It has been 2 years since I packed up my life in the UK and moved to America. The blogger in me was hoping that by this time I’d be writing posts like ‘how to cope with homesickness’, ‘5 ways to make new friends when living overseas’ etc etc. But the truth is, I suck at being an expat. In real life, I’m struggling and far from being able to offer anyone advice on how to live overseas because I don’t know how to fix it myself. I guess the most I can offer, is that if you are experiencing expat homesickness, you’re not alone.
First published and written in: August 2018
Like a ‘professional’ I try to keep some of the behind the scenes feelings away from my blog. After all my aim is to inspire people to travel. And don’t get me wrong, when I’m on the road I’m completely happy and distracted from my reality. Most people that meet me think I’m the happiest person in the world. But I’m good at hiding things because I don’t want to be a burden on other people. They shouldn’t have to worry about me. I made the decision to emigrate and therefore that choice lays on my shoulders. The problem is the day to day life when the loneliness of being an expat really hits home.
When I moved overseas my anxiety got worse and I now suffer from mild depression. Not really what the ‘American Dream’ should look like. Expat life and living abroad certainly isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to some of my thought trails and I close in on myself.
When you’re in an international relationship, unless you both relocate to somewhere completely new, you’ll find yourself just slotting into their life. Essentially you are moving abroad alone. Everything has changed for you, yet a minimal amount has changed for them. They still have their family and friends, you don’t.
You feel a lot like a 3rd wheel, people around you will have conversations about people and places that they’ve known for years and you don’t have a clue. You can’t really join in and you feel like a lemon as you don’t have those things in common.
Even the fact that no one sounds like me is enough to make me feel singled out. You could be surrounded by people, yet you still feel lonely. For this reason I often don’t want to go out and put myself in social situations. I have to really force myself to say yes. Weird hey.
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Social situations usually brings stupid questions, such as “do you miss your family?”, “do you like it here?”. If you ask me if I like it here I’m probably not going to give you the real answer. My go to answer is usually “well I don’t like the winters“. No one seems to understand just how hard it is and I’m hardly going to offend people by saying no I’d rather be living in England.
For 4 weeks this summer, I’ve been spoilt. I got to spend 2 weeks in Australia travelling around with my sister. Then my mum and dad flew to the USA for 2 weeks for a mini road trip and sightseeing around where I live. I had the best time but a few days before the end of both visits/trips I experienced a horrible sick feeling at the thought of them going. They were still with me, I was ridiculously happy, yet at the same time, dreading it coming to an end. It happens every time I visit home too. It’s the strangest thing feeling homesick when you’re actually home.
Expat life is also cruel. You just get used to feeling normal again, hanging out, being able to have endless conversations about anything and everything and then you have to say goodbye. It’s emotionally draining. On ‘D-Days’ I end up feeling absolutely exhausted. I used to try and stay strong but now I’ve given up, I just can’t handle it. I cry for hours. I’ve cried in cars, on planes and trains, in airport terminals, in hotels. I cry cleaning up after a visit or when I go to places where I was last at with them. It’s almost a ghosty feeling. It’s pathetic really.
It turns you into a crazy person. I got so freaked out in Sydney when I realised I wouldn’t be able to get through security early. Mine and my sister’s flights were 4 hours apart. I hunted all over the airport for a way that I could somehow check myself in and get through security. Just so I could spend another couple of hours with my sister. I couldn’t bare to think of her being just the other side of a wall and be so close but not together. Not when I had no idea when I’d see her again. I spent a fortune but I ended up getting through with her.
When you’ve been used to that little slice of normality again, it makes you feel even more lonely when it goes away again. It also makes me feel like an awful person too. To see my family so upset and it’s all my fault, I’m doing that to them. I know it’s my life and they are supportive in whatever I choose to do. But when I’m a mess and they’re a mess. It does make me wonder if I’m actually cut out for expat life. Whenever I’m not with them it feels like there’s a huge hole that can’t be filled. In a location where family is ‘number 1’ it just makes it more obvious that I don’t have mine with me.
Rather than giving the advice, I find myself seeking for advice. Although some of the suggestions may work, they are quite frankly, ridiculous. I saw one that said that the cure for homesickness was to simply not go home. Err how about no. Even if I didn’t go home and tease myself with all the things I love, I’m still struggling to adapt to life in the USA.
I often find that my thoughts and opinions completely clash with what seems like the majority of people around me. Gun control, I’m looking at you. Again, cue loneliness. I can’t see my opinions changing by simply being here longer. I have learnt to try and not ‘fight back’, but that ends up just annoying me…freedom of speech?! Not for me! My opinion is apparently, 90% of the time, always wrong. (You can read more in detail about my opinions in my book that’s available worldwide on Amazon. Between England and Iowa: A Year In The Life of an Emigrating Wife)
So why don’t I just go home if I’m really not coping well? It’s really not that simple. Going home would mean going back alone. To be honest, I don’t know if I could expect someone to move knowing how hard I’ve found it. I may be happy but then they wouldn’t so then it’s back to square one.
But this is a reality of an international long distance relationship. I actually found the being long distance part easier than the emigrating part, because I still had everything that was familiar. The traveller can’t cope without England as a home base. Never saw that one coming. The ‘permanency’ of emigrating scares the hell out of me. When I started the USA visa process, returning to England was always part of the plan but ‘plans’ changed.
The Visa Process
The visa brings with it a whole other heap of unwelcomed stress. The 2 year mark also celebrates the fact that my Green Card has expired. Yep, expired. When you first enter after being married only a short time, you are only granted a 2 year visa. Then you have to pay more money and fill in more forms.
It’s meant to only take 6 months. It’s currently taking anywhere from between 18 months to 2 YEARS to get the temporary conditions removed. You know all those fancy e-gates that airports are so proud of? I can no longer use them because I have to fly with a LETTER saying I’m allowed back in.
Travelling With An ‘Expired’ Visa
On my last trip I almost missed my connection. I was first off the plane, yet I got sent to the ‘reject’ line and ended up being the very last person in the immigration hall over AN HOUR later. All the e-gaters had cleared off pretty much before I was even dealt with.
If they pull me up for more visa evidence, I’m half tempted to tell them to stick their Green Card where the sun doesn’t shine. I don’t have anymore evidence I could give. Why wouldn’t I send off absolutely EVERYTHING I could the first time round?!?! *Edit: Guess what, it was rejected*
From reading expat groups, it seems a common theme that a lot of people struggle at the 2 year mark. The novelty of being in a new country has worn off and the reality of being away from home settles in. It’s potentially been a while since you’ve seen family members and the sad fact that no one is getting any younger. I always like to know when my next trip home is so I have something to look forward to. But then I’m sacrificing my travel addiction of seeing new places. So I can’t win!!
2022 Expat Update
2020 gave us the global pandemic. It was the final push for me. I booked a one way ticket back to the UK. You can read about it here: Expat Life: Why I’m Moving Back To The UK From USA. For me it was 100% the correct decision. I did a second update here: Repatriating Back To The UK: 1 Month Update!. It’s now 2022 and I’m definitely happier and my depression is next to non existent.
If you’re in a similar situation and have ever felt this way, I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips/advice or ways that have helped you to cope with expat homesickness?