Homesickness. A definition does not quite do it justice. Grammatically speaking, the Oxford dictionary defines it as “experiencing a longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it”. What it fails to mention is that sicky feeling you get when you eat, the lump in your throat when you try to speak, and the irrationality that suddenly comes when you think about how badly you want to hop on the next flight home.
It’s okay to not be okay
First and foremost, have some comfort in knowing you are not the only person feeling this way. China is a roller-coaster for sure, some days you think it is the best country ever and others you wonder why you ever left your comfortable life for it.
Also remember all the energy your body is exerting at the moment – both physically and mentally. You have just moved across the world to a new city, you have had to say goodbyes to loved ones, you are in a new timezone, you’ve spent 15+ hours travelling, you are taking lots of things in, the environment is totally different. What I’m getting at is that your body is experiencing an explosion of things at once, this can lead to overdrive and overthinking.
There seems a lot of pressure to explore your new surroundings and go sight seeing when you arrive in a big Chinese city. If you are feeling on edge hold back, stick to exploring your local surroundings. The sight-seeing can wait till you are settled. For now, check out the local store where you can buy water, look for a fruit shop and find out where your nearest metro station is. Understanding your local surroundings will help you to feel more settled in the area where you are living.
Whilst everyone’s strategies for overcoming homesickness is different, here is an outline of some of the things you can do to make you feel happier in your environment:
Time, perseverance & perspective
Time helps with everything. As aforementioned, you are obviously going to feel overwhelmed at moving across the world, but in no time you will feel settled and excited to be starting a new life abroad. You have to focus on perseverance for now – the first few days in any new country are difficult as your try to figure out your bearings and get over jetlag & time zones.
Perspective is also important here and will come with time. First of all, think to yourself or write down on paper: ‘What made me want to seek a new adventure?’ ‘Why did I choose to come to China?’ ‘What am I excited for to explore in this incredible country?’ ‘What do I wish to achieve when I am here?’. All of these aspects will help bring back your perspective of the exciting adventure you originally signed up for! Moving to another country is certainly brave and difficult at first, but the benefits, stories and adventures you will experience makes the former all worth it and more!
Remember you are only a flight from home. It took me 6 hours to get home from University when I was in the UK – double that and I can be home from China. Whilst it may feel far away, today’s world is so interconnected you are only a plane journey / Facetime from home. Hopefully the thought of this will give you some comfort!
Before you do anything to address your homesickness fuel up on food & water and get yourself a long good night sleep. This always helps in stabilizing your body and making you feel a bit better.
One of the biggest cultural differences of China is the food. Chinese food is incredible, especially in its variety; however, when you first arrive it can seem a bit daunting and being confronted by parts of animals that we in the West tend to not eat (think Duck head) can put us off our food. If you have that sicky feeling in your tummy, Chinese food is often hard to stomach. My tip here is to look for some home comforts.
Whether it is a Dove chocolate bar (sister chocolate of Galaxy) – you can buy this from pretty much any shop – or a tube of Pringles, go and find yourself a ‘western’ snack. China has some of these snacks in local convenience stores (like FamilyMart which is all over China) and whole isles of Western food in supermarkets such as Carrefour. Google which is your closest local supermarket and see if you can find yourself a snack from home!
China also has a surprising amount of Western food chains. No one is going to judge you for having a 麦当劳 – A McDonald’s – on your first day here. KFC, McDonalds and Starbucks are all over China so having this to fill your stomach with Western food can really help. Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, Chengdu, Nanjing, Hangzhou & Wuxi all have a chain called Wagas and their partner bakery Baker and Spice. These all serve salads, pasta, coffee, cakes and brunches. Not to mention Pizza Marzarno (Pizza Express) in the big cities and Blue Frog (where you can get a burger).
Make your house a home
This has always been key for me. Bringing some items from home such as your bed covers, photos or favourite candle can really help with making where you live my like your English home. I really recommend buying ‘Picture Pockets’ before you go. They are very easy to transport & lightweight and you can hang them on your wall.
China is abundant in department stores so you can buy nice bedding and any room accessories to make your house more homely. Moreover, local shops like Mini-So (which is everywhere in China) supply items like cushions, candles & home diffusers. Once you’ve unpacked your suitcase in your new room I’m sure your flat will fill more homely. So do this as soon as you arrive to avoid living out of your suitcase!
Speak to people
All foreigners who move to China will have experienced homesickness before & will be very open about talking about it. Do not bottle your feelings up – let it out and talk to another foreign friend you may have in China. Chances are they have recently felt a similar feeling. The foreigners that live in China tend to be very open and friendly, it soon feels like they become family after you have exchanged funny stories about living in China & the day-to-day challenges you may be experience. This makes for a fantastic support network within China. Also keep in contact with people from home. It is tricky because of the time difference but make sure your close ones ALSO download WeChat before you come to China as it has a very quick connection for phonecalls, texts and picture messages.
Plan fun things to do!
Whether it’s exploring your own city or making plans to visit some of China’s incredible, famous cities – make a to do list of where you plan to go! Making the most of your experience is an effective way to remedy homesickness.
Try searching ‘Top things to do in…. your city….’ Timeout Beijing & Timeout Shanghai, or asking friends that have been are great ways of getting inspiration. China has endless incredible places to visit.
Some highlights for me have been: the Great Wall! / Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province / Tiger Leaping Gorge & the rice terraces, Yunnan Province / Yangshuo & Guilin, Guangxi Province / Shanghai / Beijing / Nanjing / Hangzhou / Xi’an / Huangshan, Anhui Province / Chengdu.
Regardless, homesickness is a temporary feeling. Time is the best healer and very soon you will settle in. It is imperative to understand that everyone that moves abroad gets this feeling at one point or another. You will be absolutely fine in the long run and, believe me, when it’s time to come back to the UK it will be homesickness for China that you’ll be experiencing!
By Natasha Lock, teacher in Suzhou (February 2019 – present)