Monday, August 25, 2014

Coping with (Indian) homesickness


Let's face it. There is no place like India.

Whether it is growing up in India, or living in India, or even just visiting India for long periods of time - you will inevitably feel the pangs of Jai Hind homesickness. There are so many ways of life that are distinctly Indian and you can't find it anywhere else, with the same extremity. Take that holy cow with blue horns wandering down the road, blocking traffic, for example. What may seem as an initial irritation is what you will probably miss after you are live abroad! Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em...!

Homesickness is worst in the initial few months after living abroad. The first few weeks may feel exciting, but after that you will feel homesick as you begin to miss your own life and the comforts of home. It intensifies as the Indian holidays go by without notice, and when you realize how far away you actually are when you try to phone your relatives and they are just dozing off when you're starting the day. You may also notice it years/decades after settling abroad, and suddenly wake up one day and realize that you miss your culture.

I think one of the biggest shocks to the system after being in India is how quiet it seems everywhere else. After having your senses assaulted by boisterous relatives, honking horns, and loudly sputtering mustard seeds - it may feel as if the world outside India is so deathly quiet. Especially in North America, with all this open space and greenery we have. For a person who is dealing with homesickness, the silence intensifies loneliness. Coming from India to North America is like coming to a coffin - the food is so bland and it is just too damn quiet!

I have dealt with homesickness at various points in my life, having moved thousands of miles away from my home country to go to college, a well as living abroad in Asia. Coming back from India, I feel Jai Hind homesick all the time. I even feel homesick for that crappy squat toilet (no pun intended!). As an intercultural couple, I often have to help my spouse AND inlaws AND Indian family cope with their homesickness. 


Here are some of my expert tips:

Keep your connection to home 
Food, music, movies, and books. Learn to cook your favorite dishes from your region and share it with your new friends. Just the aroma of these dishes will make you feel right at home and bring back childhood memories. Listening to music will help with the constant silence and improve your mood. Watch movies to hear your local language, as well as keeping up to date on pop culture. Read books that are written by Indian authors or that are set in India to make you feel like you are there in person. Getting lost in a book is a wonderful way to transport your mind across continents and time.

Build a community
The hardest part about moving abroad is making friends. In India, it is easy - people are always inviting you to their house at all hours of the night, and are quick to start a conversation with you. Living abroad, it is much harder to make friends. Especially in the more uptight British countries like Canada and the U.K. Sometimes people want to take their time to get to know you and feel you out first. Unfortunately, this means it can take years to develop real friendships with them - the type of close friendship where you can divulge an honest answer to the "How are you?" question without the other person getting freaked out by the answer. Building a community around you means you have to step outside of your comfort zone and make as many friends as possible. A community could be a compilation of friends, neighbors, or even your yoga teacher or a coffee barista. Consider everyone you meet on your daily routine as part of your community. You can't do it alone.

Find other expats
Other expats who are living abroad away from their families will know precisely about the range of emotions of homesickness you are dealing with. Plus, you can trade insider secrets and resources about the best things to find and where (for example: snacks!) Plus, you need to have somebody you can bitch to about the locals when you're fed up with them.

Get outside
The worst thing you can do while dealing with homesickness is to further isolate yourself. Get out of the house - even if it is too hot, or rainy, or snowy - and explore your new environment. Even if you just want to be alone in nature - just get out of the house. You will discover the environment around you and may even get inspired. Plus, the more you go out, the more your new place with feel familiar and more like your new home.

Don't lose touch
Even if it intensifies your homesick, don't lose touch with your old life. Make the effort to keep in touch with family and friends. Get a cheap calling card and set aside some time each week/month to phone them and catch up.

Celebrate both cultures' holidays
It is important to celebrate your new country's holidays as well as holidays from home. This may require extra effort on your part, but any excuse to celebrate more will put you in a good mood. Mark all the holidays on the calendar and enjoy preparing for them as well as looking forward to them. Getting to know your new culture's holidays will help you feel more comfortable in your new place as well as it being a great learning experience. Take it from us intercultural couples - you can and should do both!

Improve yourself
Being abroad is an amazing opportunity that not many people get - why not make the most of it and learn something? Take a cooking class, an exercise class, a language class, a photography class (I recommend taking a class in order to make friends). Or even volunteer and give back to the community. Remember that in every struggle we have, there lies an opportunity for us to improve ourselves.


There is no cure for homesickness, but you can always take steps to reduce it's intensity. And remember, home is where YOU make it!

