it is to educate.
Friendship is so much more powerful than culture, and the closer you get, the easier it is to educate. If you are a British person reading this and know international students, remember how misunderstood they feel all the time, because it is the worst aspect of being new to a country. Try and put yourself in the other party’s shoes, whether you’re the national or international. It goes a long way.
2) Managing your mental health
Don’t avoid calling home. It may feel tempting to bottle everything up because you don’t want to process the difficult emotions of leaving home and fending for yourself in a new country. But that is a recipe for disaster. Keeping out of touch will make you feel even more isolated and alone. When I moved, my mum told me over a tearful phone call that culture shock has a lot of similar symptoms to depression. If your mood is low, your sleep schedule can be affected, you experience an unshakeable loneliness and you withdraw into yourself. What is different about culture shock, however, is that these symptoms are short-term.
The best way to manage them is by outwardly expressing your feelings to someone with a listening ear, writing them in a journal, or simply distracting yourself with hobbies. I used to try and go on walks when I was in a low mood and call a friend from home to stabilise myself. Although it hurt to be in a bad mental state, staying in touch helped me get out of it a lot quicker than I would’ve if I’d kept everything to myself.
With the anxiety that comes with homesickness, the remedy is just putting yourself into those anxious situations to expand your comfort zone, which is not easy to hear when you’re feeling anxious. But it will get easier and easier every time you do it and you may even start to feel like a local the more you establish patterns and habits.
3) Home away from home
What took me the longest to accept was that England could be my home as well as Lebanon, without taking away any of the value of Lebanon itself. Part of me felt that I was betraying my home country if I got comfortable in a new country, but again, I couldn’t have been more wrong. When you are homesick, you try to hold onto what makes you comfortable so much that you can’t create new comforts for yourself in your new environment.
You shouldn’t have to compromise your culture to allow yourself to make London home too. In fact, hold fast to the good things about where you come from and grow in that uniqueness. But refusing to allow the new country to be home alongside your original home means you’ll never settle, so be kind to yourself. Embrace the things about London that you love. Invest in empathetic friendships with empathetic people who actually care about you and your cultural differences. Don’t waste time on people who will never appreciate it.
You shouldn’t have to compromise your culture to allow yourself to make London home too.
You will reach a stage where neither London nor your home country feels completely like home, but try to see the beauty in that. You’re made up of so many stories and experiences from all over the world, and no one else on the planet is exactly like you. However, there are many people who are just as homesick as you are, so remember that you are not alone.