Homesick. It is an adjective defined in the dictionary as, “experiencing a longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.” Before this year, I had not felt the effects associated with this word. Now, I feel them almost every day.
Did you know that 70% of students feel homesick in the early days of university and 34% of those new university students drop out in their first year?
I graduated with my Bachelor of Journalism at the end of 2016 after four happy, hard, sad, fun, exciting, challenging years at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. I missed home during that time, but I never really felt homesick. Perhaps because I went home to Zimbabwe two to three times a year, or because I was still living in Africa, or maybe because my boyfriend lived in the same town as me. Whatever the reason, my first pang of homesickness appeared at 23, within the first month of my arrival in the Netherlands. This is not always the case, for some people it takes three or four months to start feeling this way. The new life they were so excited to start becomes an everyday reality and they begin to miss their old lives. This feeling is normal – apparently.
At the end of September, I cried every single day for a week, not for hours on end but just a little bit everyday. I still cry. So, I do not profess to be an expert in overcoming this horrid sensation I get in the pit of my stomach but I can give you some tips on what I did to feel better:
1. Go outside.
Even if it is raining, or cloudy or cold, or dark – which it often is here. I have found that just getting some fresh air helps me think clearly. Staying cooped up in your room, no matter how much work you have or how cold it is outside is never a good idea.
2. Do things that you enjoyed doing at home.
Whatever made you happy at home, do that wherever you are now. I started painted my nails every now and then or adding places to my travel book or going out for coffee with a friend. These were things I enjoyed doing at home and in South Africa that I just stopped doing when I got to the Netherlands. Do the things that you know make you happy.
This was a big one for me. I have always loved walking. I walk almost everyday and I try run at least five times in a month, which is not much but it is something. In the Netherlands I stopped walking and running altogether. I did cycle but in the Netherlands, this is a mode of transport not a workout. Excercise makes you happy. It releases endorphins that make you feel good – yes we have heard all this before but it is a reality. Do some excercise – be it yoga, running, walking or doing squats, sit ups, push ups — just do it.
4. Learn more about where you are.
Get familiar with your surroundings, it helps to know where you are. Find a favourite coffee shop, bar, park or even a special spot in the library. It helps to have a place that you can go to where you feel comfortable. Mine was the yoghurt barn, it was a place my mum found online and she suggested I go there for coffee. I met most of my friends there and they serve the biggest most delicious coffees.
Give yourself time. Time to love the things that are different about your new surroundings. Time to get into a routine. Time to make friends. Time to learn about where you are. It does not happen over night but if you try it will get better.
You know that saying, when you smile, the whole world smiles with you and when you cry you cry alone – it is very true. Smiling is contagious. In Zimbabwe, wherever you go people smile at you, in the grocery shops, the airtime guys – yes you can buy airtime from a vendor while waiting for the green light – at the robots (traffic lights) and even in a queue at the bank! I didn’t feel like people were happy here because they never smiled. I realized that it was me who was not smiling and so what I was receiving in the Netherlands was a reflection of what I was giving. Since then, I have seen many more happy faces then I have sad ones.
7. Last but not least, meet new people.
You never know they might be going through the same thing as you. My housemate from Romania felt the same way I was feeling in her first year in the Netherlands and now she never wants to leave. It is also because of her that I am going skiing in Romania this Christmas. Meeting new people and making new friends is the best part of the experience. Getting a message from someone close by who wants to meet up for a drink makes this new place feel a lot more tolerable and a little bit more like home.