My Experience with Homesickness
Updated: Nov 27, 2022
I remember before coming to France, when the topic of
homesickness or culture shock came up, thinking to myself “I’m not going to experience much culture shock, it will be beautiful there and the food will be delicious, so I’m not going to miss that part of being at home.” To sum it up in three short words, I WAS WRONG.
When living in a different country, culture and language becomes exhausting after a while. Everything is new and exciting, especially in the beginning, but as time goes on one begins to miss the familiarity and ease of being at home. About a month into living in France I began to crave the comforts of home more than I ever thought possible. The first things I noticed missing were hugs from my parents, having dinner with them and taking my dogs for a walk. This evolved into missing my parents’ cooking, both my mom’s comfort food and the unusual dinner experiments my dad cooks up.
Along with missing my family and home, I was also deeply missing my close friends. While we are all having new experiences this year and they may be experiencing their own homesickness, my friends are part of my family and being away from them has also been very difficult. I am having all of these new experiences and it is hard to not be able to share them with my friends.
I want to talk first about the signs of homesickness and how they manifest. They can be different for each individual, but this is what I experienced: I felt sad and constantly thought about home, I was more sensitive and easily became teary eyed after having a difficult day at work, I felt irritable and sluggish and ate a lot of pastries and comfort food. Overall I was not prioritizing taking care of myself, which should have given me the immediate realization I was homesick.
The second thing I want to talk about are triggers I experienced which intensified my homesickness. As summer turned to fall, I found myself missing the fall traditions and comforts with my parents such as going to pick tomatoes, the apple festival at the Portland Nursery, going to a pumpkin patch and evening walks with my dad and the dogs as the air is just becoming crisp and the leaves are starting to turn. While I was able to enjoy many French fall traditions with my host family and on my own in the community, I was still missing those I’ve known all my life.
Another trigger for me was and still is living with a host family and seeing them interact as a family, which leaves me missing my family even more. Walking home from work left me missing the walks to and from school where I would catch up with my friends on our day. One of my closest friends had her birthday in September and for the first time in our thirteen years of friendship, I was not there to celebrate with her. Many of the triggers were my lifelong traditions and routines of this time of year.
Next I want to share the things I did to help manage this feeling of homesickness and my advice for future assistants going through the same thing. The thing I wanted to do more than anything during this time was isolate. In my experience of hosting exchange students in the past, I knew this would not help me in the end. To push me out of my comfort zone, I decided to “say yes.” This was advice given to me and the other assistants during orientation, to “say yes” to new experiences, because who knows what unexpected and amazing adventures could lie ahead. After saying yes, I went to the beach for the weekend with my host family, I tried new foods - like escargot - for the first time, I went to local events with my host family and other assistants, I went to a Scouts event for my host sisters, and overall began having truly enjoyable new experiences and seeing incredible things I never would have had I not said “yes.”
Implementing “saying yes” into my days had a considerable impact on my homesickness, as not only was I having new experiences, but I was spending less and less time thinking about my family, friends and home. The most significant change I made and my biggest piece of advice to others is find the activities and places in your new environment that feel similar to your own home. To do this, first I identified specific activities or places from home I missed. For me these included dancing, playing piano, walking my dogs, and having a coffee shop that felt like “mine.” Next, I figured out which were possible to continue here. I started walking during lunch to satisfy the craving for a walk and although it was without my dogs, I do get to see a lot of dogs.
One weekend I brought a book to a little cafe and sat outside enjoying a pastry and the sun, while reading. I found a coffee shop where I love their coffee and it feels comfortable like home. Dance and piano took a little more effort to include in my routine. For piano, I used the keyboard at the elementary school during lunch which had some limitations in size and sound. Unexpectedly, my host family has been kind enough to rent a piano for me to use while I am in their home. For dance, there are a couple of studios in Angers. After speaking with my host family, co-workers and my director, I had several recommendations for one called “Arabesque.” I looked up their website, found the classes I was interested in, and signed up! Now I am taking an advanced ballet and pointe class for two hours every Thursday, and will continue for the duration of my stay.
Missing my friends is an area of homesickness I have not found a complete remedy to yet, however I have begun to fill the void by spending time with the friends I have made here and having them to share my new experiences with.
Making these changes to my routine here and incorporating activities that feel like mine has helped tremendously. Having these grounding aspects here so far away from home has helped me realize not only how much I need them in my life, but how they are a part of me and the incredible amount of happiness they bring.
Not only was I homesick for my friends, family and activities of home, but also for the comforts and ease of everyday life. Especially in the beginning when I was still adjusting to the language shift, I was exhausted. I would get frustrated from speaking French everyday and the exhaustion it brought. Stumbling over my clumsy French left me feeling misunderstood and unable to express myself. My comprehension was and is still developing at the conversation level, making it difficult to understand others at times. This left me missing home where the language barrier was not a daily worry of mine. As more time has passed my French speaking and comprehension has improved to where I no longer feel as frustrated and exhausted by the language. My advice for others: push through and know that when people say it is difficult in the beginning but gets easier with time, listen because they are absolutely correct.
I discovered a significant part of my feelings of homesickness was my lack of a routine separate from the routine imposed by my new obligations. Without a personal routine, there was nothing I had to rely on other than eating breakfast, going to work, coming home and eating dinner with my host family. Once I began going on walks after lunch, playing piano and going to dance, they became part of not only my routine, but part of taking care of me. I am not done establishing my personal routine yet, but the changes I have implemented have created the balance and grounding I needed.
Throughout these first three months of my adventure, I have had a painful realization that I am having a completely “normal” experience, but there is one more phase to this I am still grappling with. I find myself thinking “next fall I will be home and able to return the familiarities I love,” however I have realized next year I will not be going back to the ‘normal’ which I am longing for as I will start university, again far from home. The coming years will not look like the past I am fondly looking back on right now. This year is opening me up to a whole new world of experiences and knowledge and allowing me to learn the tools I need to handle these feelings when they come up in the future. This year will reset a baseline for fall routines in this next phase of my life.
When I first arrived here in Angers, I was so excited to spend time with my host family and dig into my work that I forgot to prioritize time for myself. Finding a way to do the things I love here, things which remind me a bit of home and creating a routine for myself, has been immensely helpful in managing my homesickness and has created the balance I needed in these first several months. My advice for future assistants is when you start to feel symptoms of being homesick, take the time to check in with yourself, figure out what specific aspects of home you are missing and find a way to add them into your life abroad. It helps more than you might think in the moment.
As I am finishing this post, Thanksgiving Day is quickly approaching in the US. Since there is no Thanksgiving holiday here in France, I decided to bring some of my family dinner traditions to Angers. I am making a few traditional holiday dishes such as pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce to share with my host family!
Look for my next postings about discovering the food, culture, and local gems of Angers as well as my experience with my first host family change! I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving!