A lot of us are familiar with homesickness: the lurching, grapple-at-your-heart ache when you long to be somewhere else. Moving abroad can sure be challenging, but we’re here with some tips to make the transition easier.
Whether you moved temporarily for university or long-term for a job, after the initial excitement of exploring and getting to know a new place has worn off you, only to be left with the unnerving reality that you have to “start again”.
Homesickness can manifest itself in different ways, some people isolate themselves and try to curb their loneliness with TV programmes or podcasts. Others may spend all their time communicating with family and friends back home.
Each individual deals with being homesick differently, and you have to find a coping mechanism that suits you. To help you do just that, we prepared a list of useful tips for combating homesickness.
What is homesickness?
Homesickness is that feeling of longing for your home, the distress and functional impairment caused by a separation from home. You crave your home or the people there.
The feeling can last a day or longer; sometimes, people can go through a longer period of homesickness lasting a few weeks.
Sounds familiar? You’re not alone, lots of other people feel the same way.
Who gets homesick?
Basically, anyone who is in a non-home environment for a prolonged period of time. This could even include kids at summer camp, people who have been hospitalized for a prolonged period of time, or even people taking a long vacation when they find themselves just craving the comfort of their own bed.
Typically, homesickness affects immigrants, foreign students, foreign employees, refugees, displaced people, or military personnel.
Anyone can experience it in such circumstances, and the way homesickness manifests varies between children and adults.
For example, children are more likely to experience social or behavioural problems when homesick. Adolescents in an academic setting are more likely to experience absentmindedness, nontraumatic ailments, low self-esteem or obsessive thoughts or behaviours.
Adults may experience depression or anxiety symptoms, have difficulty focusing or concentrating, or withdraw socially.
What can you do to prevent being homesick?
Maybe you’re moving somewhere new, away from the people you love. Maybe you’re just going on a long trip.
Being homesick is not easy to beat, so it’s better to come prepared as much as possible. Therefore we’ve comprised some tips and tricks to help you stop homesickness on its tracks.
Initiate social contact with others before arrival
There are plenty of Facebook groups, for example, that help you accomplish just that. Sure, maybe Facebook is a little bit dead, but these kinds of groups can be helpful.
But if that’s not your cup of tea, you can also have a look at Reddit. Both there and on Facebook, a quick search for “[your nationality] in the Netherlands” can give you some groups to choose from. (Tip: if an English search doesn’t work, try your native language!)
Make friends with a mixture of homeland buddies and locals
Of course, having someone from your native country can bring that comfort and understanding that you might lack when you move somewhere new. They speak the same language as you, understand what the moving process is like, and feel like a little piece of home.
But be careful not to stick exclusively to them. Limiting yourself to solely homeland friends can get in the way of acculturation and intensify feelings of homesickness.
Maintain healthy lifestyle choices
Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard it: “Go for a walk, drink some water, eat well, get some sleep!” As annoying as it can be to admit, sometimes the most simple advice does work.
It can be challenging sometimes, but eating and drinking well, sleeping enough, and getting regular exercise can make a big difference.
Healthy behaviours can go a long way in support of mental and physical health. So just try it out: start with the basics. Food, fresh air, movement, sleep. If this doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up. There are plenty of other resources out there to get help!
Just take it one day at a time. Soon you’ll feel right at home.
Develop your sense of self-compassion
Negative thoughts and self-criticisms are so easy and potentially even automatic to fall into. Remember to be kind and forgive yourself for the variety of hurdles you’ll inevitably encounter.
It’s always a work in progress. Try to notice when you’re having some negative thoughts and maybe call a loved one, forgive yourself for thinking them, and let them go away. We know this is much easier said than done, but practice makes perfect.
How can you treat your homesickness?
Even if you pull out all the stops to cope with homesickness, sometimes it just doesn’t work. But there are remedies to make you feel a little less separated from your home.
Talk to others about your feelings of missing home
Homesickness is a very common feeling, so most people will relate to or at least understand it. Especially if you are in an international environment like a university, chances are most students aren’t Dutch, so they know what it’s like to be far away from home.
Maybe it’s a bit intimidating or scary to talk about how you feel at first. But as lonely as you may feel, people around you could feel the same way.
Talking to someone who knows what you’re going through can be a relief – for you and for them. While you’re at it, maybe you end up sharing some fun things about your cultures, and before you know it, you have a new friend!
Find ways to reduce acculturation stress
This can mean getting more information about your new environment, finding community groups that share your interests, and potentially finding community groups that celebrate your homeland’s traditions.
Connecting with other expats, such as through social events organized for expats, is one way to help with developing both personal and professional networks.
Recognise when to ask for help
This goes for anyone, but especially for international students, knowing what your options are for professional or lay resources, on or off-campus, can be an important connection to address more difficult issues.
For expats, finding helpful resources through an expat centre, health insurance, or an occupational health physician (bedrijfsarts) can be potential option to look into.
Mental health note: If you or a loved one are experiencing psychological problems or suicidal thoughts in the Netherlands, please call the suicide prevention hotline 113 or refer to www.113.nl for resources and assistance — DutchReview loves you. 💓
Finally, remember that treatment for homesickness is a gradual process, not an immediate fix — be kind to yourself and power through. 💪
Have you ever experienced homesickness in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June 2018, and was fully updated in July 2023 for your reading pleasure.