Homesickness is an emotion that is as old as human migration. It has been the subject of countless poems, novels, films, songs, and many other adored works of art. While its ability to inspire is celebrated, homesickness is also feared for it’s ability to hamper integration, and trigger bouts of anxiety and deep depression which can sometimes lead to illness and even death.
Even if you’ve never left your hometown, you have likely experienced homesickness. Maybe it was your first day of school after your mother kissed you goodbye, or perhaps it was the first week in your new home already longing for a predictable hot meal. Of course, for those of us that have left our families and our familiar culture, the feeling is all the more intense.
How and when we experience homesickness is highly variable and personal. For many, like Brielle Zahn from the U.S., the emotion is marked by frustration. “It’s so frustrating to me that I have to go to the store, and I can only get one liter of milk at a time.” Brielle lamented about the experience of making homemade ricotta. For this avid home chef, cooking helps connect her past and present.
For others, the feeling of homesickness brings about deep sadness. When Lovie Moneva from the Philippines is experiencing homesickness she finds herself “…crying profusely for no reason.” She added that “it is more difficult because when you are crying, and you don’t have someone immediately to call, someone who would be willing to listen to you at maybe 03:00 AM.”
Just as the expression of homesickness is individual`, so are the triggers of these feelings. Sometimes it’s the smell of a pizza, the sound of a crowd, holidays without our families, or the oppressive winters in Slovakia that provoke this sadness. Unfortunately, it can also be the loss of a loved one, just as Belle Hermosa from the Philippines experienced. Sadly her expired residency card only complicated the matter. “Everyone was there except me… I have six siblings and I am the oldest. So I wanted to be there for them.”
The only absolute cure for homesickness is returning home, but when we can’t, we must persevere. To help us carry on we sometimes look to distractions. Listening to music, cooking, spending time with our Slovak families, engaging with the ex-pat community, and joining sports clubs are all useful ways these foreigners escape homesickness. For Mark Roberts of Australia, work fills in the lonely, quiet hours. “I love my work. So I will just work to take my mind off of bad feelings… It keeps me occupied.”
We immigrants are strong and resourceful. We build communities, where we live and online, where we can share and help one another. I’ve seen countless foreign volunteers helping with Ukrainian relief efforts right here in Slovakia. Homesickness can be challenging, but you don’t need to go through it alone.