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Homesickness and How to Handle It

It’s quite normal to go through periods of homesickness when you move countries, or cities, for a work opportunity, even if (on paper) everything seems like it should be rosy and wonderful. We spoke with Gemma Yates, our Group International Manager who recently moved from Brighton (England) to Melbourne (Australia), to get her tips on how to survive homesickness and get yourself back on track.

Gemma, what has been your experience of homesickness?

australia gemmaI moved from the UK to Melbourne 1.5 years ago. I discovered that homesickness can sneak up on you. One minute you’re having a fantastic time and the next you’re overwhelmed by the enormity of being thousands of miles from home. Everything in England looks kind of similar to Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Ireland, but it’s just different, and you feel completely not at home. It can be incredibly disarming.

How did work help you overcome your homesickness?

In offices around the world, and particularly in schools, people bond through caffeine. Making cups of tea sound ridiculously simple, but it’s a great way to initiate conversations and start making local friends. So offer to make your colleagues a cuppa & you will eventually get brought into their social circle during lunchtimes. It’s a great way to break the ice.

Another thing teachers can do in UK schools is to offer to run extra-curricular activities. Schools are thriving communities and busy places. With endless sports clubs, photography clubs, Drama, Music and Art departments all needing extra pairs of hands, be willing to help out. The busier you are, the less time you have to dwell on “home life”. If you want to set up a pottery club, AFL team or ice hockey club – suggest it.

Is there anything you recommend bringing from home to help people overcome homesickness?

I definitely recommend you find room in your suitcase to pack some creature comforts – keepsakes, familiar clothes, photos of family and friends to help you feel familiar in your new home from home. 

That said, shopping for new things can also help keep you focused on the adventure – put some money aside to buy  yourself something you can’t buy at home – whether that’s scouring London’s vintage markets, or even a Primark spree – it’s nice to treat yourself. I’d also recommend Antipodean teachers who are not used to long winters might want to consider buying a sun lamp.  if you’ve arrived in the depths of a UK winter & you are from the Southern Hemisphere, this can be hard. A SAD lamp can help you to adjust with the seasons, even waking you up with ‘sunlight’ to help your body overcome all that darkness!

You’re a lover of routine, and not having your usual routine to follow threw you when you first moved to Melbourne. How did you deal with that?

Yes I do like my routine, and feel quite ‘at sea’ when I don’t have my usual routine to follow. Being spontaneous is fun for a while but it doesn’t help me feel grounded, normal, or settled. What I did was create a new routine. It has to be something that works for you. I love combining my favourite things – fitness and free things. Walk your new “hood”, get familiar and acquainted by your new surroundings. I made a commitment to walking for 30 mins a day – it helped clear my mind and feel more established. If you see a postie, shop keeper or dog walker – greet them. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

What about social media, did that help?

It’s funny, social media like Facebook can be as much of a hindrance as a help to overcoming homesickness. Sure it’s a way to stay connected, but you’re also constantly reminded of what you’re missing out on (in a completely fictional way, where only the very best bits are showcased, not the tedium, or the big argument that broke out moments after that perfect photo was snapped).

I actually recommend limiting your social media exposure if you’re homesick, as it can make things worse. Instead, focus on building a real social network in your new home. You can use networking sites to connect with people who share your interests, finding likeminded people. Meetup.com can be a great way to find your feet.

It seems incongruous, but further travel also helped you overcome your homesickness. Explain!

Gemma Yates says travel to overcome homesickness

It really did. Living in Melbourne is fantastic, but ultimately it’s another city with unreliable weather – not what I imagined when dreaming of moving to Australia. So I travelled, and still do, to explore all these fascinating parts of Australia that are so very different to back home. Western Australia, Queensland, the Outback – even country Victoria, they’ve kept my sense of adventure alive, and it’s also nice to feel like I’m ‘coming home’ at the end of each trip.

So my advice to homesick international teachers: book your first European holiday – that’s a BIG reason you came to teach in the U.K. What’s on your bucket list? Get out your school diary and score yourself a cheap European deal. Invite Mum to meet you in Paris or pals to party with you in Ibiza. Sign up to cheap fare alerts from thetrainline and various budget flight operators, which will ensure you can take advantage of sale fares when they come out, can make your money go further and maximise your travel adventures.

If you’ve moved over on your own but don’t fancy the idea of travelling solo, there are lots and lots of group tours you can join, in which you can explore UK, Europe or North Africa with a bunch of other young people. TNT Magazine is a great place to start researching reputable tour operators.

What are your top tips for our teachers moving internationally, or even just moving cities within the UK, to help them overcome homesickness?

My first piece of advice is to Latch onto a Local. Your UK/ local  account manager will be able to point you in the right direction of decent bars, cafes, transport systems, travel cards and where to purchase your new teacher wardrobe from, and you might even get along well enough to be invited along on a few nights out! 

Another mantra of mine is Keep Busy. The more things you have going on in your life, the less time you have to dwell on what you are missing out on. Packing your calendar not only provides a fun distraction, it can help you meet other people, even improve yourself. Join a gym, learn to rock-climb, learn a foreign language at at evening class.

My next piece of advice: Say YES! You aren’t going to meet people in your pencil case. Force yourself to pubs, cafes, local shops and department meetings. Even if you feel like that’s the last thing you feel like doing, speaking to local people will make you feel more like you are settling in. Just remember to exercise the same judgement and caution that you would at home, it’s alarming how many people move overseas and forget to pack their common sense.

It’s also important to give yourself time to feel homesick, to identify the feeling and accept it, not to try and deny it.  This is a big move and you are bound to feel alarmed, questioning your sanity and homesick at times (especially when you have one public transport debacle after another, that tends to be what makes people mad!). This is all perfectly normal, stick with it as these feelings will go away. Be gentle with yourself and remember this is all part of the process.

Finally, I’d say just relax and roll with it. This experience will make you a tougher, resilient, more robust and grounded person. It’s probably not how you expected, but nothing ever is. In ten years time, I promise you that you won’t feel this way. Most likely, in ten days time, you won’t feel this way. You feel like this now, but it will pass – it’s a moment in time, witness that thought and let it go. Be proud to be teaching in the UK. Be proud to be an adventurer. Hang on in there, this isn’t your forever, it’s just your “now for now”. But if the problem persists, it might be indicative of a greater issue – so don’t rule out seeing a counsellor or getting some kind of professional help. The UK has the fantastic NHS which does provide some free mental health services so see your local GP and get a referral – there’s no point suffering when there’s a wealth of support out there.

Gemma Yates explains how she overcame homesickness