Expat Life Advice: Fill Your Tank

I have written a few posts about homesickness here at German Way, not because I am constantly homesick, but because it is a major theme in an expat’s life. The first wave of cultural euphoria keeps you riding high in your new surroundings for about 6 weeks, and then you suddenly begin to crave familiar people and places. The valley of your first intense homesickness is usually around 3 months, and by the end of 6 months most people have largely adapted to their new way of life.  The wave continues like a sine curve, its magnitude (and your respective strength of emotion) getting ever smaller. According to the experts, it tends to level out slightly above “normal” for most people. This means that most expats are, on average, happier as a result of going abroad.

In my many years of experience as an expat, the model described above fits remarkably well. Even watching others as they arrive and go through the stages, it is the 6-month mark that is crucial to adapting. Also, beware of going home or receiving visitors during that 3-month valley, or you can set back your own adaptation process and start all over again (so I’m told…)

As a long-term expat, I found that the waves of homesickness that resulted from those valleys on the cultural-adjustment curve hit every so often. I have plenty of advice for how to deal with them: find places you love, make new friends, eat comfort food. But one of my most effective tricks was simple: Plan your next trip home. After years of living abroad, I know that February and August are the two months where I am most homesick. Whenever possible, I bought tickets in February for a trip home in August. That gave me the boost I needed in the bleak mid-winter, as making plans is enough to lift your spirits. And the actual trip in August was my time to fill my tank. I went home every single year I lived in Germany, spent time with my family and friends, indulged in all the foods I missed, visited my favorite places, soaked up my own culture. And after two weeks, I was ready to return to my adventures as an expat.

What are your tricks for dealing with homesickness? Did you take longer to adapt or was it a shorter process for you? Let us know!

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