So you’ve found your apartment, opened up a bank account and have even started your dreaded immigration paperwork. After the anticipation and farewells, along with and the buzz and stress of getting started in your new ‘home’, it finally hits you. You’re here alone. Maybe you won the roommate jackpot or were blessed with a coworker that’s taken you under their wing, but if you’re like many brand new expats, this is probably the time that loneliness and homesickness are starting to set in.
But don’t fret! It’s part of the process and something we’ve all been through. And it absolutely does get better, but it will take effort on your part. As you get to know your new surroundings (and find your niche within them), don’t forget that you’re the protagonist of your new exciting life, and this experience will be exactly as amazing as you make it.
You got this! And if you feel like maybe you don’t, read on for 11 ways to overcome homesickness and transition into expat badassery.
1. Go Outside.
Simple, right? Usually. Except that one of the side effects of loneliness is crawling into hibernation mode with a warm cozy blanket and the unlimited caverns of the internet. IT’S A TRAP!
Ditch the Netflix and get out there. Explore your neighborhood and allow yourself to get lost. People watch and window shop and find your favorite hidden corners. Say hello to the guy at the newspaper stand, the woman at the fruit shop and even your gossipy old neighbor lady who’s always spying from her bougainvillia-covered windowsill.
Before I had real friends when I moved to Madrid, it was these friendly and familiar faces that gave me a little social boost every morning and these connections on my block went a long way to making me feel more at home.
Besides that, endorphins are the happy hormone and vitamin D is key feeling upbeat. Getting out and about and moving your body will automatically make you feel better.
2. Date Yourself
No friends? No problem! You recently packed up your live’s possessions and moved away to start a brand new adventure, so chances are that you’re decently cool.
Take yourself out to dinner and order a bottle of wine. (Feel free to drink it all, just not every time.) Find local events like, live music or open mic nights, and mosey on over. Enjoy the experience and work on shedding the pesky insecurity of flying solo. No one is really noticing that you came in alone, and if they are, it’s a pretty good chance that it’s because (a) they’re alone too or (b) they’re interested in that solo-mystique you’re vibing.
3. Dive Into a Good (Local) Book
One of my favorite ways to learn about culture and history in my new “home away from home” is to delve into a historical fiction set in the area. In the Dominican Republic it was In the Time of the Butterflies, in Turkey it was Bastard of Istanbul and in Madrid it was Winter in Madrid.
Not only does it give you a peak behind the surface of your new home, but it’s also the perfect companion to take along with you to those “dinners-for-one” and meandering walks through the park.
4. Learn Something New
So much of loneliness and homesickness is attached to having too much time on our hands and a lack of focus. Fill it up!
Chances are you moved to this place because something about the country and culture inspired you. Join a language class, a dance class, an art class, a cooking class, whatever!
This one is three-fold – not only will you fill your time and learn a new skill, you’ll also meet new people with similar interests.
5. Keep Doing You
Although you’re in your new surroundings and looking for new experiences and self-growth, it doesn’t mean you have to leave it all behind. Find a way to keep up with your hobbies and interests as much as possible.
No matter where you are in the world, you can probably find a basketball team, a yoga studio, a running crew, or whatever else gets you going. Have fun, do you, meet new people. The best way to find people you’ll like is by doing the things you enjoy. So do them! (the things that is, not necessarily the people 😉).
6. Note to Self
Don’t distract yourself with the negatives by missing out on all of the positive new experiences around you. A great way to focus on the amazing is to keep a record, whether it be personal or something you can share with friends and family. (Again, keeps you busy on those “dinners for one”!)
I’m definitely an advocate for journaling, though I know it’s not for everyone. When I’m in a writing slump, I sometimes carry a little notebook around with me just to jot down some of the day’s special moments or the lovely sight I’ve just stumbled upon.
If you’re interested in sharing your experiences with friends and family back home, World Nomads and WordPress offer free and very easy to use blogging, and mobile apps like Photo 365 enable you to capture a photo a day that can later be converted into a slideshow of your highlights. Making a point to note your experiences will help you keep focused, present and appreciative of all the good stuff you’re exploring every day.
7. Deep Chats. With Yourself
Something gave you the itch to leave your family, friends and worldly possessions and start this solo adventure. Delve into that.
Rather than seeing this alone time as lonely, look at is as quality time to spend with you. Ask yourself genuine questions and take advantage of the lack of distractions that we normally face in our daily lives.
8. Local Tunes
You don’t have to understand the language of the lyrics to get down with some good local music. Whether it’s checking out live gigs, or simply searching for top artists of your preferred genre in your new city or country, you’ll feel more like a local when you cruise the streets with local beats in your earbuds.
Some of my all-time favorite artists have been discovered while looking up travel tunes in any given country, like the Basque Country’s Manu Chao (Spain), Cambodia’s Dengue Fever and New Zealand’s Fat Freddy Drop.
9. Local Flicks
Like books and music mentioned above, movies are another great means of getting to know your new home. While not all countries have a very happening movie biz, it’s worth finding out if there are any star directors or titles to check out.
Movies and series set in your country or directed by a local can help you to see deeper behind the scenes into culture, dating norms and family life, not to mention that watching the flicks with subtitles can greatly improve your grasp of the local lingo.
Movies like Amores Perros and Y Tú Máma También helped me to learn Spanish and to delve into Mexican picture (not to mention helped me to fall head-over-heels in love with Gael García Bernal 😍). In Spain, El Tiempo Entre Costuras and Gran Hotel (a Spanish-esque “Downtown Abbey”) gave me a glimpse into Spanish history and culture.
10. K.I.T. (Just not too much)
There is so much to see and taste and do and explore and experience in this new place, but sometimes we all need a little bit of home sweet home.
When I first started travelling, smart phones with international data weren’t yet “a thing” and talking to my family, or anyone for that matter, involved finding an internet café with opening hours that corresponded to the time zone back home. That, or buying overpriced calling cards that I used from pay phones (yes, you read that right) on usually busy avenues.
Times have changed and getting in touch with your loved ones is as simple as downloading a couple of apps. Video calling is easy with FaceTime and Skype, and apps like Line and WhatsApp allow you to place free international calls. For me, WhatsApp is by far the most valuable and convenient way to chat, send pics & voice messeges and to create groups with family and friends.
That being said, do your best not to get sucked into your phone and remember to remain present and in the moment. Balance is key.
11. Make a Local Bucket List
Wherever you are, I can guarantee you that there are literally hundreds of interesting things to see and taste within a 50-mile radius. Make a bucket list to prioritize some of the things that most catch your curiosity, and then make them happen.
When I first moved to the Canary Islands and didn’t know anyone, I used popsicle sticks and whenever I was in doubt of how to spend a Saturday I’d grab one and hit the road. It’ll encourage you to take advantage of your time abroad, and checking things off of any list feels pretty amazing.
Now Get Outta Here!
You will get homesick and the first couple of months will be a bit lonely, but that’s just a small piece of the puzzle. Soon enough you’ll find your niche, your circle of friends and your favorite spot to have a cheeky afternoon caña. But first ya gotta get up, get out, get lost ❤
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