When I think about how much I manage to do in a day now, as opposed to when I first arrived in Spain almost 5 years ago, I’m amazed: what did I used to do all day? To be fair, I was in graduate school, in a fairly intensive program, however, is there ever really an excuse for 3 hour naps and 3 hour gym sessions? I think not. I used to have a rule that if one of my friends invited somewhere with less than 5 hours’ notice, it was a giant “NOPE”.
“Danni, we’re going to have dinner tonight 10 meters from your front door? Are you interested?”
At what time? 18h? It’s 13:30, I just need more notice. Let me know a day in advance, and I’ll catch y'all for the next one.
I know, it’s absolutely ridiculous. I was at a very different stage in my life when I first moved abroad. What I realize now is that I was homesick. At its worse stage, I looked for reasons to stay home, and its “best” (read: still very bad) I resorted to over-programming in hopes of taking my mind off of the fact that I couldn’t just sit still and be alone. I’m going to share a few of my tips that I have — albeit mostly through error — about time management when living abroad, especially during your first year.
Designate a day to Skype with family and friends, and stick to it: Homesickness manifests in several ways and for me, it appeared in the form of 3-4 hour skype chats with my family. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my family very much; however, when living in a new country for the first time, it’s easy to allow yourself to drift away from the now in search of the familiar and the comfortable. Skype, whatsapp, snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Viber: just don’t forget you’re here, for however long, so be 100% here.
If there’s a hobby you’d like to pursue, find it in your new city and join a club or organization that meets regularly: For me it was dance. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with “new”. You just moved to a new country, a new city, a new flat and you’re meeting new people in a new language. That is challenging and a lot to take on at times. Don’t be surprised if you feel tired or simply worn out. It happens. Your brain is working on overload. I moved to Spain thinking: I’m going to do everything, ever, always, superlative. Yeah, no. You can spend months saying: I’m going to learn to dance sevillanas while you scroll through Instagram and le sigh at all the pretty dresses, or you can be realistic. The time it takes convincing yourself that you’re going to do it, you can sign up for a free class once a week and hold yourself accountable to these dreams you’ve created. I found that by having a group, team, or teacher that I was accountable to, I was less likely to “blow off” these responsibilities for other very important tasks such as Community marathons in my pajamas.
Plan trips and activities in advance because it gives you something to look forward to: Idle hands are the devil’s playground, truly. I found myself sinking into a funk reminiscing about “the good ole days” when I was bored and couldn’t find anything “worth” doing. That all changed when I started actively searching for events and trips that interested me. For example, I went to 4 concerts my first year and traveled everywhere from Italy to Switzerland. Knowing that at the end of X month, I’d be on a plane, or on a new adventure not only helped pass the time, it helped pass the time in a good and positive way. If you know that Christmas time will be a bit rough for you because you’ll miss being home, start thinking about a trip to the Christmas markets in Germany or Vienna or think about hosting an expat Christmas dinner. Write your own narrative filled with new, happy memories.
Homesickness is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean that you don’t like where you are, nor does it mean that you want to leave. It means that you’re trying to find your place in a new environment and are being pulled by both the old and the new. It’s normal and it comes and goes. It’s important to recognize it for what it is and be proactive. I think about the hours I spent trying to “share” my experience with my friends and family back home, and how much I missed here as a result. I tried to capture every sight, sound, taste and smell so that I could wrap it up, and hand deliver it to the people I loved, but instead of living these adventures for myself, I was a self-appointed curator for my friends and family. That’s not sustainable and as difficult as it was to “put them aside” for a moment and truly keep both feet on the ground, my life in Spain is that much more fulfilling because if it.
What do you do to deal with homesickness?
Danni, Community Director at Las Morenas de España, is a twenty-something, Chicago native currently residing in Madrid. Lover of language, words, and travel, she's managed to combine all of her passions through her work. In her free time, you can find her exploring the winding streets of Madrid, hunting down good flight deals, planning her next adventure and writing & researching for LMDES. Danni loves spicy food, natural hair, music and of course, her wonderful life partner. If you need to find her, she’s the girl with huge hair and her face buried in her Kindle.