Beating Homesickness and Winter Gloom When Living Abroad

I’m leaving for England tomorrow and I’m so excited! I’ve never been there before, and now I’m going to spend five days in London. It’s going to be excellent–it’s hard to imagine that I can get from Lorient to London for less than 100 euro!

I’m so glad it’s February, because January was not a happy month for me. It was halfway through my work contract, the weather was January in Brittany (rainy), I was very sick, my boyfriend had just left and my family was far away. The halfway blues are normal, but they sure do suck. The honeymoon period has worn off but there’s still a long way to go till the end, homesickness settles in after the holidays away from home, and I began to wonder, “What exactly am I doing here?”

I’ve managed to shake the blues off for now (for the most part), and I’m excited to be in France again. Here are six of the strategies I used to feel better:

1. Plan a trip

I’ve seen this advice elsewhere, but I’ll expand and say what others don’t. This is not a cure-all. I had to force myself to book a trip to London. I was in the midst of money stress, not knowing how much I would be paid for missing work when I was sick. I was exhausted from illness, and planning a trip is a lot of work. I was homesick, so all I wanted to do was go home. But I knew that wasn’t a real option. Eventually, I decided that I was going to have to get over the money stress because I was so gloomy that staying alone in my apartment for two weeks during the February vacation was not a healthy option for me. Once I had gotten over that hump, I started to feel a lot better about the trip, because after I’d purchased non refundable transportation, the trip was going to happen no matter what. Now, I’ve been counting the days and feeling so much better.

2. Familiar food

Finding all the ingredients needed to make curry in a French supermarket was a major victory.

Finding all the ingredients needed to make curry in a French supermarket was a major victory.

Americans have it easy, because our companies are everywhere. And while seeing a McDonald’s in Bratislava may jar you out of your cultural immersion experience, you’d be surprised how at home it can make you feel to have a snobby Starbucks barista be rude to you in another language. When I was in the midst of my homesick January blues, one of the things I wanted most was to get a giant to-go cup of coffee. In Europe, you sit down to drink your tiny espresso.

A French to-go cup. It's a little baby coffee!

A French to-go cup. It’s a little baby coffee!

I wasn’t able to try out this strategy because Lorient doesn’t have a Mexican restaurant, let alone a Starbucks. This is mostly because French people recognize the ridiculousness of Starbucks. But still, I like to think it would have helped.

3. Remember that others depend on you

I wanted to leave. I admit it. I was stressed, I was lonely, I missed my boyfriend and my family, and I wanted to get the heck out of France. I imagined how I would pack and tell the school I’d had a family emergency and had to resign. And then I remembered my sister, who was coming to Europe for the first time to visit me in March, the same with my friend Alexa. I knew I had to stay for them, and as with planning my own trip, looking forward to them coming helped brighten my January a bit. Even if you don’t have visitors coming, you could achieve the same effect by volunteering or making plans with friends already in the country, or even imagining what a burden you would put on your employers and students by leaving.

The face of my loving sister who depends on me and adores having her photo taken.

The face of my loving sister who depends on me and adores having her photo taken.

4. Exercise

I’ve also read this one elsewhere, and it’s true. Don’t feel the need to go crazy crossfit. I walk. When I’m upset, when I need to talk on the phone without anyone hearing, when I just need to get out of the house right now so help me god, I just go. It’s rhythmic, it’s soothing. More intense workouts are good too, but in the middle of winter my energy level is just not there, but there’s no good excuse not to go for a 15 minute walk. If it’s raining, bring an umbrella. If it’s cold, wear 50 layers. If you don’t want to get sweaty, don’t walk very fast. It really does start to make the world feel brighter.

Walked to a boat cemetery. That was very cool.

Walked to a boat cemetery. That was very cool.

5. Music

Find something new, listen to something old. Gloomy to go with your mood or upbeat to fight it, either can help. Do you make music? Go out and do that. Join a choir. I’m working on this, but it’s been difficult finding one in Lorient that works with my schedule and is accepting new members. To compensate, I wander around the house singing to myself, much to the delight of my roommates. Or in the shower. Singing not for you? Play the bongo drums on your stomach. Seriously, anything can help.

6. Youtube videos

When I’m feeling down, especially because of the weather, I watch extreme sports Youtube videos. I’ve told most of my students this as well (And then we watch the devinsupertramp canyon rope swing video. Followed by his “Boyfriend Pushes Girlfriend Off Cliff.” I have very serious, literary lesson plans), but I love being reminded how exciting life is, and how many amazing things humans can do. It’s hard to go wrong with cat videos, too. Also, hearing my students gasp when I showed them a video of a BASE jump for the first time was really uplifting.

If you have any other strategies for beating off the winter gloom, please tell me in the comments. While I’m feeling a lot better and more energetic now, it’s better to be prepared to cheer myself up.

 

Oh yes, cute cat pictures never hurt, either.

Oh yes, cute cat pictures never hurt, either.

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