I’ve seen hundreds of people go through homesickness in the past. For a longtime I was in South Korea helping new teachers from all over the world adjust to living and working in a new country. Soon I started to see the same patterns emerge when it came to homesickness and adjusting to living in a new place.
Almost everyone came down with homesickness at one time or another, it happened to me during my first long-term stay in Korea and also happened when I returned to the US. It’s happened to me from move to move and as someone who’s moved quite a bit it’s been a common occurrence in my life. I’ve even realized that the feeling of homesickness really has very little to do with location, but everything to do with me.
Basis of Homesickness
In reality nobody really misses their home. They don’t miss the walls, doors, or windows. While they may miss a certain location because of the memories associated with them what they really are feeling is not a sense of loss, but a sense of displacement. Any move whether it is down the block, to a school out of state or even to a different country breaks down all of the routines that we are used to in our lives. We need to readjust to everything from how we go through our morning routine to how we go through our days. It changes our interactions with everyone in our lives from old friends to making new ones. The breaking of those patterns is what causes anxiety and the feeling of not fitting in.
Most people when moving will go through the same mental and emotional processes until they settle in. The first is either a sense of fear and dread at having to deal with a new place or one of excitement. Some people simply do not want any change and have a difficult time going away on vacation. They spend their lives preferably in a single cycle with as little change as possible. They are the ones who feel anxiety right away as large changes are taking place in their lives. For most other people they are open to the idea of doing something new, expanding their horizons and exploring the world. When put in a new situation they find it quite adventurous whether it is going on vacation, starting a new job or entering a new relationship. When going somewhere new their minds enter tourist or vacation mode where everything is fascinating. Going to a convenience store in a new country becomes an adventure just to see what differences that there are. In a new relationship they are in the honeymoon phase where they want to learn as much as possible and share new experiences together. For a new job or change in lifestyle are excited about the new skills that they will learn. All in all the initial phase is one of excited and not fear or anxiety.
In a romantic relationship or even friendship everything is new and exciting about this person. You’re hearing new stories and getting a chance to tell your stories to someone new. They are introducing you to new ideas and places while you get to do the same and everything is a brand new experience for the two of you. The newness and freshness of everything adds life and energy to every phone call, message and time spent together.
The second phase is one where people are starting to settle in and applies to both types of people. People are now settled into where they are and know what they should be doing with their day. This usually happens in the second or third month. At a new job you are now expected to know what you’re doing without being told and there are expectations put on you. Chances are you’ve learned the basics by now and are able to perform your duties, but they are not quite comfortable yet. You know how to answer the phone, fill in your reports and attend meetings but if something new pops up it might create a certain feeling of panic as you feel awkward asking for help. When the copy machine or printer jams you don’t know how to fix it, but feel that you should know.
If you had moved then it is the feeling of knowing where things are, but not really knowing the best places to go or the best routes to get there. You still need to look things up to find optimum routes to be as efficient as possible and get on your way without delays. When driving to the store you still end up going at the wrong times and getting stuck in traffic or showing up to a restaurant on their off day. It’s the frustration of having to listen to a dripping faucet or having the closet door stick on you every time you try to open it.
In a relationship this is where the little annoyances start popping up. You or your partner are expecting certain responses that will cheer you up, make you feel better or show that the two of you understand each other, but the fact is that you haven’t spent enough time together at this point to really know the details of one another. When you ask, “What should we do tonight?” you expect them to know that you want to go out for something fun and get upset when they come up with takeout and Netflix. For many relationships we expect something magical, our soulmate that will know us better than we know ourselves. However in life you get to know one another because of time spent together and not because of a psychic connection. Your family knows you and you know them not because of some magical bond of blood, but because you spent years and years together picking up on subtle clues until the knowledge becomes automatic.
Now is the point where frustration starts to come in play. The little things that weren’t noticed or that weren’t bothersome start to drive you crazy. The closet door that you noticed when you first moved in is now the bane of your morning. The dripping faucet keeps you up at night as that is all you’re focused on while trying to sleep. The way he tends to chew with his mouth open or the way she sips her coffee. The little things that you never noticed during the start of the relationship start to irk you every time. At this point you maybe even actively looking for things that bother you and start making comparisons to people and places in your past.
“Even in Kyoto when I hear the cuckoo I long for Kyoto.”
― Richard Flanagan,
This is the real feeling of homesickness, when you start looking at your past home, job or relationships with fondness. You start thinking at my old job I didn’t need to unjam the copier every time I used it. I didn’t need to deal with a stuck closet door in my last apartment or I my last boyfriend always kept his mouth closed when chewing. Chances are though that you are again picking and choosing the good things from your past experiences while ignoring the bad. You’re not thinking about how the vending machine used to always eat your quarters or how the water pressure in the shower drove you crazy. You’re not thinking about how your old boyfriend was always late or never thoughtful enough. In most cases you left the old behind because you didn’t want it anymore. It’s very different when comparing problems of the present with problems of the past as the past problems no longer bother us as they are in the past.
Nostalgia is a seductive liar.
At this stage many people want to simply give up. They think that their job choice, move or relationship was a bad idea. Sure things felt good when you started, but right now at this moment things are in a rut. You don’t like how your manager chews you out every morning, you scream in frustration trying to get that damn closet open and everything just seems to be getting worse and worse. The good news is that in pretty much every case I’ve seen this part is the easiest to get over and also the hardest. It just takes time and a little perseverance. The secret is to not quit, you’ll get over that hump, I’ve seen it hundreds of times.
After a few more months everything has settled down. You know the little ins and outs, the little signs and tricks to make everything run smoothly. At work you’ve figured out how to load the paper in the copy machine so it doesn’t stick. At your apartment in the morning you give your closet door a little kick every time that you need to open it without giving it a single thought (you might even start automatically start kicking every closet door you open). These actions have become habits and routines that you do everyday and it has become your comfort zone. In the relationship you don’t need to ask what to do tonight because the two of you already know. It’s the same with friends where everyone knows what’s happening tonight, where they are all going to hangout. This is the point where homesickness no longer exists because you are at home.
Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
Again when seeing people move to a new country, start a new job and try to make new friends I’ve seen this cycle over and over again. The initial adrenaline rush which wears off into frustration and finally into routine. In most cases people have a harder time going back “home” to America, Canada, the UK or somewhere else as they have to rebuild all of their routines again. You see it with teenagers who go off to college where the first month or two is just full of excitement and adrenaline which wears off into homesickness. They miss their high school days and friends as things become a bit harder to deal with, but by the time vacation rolls around and they are back home all they can think of is getting back to college.
Originally posted 2017-01-27 16:35:06.