Think about this: you’ve just landed in Germany and you are surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, streets brimming with culture and history, and oh, the smell of freshly baked bread! But, amidst this exciting new chapter, there is a sudden pang of longing.
Longing for something so familiar yet so distant.
It’s like missing a piece of puzzle you didn’t even know you were building. I’ve been there, and since you are here, reading my words, I am sure you have been there too. Moving away from home, even if it is a few kilometers away or an ocean apart is a huge, risky step. In fact, it is probably one of the bravest decisions you will ever make, one that will lead to so much personal growth, it is impossible to look back once you have put your step forward.
Homesickness is a very common emotion for most of us expats. All we need is a familiar sight or a smell or taste and suddenly you are thrown down the nostalgia memory lane, picking up the pieces of the older good times.
I am here to tell you that you are not alone. If you are reading this with tears in your eyes. First, let them roll down. Second, breathe, because we are all in this together.
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How Did I End Up Here?
Well, the story is quite long, but a combination of education, challenging job opportunities and a newly sprung romantic relationship landed me smack in the middle of the land of fairy-tale castles and precision engineering.
Sounds like a little bit of a ‘what have you gotten yourself into, doesn’t it?’
If I were to talk about expectations, I had a very cliched image of Germany from the very beginning. Picturesque towns, Autobahn engineering, beautiful landscapes and adventurous recipes.
Don’t get me wrong, Germany was everything I thought it would be, maybe even more. I was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality I was offered here and the welcoming spirit of the locals.
But as the novelty started to wear off, a sneaky, sad feeling slowly started to creep in. The funniest thing? I wasn’t even aware of it, until I was knee-deep in it.
That’s my first warning to all of you new-expats. The feeling of homesickness will hit you out of nowhere, right in the middle of the day, probably when you are grocery shopping or washing dishes.
Be prepared with tissues and chocolates and ice-cream (because is there really a hurt that sugar can’t temporarily fix?).
Early Days in Germany: Navigating the On-Slaught of Homesickness
The early days in Germany were like stepping into a new planet – exhilarating yet intimidating. I mean, for a small-town Indian girl from Kerala, Germany was eons away and the culture-shock, as the name suggests, shocked me.
That’s the second point. No matter where you come from, metropolitan cities or towns or villages, unless you are a local, if you move to a foreign country, the culture shock will hit you.
I still remember one of my particularly emotional days. I had left home on a cold Sunday morning looking for a simple ‘Brötchen’ or a bread roll. I mean, it had been a long, tiring day of work and studying and the bread roll was the only thing keeping me going.
I was in a trance of my own, listening to music, lost in the rhythm of my own walk and did not notice the closed shops. I walked for 30 minutes, only to be met with the closed bakery.
The tears came before I could stop them and there is no other way to explain them, than burning cold droplets against my face. To make things worse, I was thrown back to evenings with my mom, drinking a cup of warm lemon tea with my mom in the balcony of my small flat with simple, spicy pastries from the local shops.
In India, atleast, the bakeries were open on Sundays too.
But I had forgotten. Sundays in Germany are sacred – everything is closed, and I mean everything.
But here is the third thing. You get used to it.
Once the initial culture shock wears off, you get used to it. Even if you can’t take India out of an Indian girl, Germany began to carve a niche for itself in my heart.
I sooner than later became Germany’s. Sundays became my days inside, with a lemon tea like my mothers, next to the heater, with a little Hindi moving playing in the background.
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My Tried and Tested Tips to Over Homesickness When Living Abroad
Now, I am not claiming to be some kind of an expert or anything. But, I have been living in Germany for the past seven years. From being a broke college student who came following love, I have been married, moved into a house of my own and have a small family here as well.
I assume that gives me some credibility (I guess), but take the unsolicited advice with a pinch of salt:
- Create a personal sanctuary: Decorate your space with photos back from home, add a personal touch, make it a place you long to come back to at the end o a difficult day.
- Embrace local traditions: There is no way to integrate into a new culture other than participate in local customs and traditions. For me, the German Christmas market is as close as I would get to the hustle and bustle of the Christmas celebrations back home. I mean, it’s not the same, but like they all say, a ship was not meant to be parked at the dock.
- Stay connected: Pick up your phone, call your family, call your friends, call your teachers, call your enemies, call anyone who will ground you. Just call or text someone. It works wonders.
- Make new friends: We are all meant to leave behind our old lives and start new ones. That means, you have to branch out, find your people and make a home out of them.
- Balance is key: The idea is to hold on to your old life while making place for a new one. Remember, if you are feeling homesick, it is also because you are willing to do something new. You will be rewarded for your bravery.
Yep, that’s it. As they all say, “Thank you for coming to my TED talk.”
But on a serious note, homesickness is a universal experience for anyone who has moved away from home, but it is a developmental goal. It is the only way in which you will really learn what you are capable of.
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So, feel your feelings. Cry, sob, roll on the floor, pick yourself back up and go do what you came to do.