When you are 15 and you go away from home for a week no one blames you for being homesick, when you’re a fresher in your first term of uni people expect you to be homesick, and yet when you turn 20 you are suddenly expected to be an adult who can never miss home.
The common reactions I’ve encountered when talking and observing people speaking about homesickness are
“You mean you don’t like it here?”
“Oh really, I haven’t felt homesick at all”
“Why would you want to go back to England, it’s rubbish!”
“Urgh I hate England”
“You should be having the time of your life!”
“Oh really? Well I’m DREADING going back to England”
Obviously, obviously, there are exceptions but what I can’t fathom is why are these people playing one-upmanship? Is it an inherent insecureness to say “Well I personally am having a fantastic year abroad and if you’re not enjoying it EVERY SECOND OF EVERY DAY then something must be wrong with YOU.” What I’ve recently come for realise is that people’s responses show much more about them than they do about you. People fear being judged a baby if they’re homesick because when you’re in a foreign environment people don’t like to admit any sign of weakness. Fair enough you may not miss absolutely anything about your country, but that’s not a reason to wedge yourself into conversations and make another person feel even worse about it as they’re ‘not having as fun a time as you’.
I love living in Vienna. I love the city, I love the atmosphere, I love where I live and I love the people. I like it so much that I’m staying until the end of September. Most of the time I don’t really want to go back to the UK and yet I am still proud of being British and English. Nevertheless when I do feel homesick I feel I have to justify it – like I am doing now. I almost put “when I do feel rarely homesick” to try and rationalise it further. I burst into tears the other day because I was listening to ‘Chinese’ by Lily Allen, which details her relationship with her mother and her travelling and it really got to me. I miss such little things, like rain on a dreary day when you sit and watch Homes under the Hammer, Nando’s, freddos, cheap meals with vouchers from MoneySavingExpert, but none of them cumulatively give me a pang of homesickness. It’s more, for me, an occasional sense of longing, or an occasional sense where I feel so patriotic I start to read Wikipedia articles on the royal family again.
When I lived in the South of France at 19 years old I was unbearably homesick. I hated almost every moment in Antibes, Nice and Cannes and my experience was ruined by my shyness and lack of confidence to do things. This ultimately helped me throughout the next few years and now at university as I knew how to cope and deal with homesickness and what not to do again if the situation reoccurred. Time also speeds up the more relative it is to your age – why going away for a year when you’re 5 is so much bigger than at 32. Yet, it’s still A YEAR of your life where you’re not settled, not really. You know that you will have to leave, you haven’t set any roots, and you’re still renting.
You can live in a palace in Paris, the most expensive hotel in New York, live the high life in Amsterdam (literally and figuratively) but there is nothing wrong with sometimes thinking “wouldn’t it be quite nice to sit in my English home and have a cup of tea?” or “wouldn’t it be nice to go to a place where they understand my language or speak in my accent?”. What I’ve realised is: it’s very easy to criticise something when you’ve grown up in that environment. It’s not funny to say you ‘hate’ the country that you were born in for no other reason than it’s ‘not the country you live in now.’ Hate your country’s politics, hate your country’s religion[s], hate your country’s attitudes, but don’t automatically scorn others who love it.
The best ways to combat homesickness are making plans, getting busy, socialising and getting out there as much as possible. If I had been a language assistant in a small town I would have given up almost instantly or moved to a big city. While a small country life can make some people feel at home I personally need a buzz and busyness. I personally find it comfortable in these times to people of your nationality who are also living abroad. I’ve heard time and time again that you should avoid British people on your Year Abroad and only speak your language of choice but at the same time it is very comforting and nice to talk to people in English occasionally, to adapt the language in a way you can only do if it’s your mother tongue.
Homesickness is not a weakness and it is not wrong. I know many people from 20-80 years old who have lived, and live, abroad and still return to their homeland once every two years. Unless you can not go back and there is a real reason why you can’t go back, ultimately we are humans and we are drawn to where we feel safe, even if everyone has moved and there’s nothing left to see.
On my first week here I walked to the old lady’s flat who I stayed with in Vienna in my Gap Year and I stared at the outside facade and thought about how much I had changed. I frequently feel pangs of homesickness for Sweden (more so than England) when I realise I haven’t seen my Swedish family in so long and I haven’t had Swedish food in so long (My friend didn’t understand why I was so emotional at buying Swedish food in Ikea!). I even occasionally feel an overwhelming urge to fly to Nice, take a €1 bus to Antibes and walk along the streets I knew so well and wonder if I would like it now in different eyes.
Therefore my new aim is that when someone says “I am homesick”, I will ask what they’re homesick for and not why.