Red, White and Blues: Feeling Homesick Abroad

July 4, 2011

in family. friends, homesickness, July 4

The cab driver Saturday night asked us if we liked it in Sydney.

Brendan, as always, said he loved it. “She doesn’t,” he told the driver.

“It’s not that I don’t like it,” I said. “I just don’t want to be here forever.”

“Where are you from?” Brendan asked the driver, as always.

“Pakistan. A remote village near Islamabad.”

“Do you like it here?” I asked.

“It’s a great country,” he replied.

“But, no matter how bad the country is that you came from, you always miss home.”

Me holding beer bottle.

Last July 4th with pal Sam Adams.

As readers would guess from some of my recent posts, I was feeling homesick the first half of this year. I feel a lot better now, for several reasons: I have met some financial goals I set for myself; my work is going well; Brendan and I booked several trips over the next few months; and I intend to visit home this year. I continue to meet new people and foster friendships and explore this country and myself. In short, I am doing all the things you’re supposed to do to get the most out of living abroad.

But I’m a tough cookie.

One of the things living abroad has taught me is to appreciate what you left. Australians Caz and Craig from yTravel Blog wrote a post today about the things they miss about America. About 10 things on the list — brewed coffee, better Internet, highways, etc. — I truly miss myself. They make up the surface layer of feeling homesick abroad.

A bit deeper is the part that believes life is easier in America. Cheaper, more convenient, more efficient. More options, more thinking outside the box, more diversity.

Deeper still lies the part of feeling homesick abroad that encompasses family and friends. Even if at times they make you want to rip out your eyebrow hair, they understand you like no one else. We all have walls, but I believe that for me, it takes a long time to develop a truly deep friendship with someone. I’ve known all of my closest friends for more than a decade. Collectively, they have been there through nearly every major event in my life.

I think the almost subconscious layer of feeling homesick abroad centers on how many feel about their country of origin. It is not about challenging yourself to be different and to be in a different culture. Any of us who have traveled or moved abroad are trying to do both. It’s about that nagging Americanism, the patriotism, the pull to your mother country. The feeling when you meet a compatriot or step onto U.S. soil for the first time after a long time away: This is where I am from.

How do you define feeling homesick abroad? How do you work through it?

36 Comments - Add Yours!

    1. Lauren Post author

      Cheers for the comment, Caroline. I’m sure it was hard to go on your recent trip back and see fam and then leave again.

      Reply
  1. Ali

    Really interesting to read this as I’m just days away from moving to Germany. I know things will be harder in a foreign country, especially since I don’t speak the language yet, but I think the rewards will be worth it.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      I think they will, too! Especially since you are going to be with your love. You have him for support.

      Reply
  2. Christine Z.

    ahh… I feel your sentiment…yes I celebrated the 4th in your home state of NJ, but just on my short business trips abroad I certainly get a smidge homesick. To quote you, “cheaper, more convenient, more efficient. More options, more thinking outside the box, more diversity,” this is truly what pains me when I travel… Spending 5 CHF on a bottle of water in Switzerland, or £ 30.00 on a bottle of vodka in England (which is $55 American bucks?!)… how about getting into Germany on a Sunday morning and NOTHING is Open because Sunday’s are meant for Family Time! Give me a 24hr Walmart.. or Target.. or Wawa because it’s 9pm and I want a cup of coffee!

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for the comment Christine! Other people get pissy when I say how much quicker and cheaper things can be back home, but you don’t realize it in full until you’re away from it!

