They say that home is where the heart is. But what happens when home is half a world away?
It doesn’t matter how much experience you have on the road or how fine-tuned you are with your wanderlust. It doesn’t matter if it’s the minute you step off the plane or half a year into an adventure. At some point or another when you move abroad, homesickness will strike.
Home (noun) – the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household. It’s a simple enough definition, but the lines become blurred when your heart belongs in more than one place.
I grew up in Michigan with my parents. That was my home. Then I moved to Chicago. That was my new home, but Michigan was still my home. Now I live in Dublin. Dublin is my home. I don’t have plans on settling down in Michigan. It isn’t necessarily a home now. But my family still lives in Michigan, and my family is also my home.
Relationship status: it’s complicated.
If there’s one thing I’ve come to learn in the months since I moved abroad, it’s that the concept of home is so much more than a place. It’s not just about a house. It’s about people. About a feeling. A feeling you get when you see the leaves change in a city you’ve never been to before or the feeling you get when you call your mom.
It’s been a long transition, learning to call Dublin my home now. But I’m proud of it, because it’s mine. I worked hard to be here, and the longer I stay the more I fall in love with the city. I could see myself staying forever.
But when people ask me where I’m from, I still tell them that I’m just a girl from Kalamazoo. Because that’s where I was raised. Where I have memories. Where my parents and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles live. And so while I have learned to call Dublin mine, I have also longed for those things that are near to my heart. Just because I don’t want to go home doesn’t mean that I’m not homesick.
The first time I experienced homesickness was when I first went off to college. I was a naïve freshman who thought she was excited for a year of growth and adventure. But the moment I realized I was on my own and that life back home would go on without me, I panicked. I wanted to transfer to a smaller university closer to my family and friends. My parents told me that I wasn’t allowed to visit home until the holidays. I had to commit to one full semester. So I did.
The funny thing? When I finally went home for the holidays, I realized that I was right. Life had gone on without me. But my life had progressed too, and suddenly I found myself longing to be back at school. It was the first time I realized that home can mean two things.
Maybe that’s what made moving to Dublin feel so seamless. Part of me expected to be unable to function so far from the people who I depended on so much. But I didn’t. Settling into Dublin felt so right, like it was this place I had been running towards my whole life.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t get homesick. My first Thanksgiving abroad was hard. I watched as my family gathered together and I wanted more than anything to hop on a plane and be there with them. My parents came to visit me at Christmas, but that meant breaking the traditions we had built in our house. Sometimes all I want more than anything is to cuddle up to my dogs, and then I remember that they’re 3,560 miles away.
I take my homesickness with a grain of salt though, because I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. It just means that between the adventures, there’s a bit of loneliness. The world runs on checks and balances, after all.
You find ways to cope. Homesickness is, thank goodness, a non-terminal disease. Completely treatable! Take two pills and call me in the morning. It’s about striking a balance within yourself. Some days, a bit of self-care is all you need. Other days it’s all about surrounding yourself with others and keeping your mind distracted.
I find the thing that keeps me grounded when traveling or living abroad is developing a routine and keeping myself busy. I hardly have time to internalize any homesickness I may be feeling if I have places to go and things to do.
Surrounding myself with people is another key to coping. They may not be substitute for the family or friends that you miss, but they will keep you grounded and help you move forward. You’re building a new home for yourself. Make new friends who surround you with positive energy! Integrate yourself into local crowds, or even connect with someone from your own country who knows exactly what you’re going through. There’s a lot to be said for being able to empathize with someone.
While building a new routine and lifestyle, be sure to also stay healthily connected to your life back home. A main reason we feel homesick is a sort of fear of missing out – this concept that we internalize that life is going on without us back home and we aren’t there to be a part of it. Which is true, and that can be the hardest thing to come to terms with. But we are fortunate enough to live in a digital era where its easier to stay connected than ever before. Between Facetime and WhatsApp to Facebook and Instagram, we never have to stop talking to those back home. In a way, the Internet has shrunk the world. I message my parents nearly every day and we Skype at least once a week.
Still, disconnect every once and a while. A digital detox will do you good. It’s a bit contradictory, but hear me out. While it’s important to make an effort to keep invested in your relationships back home, there is something to be said for cutting yourself off from social feeds. If you are constantly scrolling, you are constantly caught up in what you are missing out on rather than living in your now. Stay rooted by logging off every once in a while. Don’t let a superficial attachment to your old life keep you from investing in your new one.
Finally, I find the ultimate key to beating homesickness when it strikes is to constantly remind myself why I am here. Doubt is usually an early symptom, and I’ll find myself reevaluating why I chose to move abroad in the first place. Is this really what I should be doing with my life? Reflect on why you chose travel. To me, writing can be incredibly therapeutic and introspective. When I first moved, I decided to pen an open letter to everyone back home trying to describe why I was taking this crazy leap of faith. But that letter in turn was really for myself. It allowed me to vocalize the wants and desires I couldn’t quite place, and for the first time, I could fully comprehend why I felt compelled to do this. So whenever I have doubts, I go back and read that to feel inspired all over again.
And of course, having a good cry now and then or booking a trip to visit home can help too. Just don’t overindulge yourself or you will never feel settled in your new country. Again, ‘home’ isn’t a concept that has to be limited to one place. Never feel guilty for finding yourself calling more than one place home. Just because a new place has new meaning to you doesn’t mean an old place isn’t just as important.
Home is where the heart is. My heart is just scattered around the world.