This is a topic that was definitely touched upon when I was doing my orientation training back in the UK. However, it’s one thing being told about it in a general way and it’s another thing being in the middle of it and experiencing it for real. This post is about the relationship with those back at home, including isolation, feeling forgotten, and homesickness. I’ll try to cover each of these in brief with some examples, and explain what I have found helpful. Remember, this is not exhaustive and I’ve only been at it for two months, so I may change my mind on things.
I am currently 6000 miles away from my friends and family at home. This obviously will make anyone feel somewhat separated from them. However, it is often the experiences you have that leave you feeling disconnected from those at home. Whether it is the complex emotions you are feeling, or just the new surroundings and culture- it’s hard for you to explain these to those at home and it’s hard for them to fully understand it. This creates a perceived gulf between you and your friends back in the UK. I have one friend here that says she hardly ever talks about her experiences to those back at home and this may be one of the reasons.
Thomas’ top tips:
- Write down your thoughts and feelings beforehand. I’d encourage you to journal or blog (probably keeping more personal thoughts private), to help you process your thoughts and feelings. A lot of the problem is that you can’t articulate what you feel and then you expect those back at home to fill in the gaps. By having previously processed your experiences, it will be easier to explain them. Perhaps even write your thoughts in an email and communicate it that way.
- Persevere. Keep the lines of dialogue open and invest in friendships back at home. This will be a way of deepening those relationships. However, make sure that you don’t spend too much time in this and miss out on the relationships here.
- Make new friends in your new context (without ditching the old ones). Be very aware, however, that you are longing for a sense of connectedness with someone. When you find it, the relief and connection can seem very intense. However, you can just be filling the gaps of what you feel you’re missing, and that connection is not actually as strong as you think it is. When you or the other person goes back home, you’ll probably find you don’t actually have as much in common as you thought.
- Know which friends are good when. I have certain friends that are great listeners and will willingly hear my problems; however, they don’t seem to laugh at my jokes. I have other friends that find me hilarious, but give really bad advice. If I want a listening ear, I know who to talk to; if I want to relate a funny story, I know who to phone. I’m also aware that I have friends that will amplify whatever I am feeling at the time. If I’m in a good mood, a chat with them will be really fun and enjoyable. However, if it is frustration I’m feeling, then I’ll come away feeling angry and resentful. So, I have to be wise about when to call whom and why.
- Be forgiving. Yes, people may be insensitive at times or show a lack of understanding. They’re imperfect people just as you are. Forgive them.
It may feel at points that people at home forget you exist. Not on a permanent basis, but, generally, day-to-day, they probably won’t think about you. Just because you’ve left the country, doesn’t mean their life is suddenly less stressful – well, I hope not! They’ve still got jobs to do, chores to complete, events to go to. The events in their lives now are probably very similar to the events in their lives that you didn’t talk about when you were back home. They’ve got no reason to think that you suddenly want to hear about these things. Also, they’re just busy.
Thomas’ top tips:
- You can make the effort. If you are feeling like people aren’t talking to you enough, then give them a call. It might be best to arrange a time if they’re exceptionally busy people. If you know they’re flakey, perhaps invest in this relationship when you’re feeling less forgotten by others.
- Remember them! Be interested in their lives. Remember what you chatted about last time. Ask them about it. Perhaps people have stopped calling you because you’re too preoccupied in talking about yourself and not about what they are up to. I know I can be guilty of this.
- Plan topics of conversation. If you have a friendship where awkward silences can abound, perhaps think about what questions you could ask or topics you could talk about. This isn’t a formal agenda, just a way of making the interaction feel meaningful. If you don’t get to ask the questions you thought of because the conversation is so free-flowing, then that’s a plus.
- Be creative in how you connect. I sometimes send short texts or emails with jokes, or photos or particular stories that will interest that person.
- Be thankful! There are moments when people will connect with you and it’ll make your day. Unfortunately, when you’re feeling rubbish, it’s easy to forget that so-and-so sent you a really nice message last Saturday. Trying to be grateful for when people do reach out will make you realise that it may not be as bad as you thought.
- Be forgiving. People may actually forget about you. However, they may also surprise you. And they’ll go through seasons. My sister-in-law has been crazily supportive over the last few months, but life has suddenly got really hectic for her. It’s easy for me to feel forgotten or I could be grateful for the opportunity and time she had to be supportive and for me to be supportive in return. (While writing this I have realised, I haven’t actually returned the favour and asked her how life has been for her recently. My bad. Sorry!)
This one is one that I might find difficult to write about, because I don’t really experience it to a tremendous extent. (This might be because I communicate with home a lot- but I did when I was a student and as an adult in the UK not living at home so it’s a habit I’ve bought over here.)
Yes, there will be days when I miss certain aspects of the UK (hot showers), but I have never had the prolonged and debilitating type of wanting to go home. Having said that, if I don’t generally get homesick and there are moments when I feel sad, then it goes to show that it is a problem everyone faces. Our default response, when feeling homesick, is to phone home. This is sometimes just what is needed; sometimes, however, it can make it worse.
Thomas’ top tips:
- Reflect on where these feelings might be coming from. Is it because you feel isolated due to the language barrier or culture differences? Are you just plain tired? Often, when I feel homesick, it’s actually because I want to find escape from what I’m feeling or experiencing and home is associated with refuge and security. The other week I had a cold and that made me homesick, until I realised if I went home I’d just be ill and miserable there instead of ill and miserable in Cambodia.
- Think about what you enjoy about the place you are in and try to find things to enjoy. I’m pretty blessed in that I’m not in some isolated island with no internet or amenities. There are cafes, cinemas, places to visit. I try to visit somewhere or try something new once every one or two weeks in order to have things to be grateful for. Often people talk about the “list three positive things a day” technique; from personal experience, it does actually work to generally improve your mood.
- Set boundaries about contact back home. These may change depending on how you feel, but you need to be wise in how you communicate with those at home and how they communicate back. Discuss these with your family and perhaps closest friends. I’m going to start telling my parents whether I want to do a video call or just a voice call. I realised how dangerous the video call can be when you’re missing something. I told my dad I was missing autumn trees, so he took his laptop outside to the garden to show me them. That only made me miss it more. Obviously, my dad wasn’t to know that this may not be helpful, so it’s best to pre-empt it before it happens.
- Be honest about how you feel to others and what is helpful and what isn’t. Perhaps ask family members to speak to you about important things before it goes on social media. I know that if I see photos of my family on days out or in restaurants on Facebook before we’ve had a chance to catch-up and chat about it can make me feel like the last-one-to-know. Often, when they post things on Facebook, however, it’s so I can see them. But your emotions often don’t tally up with the reality of it, so just be honest about that- with yourself and with others.
- Seek advice from people who have been there longer and honour it. If they suggest cutting down on the phone calls home, then perhaps you should.
- Be forgiving. Your family aren’t necessarily going to know how you’re going to respond to something. Heck, you aren’t necessarily going to know how you’ll respond. If it does go wrong or if you do feel miserable let someone know. If there’s a particular situation that’s making your time away horrible, try to resolve it and forgive those involved. There’s no reason to cling onto it.
I hope some of these have been helpful, and maybe not just for those that are living in a foreign country. Maybe they can be applied in day-to-day life in your home country too.