      Reply
  3. Caz Makepeace

    Thanks for the mention Lauren! I think you are dealing with missing home well. As long as you accept that it is a part of your experience and do what you can to manage it and make the most of your time in your new country then you are doing well.
    I do really agree that life seems easier in America. I can say that comfortably on your blog without the fear of being knifed by family, friends and other aussies. It is not that I don’t love my country and culture- I really do and when I am away from it I miss it a lot too. It feels to me I can only really appreciate it when I don’t live here, which is why I often want to live somewhere else. I dont’ want to have bad thoughts about my life here, but it is really challenging. It doesn’t feel like home anymore, because I have experienced other places that bring me greater joy, more comfort and far less stress.
    in the end you have to do what makes you most happy and if that is living in your own country then it is great. But, if it means you would rather live somewhere else, if that makes you happy that is great. Part of travelling the world means figuring that out. At least you’ll end up knowing for sure which one it is.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for the great comment Caz! Brendan and I read the list together this morning — you touched on some things we didn’t realize we missed, like the highways. I think you put the whole experience of finding where you are most happy very well. That is why you travel and move in other places, to see what you like best. I am glad for your family that you have opened yourselves up to so many places and experiences, because you really have a handle at this point on what you want and what is best.

      Reply
  4. Heather

    I remember the homesickness setting in for me very strongly on 3 occasions. You ARE one tough cookie, and that’ll help you ride this wave of emotions. Thank
    you for sharing what’s on your heart and mind — my fave posts.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Aww, thanks lady! I remember some of our talks on the topic. And I am glad you don’t mind the soul-baring 🙂

      Reply
  5. Torre

    I find that I get ‘homesick’ no matter where I go. While in the US, I miss the social customs and relaxed work ethic of Australia. When in Australia, I miss the prices, the motivated work ethic and the friendliness of the US. In other words, for me the grass is always greener! Eventually, I realized that every country had its pros and cons: weather, work ethic, food, prices, nice people, mean people. I’ve learned to accept a place for what it is, rather than dwell on all the things it doesn’t have. That helps me feel less homesick.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for the great comment Torre. I think you’re spot on in saying you should accept a place for what it is. I keep thinking of a friend from the States who has been living in China for two years. She’s had to learn a new language and adapt to some totally new customs and missing foods (cheese). In comparison, I don’t have it that tough.

      Reply
  6. Nicole

    Great post, Lauren! I’ve noticed that I’ve started to feel more homesick in the past month or so since I stopped traveling & settled down in Sydney to work. It’s not that I don’t love Sydney, but now that I’ve been in one place for a while I’ve had more time to think about how much I miss family & friends back home. I also miss the cheaper prices & convenience! I remember being surprised to find that so many places close by dinnertime in the city.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for the comment Nicole! A bunch of us were just talking tonight about how things close early (another girl from Jersey who’d lived in NYC actually brought it up). In a way it’s nice that people value their after-work hours, but sometimes you get hungry for a snack after 9 p.m.!

      Reply
  7. Suzy

    Thank you for not writing about how you don’t miss home it all! It seems as though so many travelers out there leave their homes to travel. Seldom do they say they will miss home or their friends and family. When I lived in Italy, I certainly felt your sentiments about being abroad. I loved it, but I don’t know how travelers can’t miss their friends and family, or pets! This line is so true, “The feeling when you meet a compatriot or step onto U.S. soil for the first time after a long time away: This is where I am from.”

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for the great comment Suzy! I, too, am glad to hear a fellow traveler misses home sometimes.

      Reply
  8. David

    I remember being homesick for Australia after about 9 months in Sweden, despite loving the country I was living in and having a great time all round really. But after those few weeks I stopped feeling homesick, and somehow felt much more at home in the new country I was in.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      That’s great to hear you were able to overcome the homesickness. Did you feel guilty at all because you were in such a great place and still feeling that way? I sometimes wrestle with guilt because I know it’s great in many ways here, yet I still yearn for home.

      Reply
      1. David

        I can’t recall feeling guilty about it really – I was feeling homesick and missing things from home, but didn’t really want to be home (if that makes sense).

        Reply
  9. Shivya

    Life is funny that way. We yearn to travel, experience a new life, soak in a new culture… and then we miss everything we’ve left behind.

    I’m reminded of this quote after reading your post:
    “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” – by Moore, George.

    Good luck, hope you find your peace soon 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Hi Shivya — thanks for the comment and the great quote. I appreciate your well wishes. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to travel and seek out where I want to set up home in the world. I realize not everyone is that fortunate.

