Missing home or homesickness is commonly experienced when people move away from home for work, education, for a new life or are displaced from their home country due to war or other factors. Homesickness as a state of distress can vary for each individual with some experiencing it immediately after arrival, some after a few months and others after a longer duration in their new home country.
For many international students and migrant workers who come on their own, moving to a new country can create a sense of loss and grief from yearning for their home country, feeling miserable, getting teary when thinking about home, not eating or sleeping well and isolating oneself without interacting with anyone.
Loneliness on arrival, the added pressure of learning a new language, culture, education system or workplace culture can leave less time to create new relationships. Other problems such as not having a decent place to live or a job can be added stressors. All this can quickly shift the mood from the excitement of reaching the destination to that of unhappiness and other emotions of fear, confusion, disorientation and anger. This can have an impact on their academic as well as work performance which can make it even more challenging.
Here are a few strategies that provide guidance during the transition from home to your new country and can lessen the impact of homesickness on the body and mind:
1. Preparation and education are key: Expanding your knowledge through reading and talking to people who have been in the country can be helpful in setting realistic expectations. Attending orientation sessions or other training opportunities given by the employer/educational institution or community agencies will help you gain knowledge and skills necessary for dealing with day-to- day struggles. Subscribing to newsletters and free online magazines and resources can also keep you updated about new information and programs available for newcomers.
2. Meet and connect with people from your own community: Reaching out to a community organization or a cultural group can help you meet people from the community and attend their activities and events.
3. At the beginning of your journey, find a home with people of your ethnicity: This can help you to share rides, shop/cook together and meet up informally. This sense of solidarity and sharing of experiences can build support and resilience in a new country. However, Canada is full of diverse cultures, do not limit yourself to your community; explore what the country has to offer.
4. Keep in regular contact with your family and friends in your home country: Talking to loved ones and seeing them in video calls can help you feel part of home even if you are physically away. Sending or receiving gifts during festivities can liven up your spirits. Sharing sport scores, new movie reviews or fashion news can be a release when you are stressed with work or studies.
5. Maintain rituals and practices from your home county and acquire new ones: Following prayer schedules, daily routines and cooking your ethnic food can give you a sense of belonging, predictability and continuity. It is equally important to learn new healthy recipes and fitness or sports activities from other cultures as well.
6. Create new social networks: Develop a network of newcomers who you regularly meet at school or at work. When you are ready, attend community events to meet new people and build new relationships. Join local Facebook groups or follow Instagram accounts that interest you. They could supplement your face-to-face interactions and can be very useful in finding resources.
7. Watch local TV, news broadcasts and television shows: Establishing regular patterns of TV viewing can help you understand the local cultures and happenings around you. Being informed can help in conversations with people from other cultures. Being exposed to new sports and celebrations creates appreciation of the new culture and creates interest to visit places and share the experience with family and friends.
8. Ask for help: Many programs and services are available in educational institutions, workplace programs and in other community organizations to support various needs. Call and talk to someone about your struggles before things can get out of control.
Many people may dismiss homesickness as something that goes away with time, however mental health professionals caution that there can be potentially damaging impacts if it is overlooked. Many people may resort to unhealthy coping strategies such as taking sleeping pills, drugs or alcohol to manage the isolation, sleep problems and other stressors which may have long term impact on health, mental health and interpersonal relationships.
The onus maybe on the newcomer to reduce impact of homesickness however it is equally important for the employer, educational institution, the community and the City to create culturally sensitive policies, programs and networks for quicker integration of newcomers for them to feel at home.