Most of us have experienced the ache of homesickness in some form or another. You arrive in a new place (be it a holiday, sleepover or new home), the excitement of the novelty wears off, and you’re hit with a pang of longing and nostalgia for the familiarity and comfort of home.
You could be a boundless, seasoned traveller. You could be someone who’s never left their hometown. Either way, no one is immune to homesickness, no matter how well-travelled, emotionally prepared or enthusiastic you are.
According to Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama’s School of Public Health, homesickness stems from our instinctive need for love, protection and security, which are feelings and qualities usually associated with home. When we lack these qualities in a new environment, we begin to long for them, and hence home.
Thankfully, homesickness is usually temporary, and there are countless things you can do to regain control of your emotional state and get back to making the most of your new experiences. Here are our top tips for dealing with homesickness when volunteering overseas.
1. Keep busy
If you’re volunteering, working or studying overseas, there’ll be no shortage of activities to fill your days and take your mind off any inkling of homesickness. Throw yourself into your work, get involved in extracurricular activities, make a bucket list of activities to do in your new home, and make as many social appointments as you can.
Journaling is an incredibly important part of any new experience, and we encourage our volunteers to journal as often as possible. Journaling is a great tool for growth and reflection, and can help alleviate stress and deescalate conflict or issues. Taking a few minutes to jot down your feelings at the end of each day will not only help you feel better in the short term, it will also help you deal with a variety of challenges that may arise further on.
3. Reach out to your loved ones
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and sometimes all it takes to ease the longing is a quick phone call. We live in a magical age where we can connect with whoever we want, whenever we want, usually with a few clicks of a button. If you can’t call or skype a partner, friend or family member, shoot them a message, type up an email, or even pen a letter. You might find that by the time you’re done writing, you feel better already.
4. Wind back the social media
It’s important to keep connected with friends and family back home, and they want to see what you’ve been up to. But it doesn’t take much for FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to take homesickness levels from 1 to 100. Social media is not real life. The odds are that no matter how much fun and happiness people seem to be having at home, they’d much rather be where you are. Spend less time scrolling through social media and more time making real connections in your new community; we promise it will make you feel better.
5. Engage with the community
If you’re working or volunteering long-term, especially if it’s in a remote area, your local community will eventually become your new family. It may seem intimidating getting involved in a new culture, but the rewards are endless. Leap out of your comfort zone and get involved with local activities. Befriend your neighbours. Attend local festivals. Coach a football team. Ask your colleagues to introduce you to their friends. Never turn down an invitation. After all, experiencing a new way of life and making new human connections is half the reason you left home, right?
6. Visit another volunteer
If you’re volunteering through an agency like Palms Australia, there’s likely to be another Australian volunteer no more than a bus ride away. If you feel like a dose of familiarity is what you need, invite them to stay with you for a weekend, ask if you can visit them, or arrange to meet them somewhere new. You may find that you’re both going through something similar, which can make you feel less alone.
7. Stay healthy
Getting sufficient exercise, nourishing food and sleep is an important part of staying physically and mentally healthy. Make sure you’re eating well and getting at least half an hour of physical activity every day. Going for a daily walk or run not only helps you get to know your new surroundings, but can be a great way to clear your mind (and get those much-needed endorphins going).
8. Develop a routine
Often a break from routine is what we crave most when we decide to take on an overseas placement. But it can also subconsciously be what sets us up for culture shock and home sickness. Develop a routine that incorporates the things that make you feel settled and at peace. That could be as simple as writing in your diary every evening, or taking the time to read the news over coffee every morning. Find something that works for you.
9. Remember your purpose
Despite how you’re feeling now, there was once a time when you couldn’t wait to board that flight. If you’re feeling homesick, take a moment to remember why you came. Was it to see a new part of the world? Experience a new culture? Make a difference in the world? Improve your CV? Whatever the reason, hold it at the front of your mind and use it as the driving force behind everything you do. Homesickness is temporary. Your experience will shape the rest of your life.
10. Be kind to yourself
Remember that homesickness is completely normal. Make the experience easier to get through by treating yourself with the care and compassion you would a close friend. Feeling homesick is part of the journey, it will come and go, but your experience will last a lifetime. Do what you need to do to make it as enjoyable as possible.
11. Talk to your coordinator
If you’re working or volunteering through an organisation or agency, there’s probably someone you have on speed dial for any issues that come up on your placement. The odds are they’ve dealt with countless homesick travellers, and can provide the support or resources you need to make it a little bit easier. Palms Australia volunteers are encouraged to contact our Country Program Coordinator for any guidance or advice they need while overseas.
Thinking about volunteering overseas? You can view our current opportunities and apply to volunteer here.