I was talking to someone in the States the other day about my life in Ecuador, and he asked a question that an expat hears often: “Don’t you get homesick?”
This is not a trivial question, and one that anyone thinking of moving to another country should consider. Homesickness has been recognized since ancient times, with references in the Old Testament, and Homer’s Odyssey. Even Hippocrates recognized it as a valid complaint, suspecting it had to do with an excess of black bile in the blood.
It is true that my wife, Rita, and I both miss our children and grandchildren, and we try to keep up with them via social media, Skype, and so on. We also try to return to the States to visit them at least once a year (we’re planning a trip now, in fact), and we encourage them to come visit us. But that’s not the same as being homesick.
Homesickness is associated more with longing for the things about home rather than the people. For the expat, this may include things like your favorite restaurants, manicured lawns, or just something you were used to doing and now cannot.
Some factors can make homesickness worse. Being separated by a large distance…cultural differences…language barriers…all things an expat must learn to deal with.
There are, of course, also factors that help make you less prone to homesickness. The older you are and the more time you have spent traveling, for instance, the better equipped you may be. If you have a spirit of adventure, a certain flexibility in your outlook on life, and enjoy new experiences and new cultures, you will also be better off. These are all qualities that successful expats share.
Although Rita and I are not homesick, there are some things we definitely miss. I miss Maryland blue crabs, a decent pastrami sandwich, and the ability to call the local utility companies with questions instead of having to show up in person. However, missing those things does not get me down.
Why not? There are several factors that can help expats dealing with this issue. For example, I have replaced the pleasures of home with new ones—pangora (stone crab) instead of blue crabs, almuerzos (lunch plates) instead of pastrami sandwiches, for example.
We also shipped a container of household goods with us when we moved, so we do have some things around us that represent what we left behind. Some expats of course may not need a whole container…maybe a favorite piece of art, your special pillow, a quilt your mom made—any of these things can help you feel more comfortable in your new home.
Most importantly, I have learned from living in a foreign land that I really did not need all of the things that used to seem important to me. If I had to do it over again, or if I decide to move on to a new country and a new adventure, I would probably take much less with me.
Rita and I have grown to feel that no matter where we go, if we are happy with ourselves and we welcome each day as a new experience in our lives, home is wherever we happen to be. You will never be homesick if you learn to carry home in your heart.
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