Stressful situations like homesickness (see previous post) elicit two basic responses: fight or flight. You can confront your homesickness by getting angry, argumentative, or violent (if you’ve ever wanted to punch someone who doesn’t know where your country is located, you know what I’m talking about). Or you can try to get away from it with the help of drugs/alcohol or social withdrawal.
I say there’s a third way: embrace your homesickness.
Wherever You Go, There You Are*
Each and every method below rests on a single prerequisite: accept your reality. Acceptance is not resignation; to accept you are far from home doesn’t mean feeling helpless. Acceptance is, instead, a foundation for making the best out of your new reality; it is an embrace of it and a beginning of something new.
You’re far away from home. You have a new life, indeed, a new home. You live now, not in the past, not in the future. Pay attention to the present moment, and “walk along the path of life in harmony with things as they are”. You are going to get homesick. There’s no point in confronting or escaping the fact. As soon as I accepted it, life abroad got better.
So how can you be homesick without going crazy?
The Magnificent Seven Ways of Dealing With Homesickness
I’ve found each of the following helpful in dealing with homesickness at different points of my journey to today. I present them in no particular order. Yes, they do relate to one another.
- Stay connected with friends and family “back home”. When you get homesick, you’re likely to get lonely, too. Sharing your new life with the people you know from your country of origin, and, in turn, hearing their news will help you stay grounded. The technology is there, from email to Facebook or Skype; keeping in touch has never been easier. I admit I have the most work to do in this step.
- Keep something (or some things) from old home. Like keeping in touch, this may seem counterintuitive: wouldn’t keeping objects from home remind you of it even more? That’s the point, in fact. By surrounding yourself with items from the old country, you will remain grounded in your old reality and make your new one more familiar. Every time I visit Slovakia, I bring with me an old possession or keepsake as well as some new ones, for continuity.
- Wear it proudly. This one took me a while. “If you can’t change it, promote it,” goes the saying, and it applies to your nationality as well. Talk about where you’re from, wear a t-shirt with your flag, slap a sticker on your bumper (it’s fun to be cruising down the freeway with an SK sticker on the bumper and seeing a bunch of strangers in a next car wave at you because of it). Explore ways to show your colors.
- Express yourself. You’re reading the results of this action step. American Robotnik emerged from an unfulfilled drive to creatively express myself. Do what you like to do: write, sculpt, paint, draw, sing, cook… Anything goes, and it doesn’t even have to be for public consumption. The point is to do it. Creative expression channels your energy toward a positive, and often even tangible, outcome, making it easier to cope.
- Make a new home. This one’s almost too obvious. Remember the bit about attention? To get the old home off your mind, create a new home to occupy it. Whether you rent or own, whether you’re settled or on the move, new people, new places, and new experiences will eventually accumulate. Because “home is a feeling, not a place”, if you add it all up you got yourself a new home.
- Treat yourself. A little distraction goes a long way. Rather than flight, though, treating yourself means giving yourself the gift of something you enjoy. Because experiences beat possessions for satisfaction, treat yourself with an experience, such as a massage, a retreat on the coast, a nice dinner, or a concert. Home is a series of experiences, and treating yourself regularly will create a new string of those.
- Visit home. This one’s a no-brainer and the best cure for homesickness. A side effect: you will see your old country in a new, more realistic, if not critical light, and come to appreciate your new country more. I’ve found myself on a three-year cycle, with my last three visits to Slovakia in 2011, 2008, and 2005. I wish for annual visits, but at 3 weeks each, I have made the best of these trips. In fact, the most recent one inspired me to start the American Robotnik project.
* I borrowed the subheading and the quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life”. I’m using them in my own pragmatic way (those who know me would never call me a crunchy woo-woo type).’
Image credit: Peter Korchnak aka American Robotnik; Boardwalk at Long Beach, Washington, July 2011