      Reply
  10. Rebecca

    And for those reasons (plus family) are why I came home in the end. I went through some hills and valleys on the homesick front (especially around 4th of July and Thanksgiving!). I definatly made the best and most of my time overseas so coming home was all that much sweeter.

    I just took each day and moment in the present and knew where I was wasn’t forever, that I’d be home at some point and enjoy my time overseas now!

    Good luck! This too shall pass:-)

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks Rebecca, it’s good to know a lot of us have had these feelings and gotten past them. And you’re right, living in the present is key!

      Reply
  11. Annie

    I know how you feel too. I went through this quite a bit in Italy. It came when I was so tired of eating pasta that I’d rather not eat or when I got home from work at 6pm and couldn’t get food for dinner because all the stores closed. Then I thought America is just more convenient and diverse. There are other reasons too.

    Then there are reasons that I can’t wait to get on to my next expat stop (which will be Australia) but I keep hearing all these things that I forgot about that are there that I know will bother me (internet and high prices). I guess that’s all part of doing what we do though!

    As I’m sure you know this but everyone definitely feels that way at one point or another And if they say they don’t they are probably lying haha.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks Annie! It’s good to know I’m not alone. I don’t know if I could get tired of pasta, though 🙂 I hope I can meet you when you get to Oz!

      Reply
  12. Chris

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but I honestly don’t find that homesickness is ever a big issue for me. I might get tired of where I am – but it’s rare that I’ll find myself wanting to be back ‘home’.

    Truth be told, I travel because I haven’t found a place that feels like home to me. At least, never for very long.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Cheers for the comment. I don’t think you’re in the minority necessarily — I’ve heard other travelers and expats say they don’t really get homesick. I think it matters sometimes what’s going on back home. I’m at an age and time in my life where there are a lot of milestones with friends like weddings and babies, and I’d like to be around for some of those things.

      Reply
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  14. Josh

    Just stumbled across your site. Great stuff!
    I’m also an American, but left ten years ago (God, that makes me feel old). Australia’s been home for about five years now, and I don’t think I felt a single pang of homesickness (apart from when I had to miss special events like weddings) until I got my Aussie passport last year. That got me thinking – do I want to have little Sydney-sider babies one day, or little Yankee babies? Regardless, I’m glad I’ll get to expose them to the best of both cultures. Keep up the awesomeness ~ Josh

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks so much for the kudos! I love the sound of “Yankee babies.” And I agree, exposing them to two cultures can only benefit them.

      Reply
  15. Kelly

    Thank you so much for your article. I really love the way you wrote about homesickness. I’m american too so it gnaws at me at times abroad because I really do miss home. this summer somehow I felt really homesick when I went to Taiwan, everything’s different, and I’m also taking a class there, and since people know that I’m a foreigner, it feels like their laughing at me, but i know that they’re probably not. reading this article really helped me get over this nervousness , Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Cheers for reading Kelly, and I’m sorry you’re dealing with a bout of homesickness. I’ve had some friends say recently that it’s the summer months that make them really miss the States (esp. in Oz, where it’s opposite seasons). Taiwan and Asia are really foreign places, so it’s understandable the stark differences might bring out your homesickness more. Taking a class in Taiwan is awesome, so you definitely shouldn’t feel like anyone is laughing at you!

      Reply
  16. Jodie

    I am an American who just moved to the GC with my Aussie husband…I have been away from home (Maryland) since I was 22 (now 28) and I have always felt homesick and guilty for leaving. It is worse now that this is where my husband and I are building our future because it seems so far away and final. It is so expensive to go home and I feel I won’t be satisfied until I can go home at least twice a year. I think I am realizing I will never be with the friends that I had such close relationships with and never go to the family functions. It’s sad….

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Aww, Jodie, I am sorry you are struggling with being so far. It’s odd you left this comment now, as I am getting ready to move back (I haven’t had the energy, time or strength to write the post announcing that yet) to the East Coast on Sunday. And I am now feeling opposite emotions — I’m thinking of all the things I’ll miss in Australia. It’s weird. Maybe the grass is always greener. Good luck and I hope you find your happy medium between both countries.

      Reply
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