Expat Homesickness: Is It really that Bad?

449162672_640Are you an expat, who was assigned to a year-long project abroad, and who feels homesick? I believe, many will understand you. Or are you a spouse, who decided to leave your life back home to accompany your partner, and you feel homesick? Well, that is also quite normal. What if you are an expat, who self-initiated the relocation and moved towards a better climate and work-life balance, and yet, you feel homesick? Could that be happening? Finally, could you be an expat, who has relocated quite some time ago and has already fully adjusted in the new country, and you still get bouts of homesickness?

Based on my own expat experience and plenty of anecdotal evidence, I would argue that all of the abovementioned scenarios are possible and, most importantly, fully natural. In a way, homesickness is a common emotional response when one is away from home and, thus, separated from something or someone that is important and dear. Naturally, it is possible that people who were forced (by different circumstances) to relocate may experience more homesickness than someone, who chose the path voluntarily, and probably the same can be true also when comparing less happy expats to more happy expats. Yet, the differences in homesickness due to various circumstances certainly do not prevent a perfectly happy, satisfied and motivated expat to experience homesickness.

A recent post in the TotallyExpat forum gives an insight into homesickness confessions of a global mobility manager. As it seems, even though being extremely happy in the new location, the author still experiences bouts of homesickness from time to time, wishing circumstances would be different and trying to handle it with a ‘brave face’.


How bad is homesickness and do we need to fight it?

Indeed, the homesickness phenomenon is quite widely spread among the expat population and, thus, there is also a lot of advice on the Internet on how to fight homesickness and make it go away (e.g. here and here). At the same time, I would question the at times excessive emphasis on trying to get rid of homesickness or avoid it. Is it possible to beat the so called expat blues? Given the assumption that homesickness is quite natural when you are away from people and places you love, does it not also mean that homesickness may only go away as this affection fades?

I believe that ‘normalizing’ homesickness, in terms of missing people and places back home, may solve one important potential problem. For instance, we tend to interpret unpleasant feelings as a signal that the situation we are in is wrong. But then, should missing home mean that you really are in the wrong place, and hence, that you should quit and return home to get rid of the feeling? Following such a logic would probably lead to a lot of premature returns … I think there are many ways of accepting the bouts of ‘expat blues’ while balancing them out with positive emotions received from the current place of residence.


Homesick or heresick?

But would we always be wrong if we followed and acted upon feeling bad because of homesickness? Certainly not, especially when taking an alternative view on what produces the feeling.

As brought up in one of my older posts, several factors that lead to homesickness are related to the host location, for example fear of integration and novelty of the new position or language. I believe that the difference between feeling ‘the blues’ because of missing home as opposed to novelty factors of the host country are very well described by contrasting the terms ‘homesickness’ and ‘heresickness’. In other words, are you homesick or are you heresick? – there is an important difference.

Lysanne Sizoo, a psychotherapist from the international counseling center in Stockholm, suggests that being ‘heresick’ means feeling temporarily exhausted from being a newcomer in a new home, and does not relate much to missing the home one has left. As such, being heresick originates from lacking adjustment, which is certainly a natural feeling during some period upon relocation, but it is expected to disappear with time.

All in all, it seems to me that making sense of what really is causing homesickness is a good idea. From my personal expat experience, I suggest understanding homesickness in terms of missing the people and places one loves, accepting it as part of the expat experience, and, importantly, not trying to avoid it, as most likely you are only missing something that is very dear to you. On the other hand, being heresick is about not feeling ‘at home’ yet, so it requires time ‘to cure’ with the help of different personal coping strategies and social support. Yet, ‘heresickness’ should fade with time –if it doesn’t and nothing can help it, maybe you are actually in the wrong place?!

3 thoughts on “Expat Homesickness: Is It really that Bad?

  1. Thanks for the post, Sebastian.

    Happy to hear the differences between “homesickness” and “heresickness”.
    I would also include in such experiences those who are relocated even in their own country as it is my case. The feeling of heresickeness can be felt in your own country as well.

    Have a good week,


  2. What a great article! “Heresickness” is a term I have never heard before and it really does make sense. I spent a year abroad and it was so hard the first few months. I thought what I was feeling was homesickness but, after reading this article, “heresickness” was a better word for it. I thought about coming home in the first few months but am so glad I didn’t. After making some friends and getting more acquainted with my new surroundings I ended up loving it!

  3. am 50yrs moving to oman as expat a a plant managet, now has homesockness how to deal lonelyness while at home expacially during week ends

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