Homesickness is almost inevitable for any employee taking on an international assignment. As such, any Global Mobility manager needs to be able to offer sound advice and support throughout the process.
While some view homesickness as a sign of weakness, or something to be embarrassed about, this is far from the case. Nearly every expat will go through some form of homesickness, whether it’s missing loved ones or simply missing a local supermarket or even the weather. For many expats, whether they have been reassigned abroad or are the spouse or other relative who has also made the move, nationality is more than just a case of citizenship but a sense of belonging. It’s for reasons such as these why expats in foreign countries typically bond together. They have cultural similarities and are undergoing similar experiences.
Homesickness has many manifestations: it can be anything from a general change in nature to a form of depression. Symptoms can even be physical – tiredness, lethargy and a change in pallor have all been know to be a part of homesickness.
The best approach to combating such homesickness is to discuss it, whether with a spouse, a relative, a friend or even someone professional such as a counselor or other role of the global mobility industry. Maintaining contact with people at home has been proven in a 2012 study to help beat homesickness. Particularly the ability to video call via Skype has a massive benefit for those struggling with homesickness. The majority of expats have found that moving abroad was the best decision for them to make, with many even claiming to have a better quality of life. The ability to see friends and relatives from home face to face might not quite be the same as having them in the room, but it’s enough to alleviate stress.
Keeping busy is also strongly recommended. The more filled up days are, the less time there is to stop and think about home. By engaging in activities, whether social, athletic or cultural, you also engage more with the host country, drawing better life experience and enjoyment. One major cause of homesickness is a lack of proficiency is the native language of the host country: language classes would therefore be a good suggestion to not only fill time, but help adjustment to local life.
Perhaps the best thing any global mobility manager can do is stress the normalness of homesickness. It’s not something just for children. Similarly try to establish whether an expat is truly homesick, or simply is finding the differences in the new host country overwhelming.