This post is specifically for the masses who have been transitioning to a new life abroad and thought that a quick trip home for the holidays might be exactly what they needed to crush their culture shock and get rid of that pesky homesickness.
You know who you are.
More homesick than ever?
Pricing airfare again?
I used to say don’t do it — EVER — don’t go home in the first year. Give yourself a chance to work through the mess and the bumbling of learning how to be a foreigner before you run back to everything familiar.
I stopped saying that for two reasons:
ONE: No one listened. A bit of advice (no matter how spot on) always loses miserably to Nana’s pumpkin pie. Hands down. I get it.
TWO: Some people do it really well. They go. They come back. They re-engage and it’s good. I won’t argue with that.
However, it is a harsh reality that a quick trip home in the middle of a cultural transition CAN be more painful than you expected.
Maybe you’ve seen something similar to the diagram below.
It’s the standard culture shock continuum that charts how we process things that are “DIFFERENT” (namely everything) when we move abroad. It happens to most of us although it takes on a million different forms since . . . you know . . . we’re all different.
Point is . . . transition is a process.
So it makes sense right? If you’re at the bottom of the curve and everything is stupid, you need a break.
A fast infusion of familiarity would do the trick.
A hug from mom.
A night out with old friends.
A Ribeye. Medium Well. With a loaded baked potato.
What were we talking about?
Oh yeah . . . a quick trip home.
That’ll fix it.
In our heads it looks like this.
It will be a nice little taste of the well known in the middle of the dip so I can recharge and come back refreshed . . . ready to move forward.
But home doesn’t live in the dip.
Going home (especially for the holidays) can be more of a super spike of hyper-charged emotions . . . on crack . . . and steroids . . . and Red Bull . . . and Nana’s pumpkin pie.
It actually looks more like this.
Think about it.
Detaching from all of the sources of your greatest frustration and plugging in to all of the sources of your greatest joy ONLY to reverse that moments after you get over jet lag is not a sustainable solution to the frustration.
Au contraire (pardon my French).
Here’s the thing — this scenario doesn’t apply to everyone but the principal probably does:
- For some people going home IS the pain.
- For other people the holidays are the pain.
- Some people don’t go home but they go somewhere warmer, or nicer, or more exciting or just less frustrating.
- Some people do this in May or September.
- Some people don’t even leave but they still detach.
The point is that you can’t FIX transition by stepping away from it. It’s a process. You’ve got to go through it.
That said — don’t despair if you’ve already made that choice. It doesn’t need to be a bad thing.
Here are some quick thoughts on moving forward:
ONE: Don’t blame your host country for not being your home
That’s not fair and all of the facts aren’t in yet. You knew it would be different when you came. Now you know “how” it is different. Keep learning.
TWO: Don’t compare the end of THAT with the beginning of THIS
It took you years to build the great relationships that you are mourning as you adjust. It makes sense if you don’t have deep roots yet. Give it time. Give it a chance.
THREE: Focus on how far you’ve come
Especially if this is your first year abroad . . . think about it . . . the last time you took that flight you had NO IDEA what to expect. You didn’t know the people, the places, the customs, anything. You’ve actually come a long way in a short time. Keep moving forward.
It’s ok for your trip home to be wonderful. It’s supposed to be. It’s also ok for your time abroad to be tough. It’s supposed to be. You don’t have to feel guilty for either one of those and they can actually exist perfectly in tandem. Trust me, in time they can do a complete 180.
FIVE: Engage even if you don’t feel like it
You can’t kick your roller coaster emotions out of the car . . . but you don’t have to let them drive. Do something, eat something, learn something you don’t necessarily want to right now.
SIX: You are not alone
Really. You are not. I’ve had this conversation at least 30 times this year. You are not the only one who feels like this right now and there have been millions before you. Myself included.
SEVEN: Accept the truth and move ahead
If you went home for Christmas (or otherwise detached) it COULD do something like this to your transition.
Detaching momentarily doesn’t come without a price. There is a good chance it’s going to take you a little longer to work through the transition process and feel at home in your new normal.
But you had a great Christmas.
You made some great memories.
If you’re in this for the long haul then accept the penalty and move on.
There is nothing like the experience of living abroad. There are great things waiting of the other side of the dip. In fact, there are probably some pretty great things all along the way.
Don’t miss them just because they’re not as good as Nana’s pumpkin pie.
What’s your experience? Did you leave and come back? How did it hit you? Easy? Hard? Share your story below.