Homesickness is often dismissed as a childish emotion associated with kids leaving home for the first time. While it is a common experience, it isn’t childish or foolish to be homesick. During this pandemic, the yearning for home has been felt more intensely as travel restrictions made home and loved ones more distant than ever before. Whether you’ve lived in Hong Kong for 20 years or two years, the long spell away from home and loved ones overseas – and the uncertainty of when that reunion would take place – can be difficult.
When homesickness begets bigger problems:
Some psychologists view homesickness as a “mini-grief”, in the sense that, like the experience of losing a loved one, there is an element of separation, albeit temporary, which can feel like a loss of control. Like grief, intense homesickness may manifest as sadness, social withdrawal, appetite changes, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and poor concentration. People who are homesick may feel so much distress that it affects their ability to function in daily life.
The word “homesickness” entered the English lexicon in the 1750s. However, it has been commonly observed long before that in military history. Alexander the Great, for instance, retreated from India in 327 B.C. partly because his men were too homesick to continue.
While homesickness is a manifestation of one’s deep love for family, it also carries a perception of failure or weakness. Today, homesickness has been seen as an opportunity cost. If a student is too homesick to study at a university far from home, they may lose their educational opportunity and potentially diminish their job prospects. Some students may suffer in silence because of the fear and shame of failing parental expectations.
In Hong Kong today, some expats face the dilemma of staying on in a lucrative job or a promising career path, or going back to their home countries for good. For some, the fear of failure comes from not being able to finish a contract or realise a career goal. Suffering spouses may start resenting their partners whose jobs led them to relocate here, leading to relationship disruptions. The stress of the fifth wave in Hong Kong – panic buying, threat of child separations, and school suspensions – simply add to the yearning for familiarity and the security offered by extended family support systems that are not available to them in Hong Kong, especially when many countries have moved on from the pandemic. This may lead to feelings of depression or anxiety for some people.
Other than jumping on a flight today, what can one do to manage homesickness?
Acknowledge your feelings
- It’s okay to feel homesick. It’s okay to feel sad and cry.
- However, be mindful of negative coping strategies. Excessive rumination or constantly thinking about it may feed anxiety and cause sleep disturbances. Some may also choose to suppress reminders of home or avoid home triggers (for example, socialising with people from your home country), which may not be helpful as well.
Accept the uncontrollable
We could get frustrated about the ever-changing travel rules in Hong Kong, but these policies are simply beyond our control. Like in grief, there’s a need to come to terms with the current reality.
- Strengthen the supportive forces around you — friends, office colleagues, a parent group, etc.
- Practice self-care. Be kind to yourself. Find time to relax, meditate, and do something that’s enjoyable.
- Stay connected with family and friends overseas. Set aside a certain day/time for each loved one. Do something together virtually – cooking a family recipe with mom on FaceTime, watching a Netflix movie at the same time.
Revise the narrative
Now that your time in Hong Kong has stretched, use it to your advantage.
- Be active, learn something new. This could be the time to learn Cantonese or embrace a new hobby. You could also expand your knowledge of Hong Kong by picking an MTR stop to explore or visit once-crowded spots like the Big Buddha or Tai O (whilst following current safety measures).
- Lend a hand to many charities that need volunteers and get a broader perspective of Hong Kong society.
- Clarify your core values to plan your long-term personal and career goals.
Everyone copes differently with homesickness. Should you feel that you need help coping, please don’t hesitate to seek the help of the AMindset team.
1. Stroebe, M., Schut, H., & Nauta, M. H. (2016). Is homesickness a mini-grief? Development of a dual process model. Clinical Psychological Science, 4(2), 344–358. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702615585302
2. Matt, S. (2007). You can’t go home again: Homesickness and nostalgia in US history. Journal of American History, 94(2), 469-497.
3. Strauss, A. (2003). Alexander: The military campaign. In J. Roisman (Ed.), Brill’s Companion to Alexander the Great, (131-157). Brill.
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