I talked here about the importance of not underestimating the stress of adapting to life in a new place, particularly if you moved to a new country.
What is about living in a different country that can be so stressing?
Being in a new country may feel exciting and liberating at first, because you have the chance to make life choices that for various reasons were not possible in your home country. After a few months, however, the awareness that you left for good may sink in. At that point you can start feeling homesick. You may miss the people who were close to you, but also the places you grew up in, and your old lifestyle. Thanks to today’s technology, you will be able to keep in touch with your family and friends back home. This certainly helps with homesickness, but does not completely cure it. I often find that my clients don’t just miss the people, but they also miss the places they have so many memories of from their past.
What can you do if you struggle with these feelings?
DON’T spend your time comparing your home country to the new country. There will be things you like better here and other you like better there…Focusing on what you are missing is not helpful. For me as an Italian woman living in the US, and for many of my clients, I found helpful to focus on what I like in the US when I am here and what I like in Italy when I am there. Concentrate on the opportunities you have here and if you have the chance to go back to visit, focus on enjoying your home country instead of thinking about all the differences between countries.
DO accept that in a way you will always feel a little out of place, no matter where you are. Moving to a foreign country offer new opportunities and perspectives, make you realize that life can be lived in different ways, which you would not have imagined at home. At the same time though, you may feel different from the new people you meet in the new country, as you don’t share their upbringing and you may have different values. If you go back to your home country, you may have trouble fitting in there too, because the people who never left may not understand how you changed as a result of living abroad.
DO keep in mind that there are moments when the distance from your home country will feel more difficult. During holidays that are meaningful for you, or when something particularly challenging happen (break-ups, stressing exams/work situations, etc.). What to do?
- For the holidays, accept that they will not feel the same and you may feel homesick, but at the same time, find ways to make them meaningful in a new way. You may try to re-create some of the traditions you had at home or embrace new ones with others who are close to you in the new country.
- For difficult events seek support in new ways (at home you would talk with your best friend, in the new place engage in activities that may bring support: art groups, therapy, church, exercise..)
DO consider that if you belong to a minority, the process of adjustment to a new country may be more challenging, as you may face prejudice, discrimination and racism that you may not have experienced in your home country. Even if you were used to face these struggles at home, in the new country you may lack the support network you had before that helped you dealing with these issues. If this is the case, it is important that you find resources in the new country to create a new support network around you. You may seek out associations, groups, agencies, that actively advocates for the rights of minorities. In this way, you will meet others and share strategies to cope/fight prejudice and discrimination.
DON’T forget that although in the new country you may not have your biological family close, you have the chance of creating your own “chosen family”, made up of friends YOU CHOSE because they share or complement your values and ways to look at life. These bonds can become very important and give you a strong sense of belonging.
DO remember that adapting to a foreign country is challenging, but it also allows you to get to know yourself more deeply. By living abroad you are creating a life out of your comfort zone and you are tracing a path rich with new and unexpected gifts.