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Dear readers, have you experienced homesickness? What are the things you do to cope?


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22 comments

  1. @Alexandra

    I remember reading in my geography class in India that we add population equivalent to entire Australia every year to our population. That was sometime in 1980s. I fell off my chair when I read the population density of Australia compared to India. Few hundreds compared to a few thousands. New Zealand had more sheep that people. I felt "How lucky these people are but they must be very lonely". Being an Indian I could not comprehend such loneliness. But these countries have vast tracts of land which is inhospitable but I feel it the same in America or Canada.

    Western culture is formal at many levels. From eating to talking there is always a procedure. It has its advantages but makes life very monotonous. For eg. Eating with knives and forks feel like conducting operation on food. If I had to eat food like that and make polite conversation, I would loose my appetite. Then the wine tasting thing, smelling wine, sipping it gently, rolling it in the mouth. It is not a criticism but as a Indian I feel, is not too much fuss doing something as simple as eating?? Cultural difference I suppose.

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    1. Canada is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. We have so much land and forests. In the Northern part it is uninhabitable. West of the Rockies, they have very extreme seasons. Even in Toronto, in the Winter, it is incredibly harsh.
      I feel that it is definitely very quiet in Canada, and I live in a huge urban city - still, I feel it is quiet.
      That is quite funny about the operation....ha ha. I guess it may seem formal, however the Europeans call it more of tasting life slowly. In Italy, they have 3 hour lunches!

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  2. Funny that, as a westerner I feel that it is Indian culture which is formal at many levels. It took me years to figure out why Indians look so distressed when I eat Indian food. ;)

    I have found friendly people in India, the USA and Europe and Canadians are really easy to talk to in my experience... but each in a different way.

    My husband uses all the coping strategies you mention Alexandra, but he has also enrolled in a local sports club, and I think this is very important, at least in Europe. If you live far away from home, try to join hobby or sports club or charities or parents committees ; by feeling part of what is going on where you live, you feel less nostalgic of your former home.

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    1. I find a formality in Indian culture also, like with elders I cannot talk so openly. Or the gender divide, I can't speak to members of the opposite sex. It suffocates me.
      That is so great about the sports club. My hubby is not athletic at all, but I wish he would join a gym or something just for health. He won't even touch the exercise machine in our apartment!

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  3. Hmm.. I rarely get homesick but then I am constantly eating Indian food at home and outside. Well, let's be honest, vegetarian Chinese food is rarely earth flatteringly good though there are very very few exceptions.

    Also, I realised I spend a lot more time watching telugu movies than in India. Perhaps I was slightly homesick.

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    1. My hubby watches so many telugu movies too! And he is big on Indian food.

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  4. I agree with almost everything :) Only making friends in India! Is so extremely difficult. Especially Indian girls and women are creatures from different universe. I usually have nothing in common with them. Their lifestyle and opinions are too different. Either they are like princess (only conversation about new Iphone, makup, dress, not working, having all maids, spoiled, fake), or slave type (everything for family, surrender their own personality and needs completely). Rest who is acceptable for me don't know how to treat me. In their eyes I'm also creature from different world. After so much time in India I have 0 Indian girlfriends. Only men are reasonable but still being married woman you are not supposed to spend time with other men.

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    1. I have noticed that extreme also. Also, in India, so many people are nosy but then they themselves do not want to disclose personal information. So it feels unbalanced at times.

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    2. We share the same experience, lol.
      I also see both types-princesses and submissive slaves.
      Also I am always an "alien" ;)

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  5. I think it also helps to find a way to center and ground yourself in your new surroundings. Having unrealistic expectations only makes adjustment harder. Also, don't try too hard to hold onto everything Indian or try and force your new country to be just like India.

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  6. Here you have talking about being away from country, I recently moved cities and have been brooding with homesickness ever since! But yes forming groups or joining centers does help..

    Richa

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    1. Absolutely moving cities you can get homesick. Cities are like different cultures from another, especially if it is in a different state.

