I haven’t felt much motivation to share anything here lately, even the fun stuff. This is partly because I’ve been feeling rather homesick recently. I usually love sharing the fun stories and beautiful photos of all our adventures, but today it’s time to get real again and tackle the inevitable beast that many immigrants will experience at some point or another: homesickness.
Our first year in Calgary was so fun and full of adventure that we never experienced any homesickness. There was always somewhere to go, someone to meet, and we were always on the go and having fun, exploring new places and learning new things. We were getting our new lives sorted so we didn’t have much chance to mourn our old one. The year obviously wasn’t without its challenges, especially thanks to COVID, which threw a major spanner in the works, but we generally chose to try stay positive and make the most of life here within the reasonable limits of still staying safe and healthy.
Now in our second year here, it’s really started to hit me. It’s not this major desire to go back to South Africa – even on our worst day here we know that isn’t even an option for us. Canada is our home and we are very happy here. We have no regrets. But every now and then, and especially over the last few weeks, I have experienced this intense longing for the familiar – a good ol’ chat over coffee, and in person, with a friend I’ve known forever, a quick visit to the family for a braai, having a cup of tea with my mom, popping in to my favourite restaurant or shop, opening a bottle of delicious SA wine and enjoying it while looking out over the beautiful Stellenbosch mountains. Perhaps it’s that Christmas is approaching, and it’ll be our second one without any family. My parents had plans to visit us this year for Christmas. In fact, they were supposed to be landing this week. But thanks to the pandemic they have cancelled, so it’s quite depressing not knowing when I will see them again.
Everyone experiences homesickness at different times of their settling-in journey. While some have it right from the beginning with serious feelings of guilt and regret, others may experience it a few months or years down the line with sporadic feelings of longing. Then there are those who may never experience it, or perhaps choose to deny it. Similarly, everyone has a different strategy in dealing with the emotions – while some ignore them, and try keep as busy and positive as possible, it’s just as easy to also get sucked into the sadness and wallow in the longing. It’s much like the stages of grief – homesickness is a process of loss and acceptance and it’s how we deal with it that will make all the difference. We’ll go through various stages of sadness, regret, guilt, longing, denial, anger, and finally, acceptance. Similarly, homesickness can be related to the various stages of culture shock – there will be the honeymoon where everything is new and exciting, and we’re full of wonder, then may come frustration, followed by a period of adjustment, until finally, again, acceptance.
It’s important to acknowledge the feelings and don’t be afraid to talk about them – with your partner, with a friend, with your expat community who may relate best to the process. We shouldn’t have to ignore the feelings, and we should deal with them. Having these emotions and acknowledging them doesn’t mean we’re a failure, or that we aren’t happy in our new home and want to go back, if anything it can help us find peace and a proper balance in our lives. Where we come from will always be a part of us, and no matter what happens and how much we may want to forget the past or integrate into our new community, our past, culture, and country of birth, and the experiences we had there, are what have shaped us into the person we are today.
I recently posed the question of homesickness and how to deal with it to the South African expat community and it was so interesting to learn about everyone’s different experiences and how they have dealt with the changes and settling into their new lives.
Here are a few highlights from that conversation which may help us all deal with the homesickness:
Always remember your “why” – keep all the reasons you emigrated close to your heart and on those hard days remember all the good aspects of your new country and why you chose to move and why it’s now home.
Homesickness can also be very seasonal – especially at those times of the year when you would have been spending time with your family, like Christmas. Christmas is my favourite time of the year and something my family always makes a big fuss about so I’m sad not to be spending it with my parents this year. But I’m still determined to make this a magical Christmas. I still make a big fuss with the decorations and presents to make it special for our kids. I feel so guilty that they aren’t near their extended family this time of the year and would have been spoilt, so we have to make a fuss somehow to make up for it. Christmas really is so festive and lovely here, there really is so much to love about it.
Get involved in your new community – join the gym, find a church, volunteer at your kid’s school, join a community group. It’s so important to try to integrate as soon as possible to make it your own community and find your own sense of belonging. This will also mean meeting new people and making new friends.
Make the most of each season and all that it can offer. Each season is so distinct in Canada and each has something wonderful to offer. In the summer we loved camping and hiking, and going for picnics in the parks and along the river. The days are so long with the sun only setting after 10pm so there are plenty of hours of sunshine, so you have to take advantage while you can. Autumn (Fall) is so pretty with the changing leaves and stunning colours. Winter is magical and so pretty with the snow, and there are so many fun activities to enjoy, including snow shoeing, skiing, ice skating. And, of course, winter has Christmas and all the festive beauty and cheer that goes with it, including lots of Christmas lights, markets, outdoor festivals, and fantastic shopping. Spring happens so suddenly and it’s wonderful to see the snow melt and, almost overnight, the grass turns green and the leaves grow back and everything blossoms – it truly is a reawakening and so incredible to see.
Pop to your local South African store if you’re longing for a taste of home – but this can be expensive, so we have also recently learned some new skills in keeping the flavours and tastes of home alive. We have enjoyed making lots of yummy South African treats such as biltong and boerewors. I’ve even mastered rusks and, although my malva pudding was a bit of a disaster, it still tasted delicious. These were all things we could easily buy in shops back home and often took for granted, but now we can make them ourselves and have fun doing it. We’ve even enjoyed making it a social occasion, and getting together with friends to enjoy the fun of making these treats together.
Keep in contact with family and friends back home. Some days are easier than others, especially with the time differences when your family is spread across the globe. Thank goodness for modern technology and being able to see loved ones every day – if you’re feeling homesick, pick up that phone and call someone. Nothing beats a fat chat with an old friend or family member who you’ve known forever and who you can just be real with.
Always try have something to look forward to – a weekend away, a social get together, a visit back home, or family coming to visit you. This isn’t always easy or financially viable, and you do need to live in the present and not for the future, but this definitely does help to combat the sadness sometimes. It’s important to keep looking forward and not backward.
Are you an expat living far from home? Have you experienced homesickness? How did you combat it? I’d love to hear from you, so please comment below.
We all have a unique story to tell when it comes to our emigration journey. Have a read about some of the challenges of immigration.
I’ve lived overseas pretty much since the late 90s. Nearly a decade in the UK and the rest in the USA. I have, in all that time, never been able to reach the acceptance phase of being homesick. So much so, that I have finally decided to move back. I’m in a very good financial place to do it now and everything is aligning the way it’s meant to. I look forward to living out the rest of my life in a place I have always considered home. For all the good and bad it brings, I am so much happier when I am there.
Good luck on your future journey
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