It might seem a little late to be writing about homesickness when you have been living in a foreign country for nearly ten years of your life, but I’ll explain how its relevance grows with time rather than wane.
“Going home” for expats in their adopted country usually means traveling to the country they were born. Once you’re there, you then talk about “going home” as going back to your adopted country. It can get a little confusing. So where exactly is home? Is it really where your heart is? Or is it maybe where your house is, your job, your friends (and in my case) in-law family?
I think I have come to live with the fact that I have two homes; the one that I built here in Germany with my husband, our babies, dog, rabbit, our jobs, friends and social life. My other home will always be with my parents, regardless of where they move, because they are there.
So having two of one thing should really be a blessing, along the vein of “the more the merrier” but actually it can tear your heart in two when you are leaving one to go to the other. Often, leaving my home here means leaving my husband. As a teacher I get quite a bit of holiday which he as a non-teacher doesn’t get. So I travel with the girls to my parents’ and visit as many people as possible in the space of a few days. Leaving England to go home to Germany is really hard because you say a goodbye to people you love and don’t always know how long for.
Comforting in this situation (as in many) is to know you are not alone. Homesickness is something shared by rich and poor, celebrity and unknown. Many famous football players, for example, have left prominent clubs to move closer to home, Jesus Navas even experienced panic attacks linked to homesickness which has made his career difficult (read here).
My feelings of homesickness never go that far, but I do know the ache you feel in your heart when you leave loved ones behind, or that sudden pang which comes at an unexpected moment when you watch a film or hear a song which just takes you back. Homesickness can be a longing for the familiar in the midst of the foreign and after a number of years the surprising thing is that it can go both ways.
On Expatica they talk about “reverse culture shock” and say that ” repatriation has its psychological phases that are unexpected and daunting”. I can say from personal experience that you seem to forget that just as you have moved on and changed, the place you have left will have moved on and changed too, leaving you feeling dis-orientated in what should be a familiar place.
I’d have to say that it’s a really close call for me now as to which country I feel more able to cope in. I have spent most of my adult life in Germany and became a mum here. I know where to go and what to buy if the children need something and I can navigate almost all of the paperwork etc. that the notoriously bureaucratic Germans throw at me. In England, however, I know how things like births, deaths and marriages run and I think I still know more of the unwritten rules of society than I do in Germany. My main problem here is that women know these rules much better so my husband is not always able to help me out. Slowly I’m learning, friends kindly point out any faux-pas and I add it to my mental notes.
I can’t imagine moving back to England right now because our life is rooted here, but it is very important for me that my children understand this side of their mother too and their heritage. I enjoy our frequent trips over to “the island” as the Germans call it, but I am also glad to come back to this home and to my life. Maybe one day we will move back to the U.K and then spend our visits to Germany eating Bratwurst and Rotkraut instead of the obligatory Indian food and Roast Dinners that are on the menus when we go to my parent’s house. I know I would miss being in Germany because it feels more European. You can travel easily to neighboring countries and we have many bi-lingual friends, something I didn’t have in England. Who knows.
To come back to the beginning. Why does homesickness grow the longer you are away? I think because you know what you are leaving behind and wish you could take it all with you. But the other side of this longing is the luck of often having something to look forward to once you have planned your next trip. As the Germans say “Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude” (loosely translated as ‘anticipation is the nicest kind of joy’).