By Bethany Joyce, long-term teacher in Foshan (2015-2016)
Since moving to China I have realised how much of a home bird I really am. Homesickness is something I’ve personally struggled with throughout my entire time in China, and I know it’s something I will continue to struggle with as long as I decide to stay away from home. At first, homesickness wasn’t that big of a deal. I had been here for about a week, and the novelty of China and the craziness of the Beijing training camp was wearing off, and I was messaging my parents on WeChat when I realised that I was really missing home. I felt a bit off for a few days, but then I moved to Foshan (where I’m based in China), and everything was new and exciting again. The homesickness wore off.
Then, it came back.
It’s an awfully hard emotion to explain. Sometimes I miss stupid things, like wandering around Tesco, or my spot in front of the fire on the reclining sofa. Sometimes I miss the important things, like my friends and family. Sometimes I miss good old English food – Yorkshire puddings and gravy and fish and chips and Dairy Milk chocolate! This is when it becomes harder to appreciate the amazing situation I’m in, and to remember that this in an awesome opportunity to travel, see the world, and learn new skills along the way.
One thing I know for certain though, is that if you’re planning on coming to China, you’ll experience homesickness in some form or another. So, being the seasoned professional I now am at dealing with it, I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve learned about homesickness, and how best to remedy it.
1) Homesickness comes in waves. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m not homesick one hundred percent of the time, because my lifestyle doesn’t allow for that. Sometimes I’m travelling to new, exciting and distracting places. Sometimes I’m just too busy to be homesick. I can spend weeks feeling absolutely great, and then one night I will talk to my family or a friend from home and it will hit me again. The unpredictability of it is one of the worst things about it. So I’ve learned to prepare myself. I buy food I know will comfort me, I read my favourite books or watch my favourite movies, but most importantly – I talk to people. I let people know when I’m feeling homesick and I let them listen to me complain about it until I’m feeling better. Finding your ‘rock’ in China is important. It’s good to have someone who understands what you’re feeling, and can sympathise with the situation in order to feel better. Remember that whilst there are a lot of people back home who you miss, there are also a lot of amazing people around you who are willing to have a chat if you need it.
2) Chinese food is not always enough. Before coming to China, the thing I was most excited about was the food. All I had heard was how amazing it is, and whilst yeah, the food is great, it’s never going to top the thought of a Sunday dinner when you haven’t tasted gravy in six months. Luckily, there are places in China that sell imported foods. Find your local ‘international’ store and stock up on the things you miss the most. I haven’t found gravy yet, but I have found Heinz baked beans, so it’s not all bad.
3) Homesickness can cause mood swings. Some days I wake up feeling great, and then by the end of the day I want to slam my head against my desk. I think this comes with being in a culture so different from the one I’ve been brought up in. I find myself resenting everyone who is staring at me so brazenly on the metro, and cursing every time someone slurps their noodles and I can hear it from across the room. It’s in these instances where China can seriously grate on you. The trick here is to remember that you’re the minority. You’re the one who got on that plane and came out here, knowing that there would be cultural differences which may annoy you. Remember no matter how angry or annoyed you get; no one is going to change their ways for you. So laugh it off, embrace it, shove your way onto the metro and battle those strangers for a seat! Wave for the cameras when people try to sneak a photo! Always look on the bright side. Try to laugh as much as possible.
4) Homesickness is personal. I’m sure there are fellow expats reading this post thinking ‘what on Earth is she on about? Homesickness is nothing like this!’ and I get that. We’re all different people with different backgrounds and coping mechanisms. That’s okay. If you feel your homesickness is a little bit different to what I’ve outlined, that doesn’t mean I’m coping any better or worse than you. It’s all about allowing yourself to experience and deal with homesickness in whatever way is best for you. Do you want to curl up into a ball and stuff your face? Go ahead! Do you want to skype home for four hours straight? Go for it! Find your remedy and do what you have to do.
5) Finally: homesickness doesn’t make you a weaker person. It’s a perfectly legitimate emotion. Sometimes it can seem like everyone around you is coping much better in comparison, but homesickness is an incredibly personal thing, and it’s best to remember that instead of beating yourself up about it.
So, these are the things I’ve noticed about homesickness, and I’m sure that given time I’ll learn even more about it. Just remember, you need to experience the bad in order to appreciate the good.