Four years of life abroad are drawing to a close at this post’s writing. The weight is heady. These past nine months have been tougher than all the rest of the time in one particular way: the almost daily presence of homesickness. It had never affected me before. Not for a moment. It started two weeks after I arrived here in Piura, Peru.
You might remember the post I wrote for long-term travelers about salving the woes of their lot. The bandages mentioned there, though, can’t cure homesickness, which A ShelterOffshore calls “expat flu”. Homesickness, the post says, often leads to physical ailments, “a result of the body collapsing after the stresses, strains, excitements and highs of” moving abroad. Well, it literally did just so in June when a flu wracked my body for a month. A colleague, a five-month veteran of life abroad, now goes through the same thing.
To help others stave the depths to which my “flu” has plummeted my spirit, I have compiled some tips a little more holistic than bandages.
1) Establish a routine. It’s up to you to determine if this is an all-day thing, a once-daily practice, or even a weekly schedule of activities. The routine of having a long-term, stable, full-time job gave such happiness when I arrived here, since I’d craved that stability for years, helped to disguise my growing need for that same stability– in my own country. To combat that pain growing in my heart, I devised weekend plans. During good times they fly out the windows. During needy times, when the pain of homesickness brings me near to tears, they comfort.
2) Decorate your residence like home. For me that entails decorating with saris, art collected from my journeys, a wall calendar, a map of Mumbai, too many books to be sensible, and lamps and candles to create variable lighting schemes.
3) Get out. No, not in a horrifying Amityville way…With friends. Agreeing to attend a colleague’s birthday gathering a month after I arrived led to numerous more nights out, cherished memories, and friendships that saved me in times of non-homesickness related times. Read what Rachel Wilkerson suggests on her blog.
4) Get Away. My post on bandages on the trials of the long-term traveler suggests taking a day trip or more. That deserves reiteration. I look back and wish I’d done it in China. During my time in Piura I’ve taken a few trips. Next week brings the start of more, a trip to the beach resort town of Punta Sal, then a trip to visit friends and the arts scene of Lima. These approaching trips have caused me to forget about counting the number of days until my return to the US. Instead I linger in thoughts of seeing friends, hanging out in my favorite cafes, and showing my beached whale of a bikinied self on a beach that Hemingway once fished near.
5) Watch Some Home. Previously, my computer provided requisite visual entertainment via Netflix, downloaded movies, and DVDs. When I began watching local cable on the TV in my room, relaxation washed over me like a warm blanket.
6) Don’t Lose Site of the Present. What are you doing so far from home? Why did you leave? This isn’t a request to bash your country but an opportunity to look at the big picture. When able to quell my homesickness the littlest things fills me with delight. The way a restaurant’s sign reveals meaningful cultural iconography. The Christmas lights the flash and blink on windows throughout the neighborhood. The ability to speak the Spanish learned so many years ago in a hope to one day be able to do it abroad.
I wish you well with overcoming your homesickness. If you have tips that I haven’t included here, please let me know by replying to this post. Most of all I hope you do not let being homesick force you to abandon your dream of life abroad. Can you imagine how you’ll feel if you give in to it and leave before it’s your time?