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  7. Its been a month since I moved from Bangalore to Phoenix, USA for my graduate education and the first two weeks flew by into setting up my studio apartment with my flatmate. He's also from Bangalore and has taken the same course as I but we only have one out of three subjects in common. I flew with him as well. I miss home too much and Im depressed to the point where I have been crying 4-5 times a day for the past week, the mornings and nights being the hardest. I miss my parents and friends from undergraduate school. I talk to my parents every single night and once a while with my friends. My coursework has kept me so busy that I haven't had the time socialise and make new friends. My daily routine consists of cooking breakfast-dishes-attending classes-library for homework-home to eat again-dishes and sleep. Im getting sick of this and I want to run back home into my old bed, I contemplate on my decision to come here. Im not so fond of my flatmate and don't see us becoming friends. But I can't move out as well, Im stuck with him until the lease terminates and then there's the cost of initial investment that went into setting up the studio. Ive joined a computer gaming club but even there I fell alienated. It takes me at least an entire year before I'm able to make good friends. I feel so lonely. How do I cope? Sorry about the rant.

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    1. Awwwww I am sorry to hear that. It will just take time, be patient and not too hard on yourself. You`ve just got off to a bad start, thats all... You have moved to a completely different country, it is hard especially in the USA because everything is so spread out and you have to drive everywhere. It feels more isolated.
      First, you are working way too hard. Take one day per week just to recharge your batteries and do something that you enjoy, whether it is to go to a movie, or go for a walk, or volunteer somewhere. I have heard meetup.com is huge in the USA, a lot of my American friends have made tons of friends that way.
      It will take time to build friends, sometimes you connect with people right away, others you do not. All it takes is one good friend to make you feel less alone. Keep putting yourself out there and have faith :) I am thinking of you....

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  9. This is so heartbreaking .. I've just moved to the USA 2 months ago. Initially before leaving India I was filled with excitement and the same continued for a few days after I arrived here . Now that a few day have passed, it breaks my heart when I think of India. The rustic roads, the people, the congestion everywhere makes me all the more homesick . The very noise of traffic or autos or trains seems to make me feel as if I'm hallucinating in this strange empty land. It seems they are beckoning me back to my homeland. Everything seems so calm around here that I miss the hustle and bustle back home which I loathed erstwhile. I guess I'm still adjusting. Had it been in my hands I would have just flown back to India but I'm merely 18 and a university student . I miss home .. I miss everything :')

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  10. It's had been 8 months since I came to USA from Lucknow, India.I miss my home so much and i regret my decision of coming to USA every second of the day. Life here is so different. I miss everything these days about India. At times I feel like talking to wife to go back but it looks like not possible as my wife is US citizen and she has all relatives here in USA.I jab no one from my family. At this time u really don't know if it will be good to return back.I am dentist and i had good practice on India and moved to USA for greener pastures. But here it looks like I have to spend 5 years studying to get my dental license. I really don't think I have so much time.I am 34 now. Can any one suggest me something ??

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  11. I moved to the US from Mumbai 8 months back. I feel with time I'm getting more and more depressed. I miss home so much! I cry all the time! I can't talk to my parents about this because I don't want them to get tensed. I wish I could go back in a time machine and never come here. I never imagined it would be so difficult to move to a different country. I was so excited before coming here but as soon as reality hit it was too late. In the past 8 months I never had the time to go out much as my course keeps me very busy. I have an internship in Chicago next month and I'm so terrified to move again to a different place. I would have to learn how to travel, be safe, adjust to a work culture I know nothing about. I don't even know how to socialize with Americans ! I really don't know what to do.. I have lost all hope.

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  12. Excellent tips ....homesickness pops up even after years of settling abroad.

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  13. Hi Alexandra,

    You are so awesome! Yup, there's nothing like India. I'm a Tamil (also Iyengar!) girl who grew up in the Canada and United States and had only seen India on vacation till I was 12. Then, my family relocated to Chennai and my sister and I grudgingly complied. The adjustment period was hard and I always craved to come back home to the Bay Area. Now that it's been a few years of me being back here after 10 years living in CHennai, I suddenly feel homesick even though I have a good career and a reasonably close family/circle of friends here. Miss my family a lot, and sometimes even feel purposeless wondering what I'm doing here without them. It could be because I visited Chennai just recently and came back to a somewhat gloomy Bay Area winter. Hope it's just a passing phase, although there seems to be some new confusion about where home really is!

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  14. I am in the process of getting a PR for Canada. As the process is nearing completion, I am already feeling hollow from within. There are nights when I stay awake thinking I will miss my dad, mom even our old maid who is working with us for past 17yrs and literally brought me up. I have already started missing my belongings like my bed , cupboard etc. I am 33yrs and I am relocating because of personal reasons but for past few days I am already getting the bouts of missing my city Kolkata and the surroundings. I really dont know what to do. If you can suggest ways to tackle it, I would appreciate it.

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