Most people who spend extended time overseas will know the feeling of being homesick. It’s a natural response to an unfamiliar environment which differs in fundamental ways from the place you grew up in.

Yet as with many illnesses, homesickness is curable. There are underlying causes of the homesick phenomenon but also ways in dealing with feeling homesick that you can use to re-establish your ‘overseas health’.

What separates being homesick from a feeling of missing is the relentless difference your everyday surroundings present. Homesickness doesn’t arise from only missing your favourite meal or hangout spot, it’s the result of your cultural backdrop shifting. 

So much of how we operate is culturally-driven without us knowing. We drive on a certain side of the road, use particular cutlery when eating, and wait in line (or not) in specific ways without even thinking about how we do these actions. When another culture forces us to question how we carry out some of our most trivial tasks with no solace in returning to the ways of old, it can become overwhelming.

Homesickness as a sign of evolution

Homesickness is rarely caused by one or two variables, it’s an engulfing package that pushes our limits.

Homesickness and culture shock often go hand in hand but the two aren’t mutually inclusive. Although the feelings of unease of both phenomena arise from a contrast between the familiar past and the less familiar present, there is a distinction. 

Homesick feelings are caused by a yearning for the familiarity of your place of origin. This tends to generate feelings of sadness and longing.

Culture shock is caused by overwhelm from the disorientation of an unfamiliar environment. Culture shock can cause a range of emotions but it tends to generate feelings of distress and confusion.

Homesickness is often a side effect of culture shock. When the human brain becomes disoriented by the unfamiliar, it’s inclined to remove the feeling of cognitive dissonance as soon as possible by restoring balance.

The problem is homesick feelings are sometimes overreactions. Many of our automatic emotional responses to cognitive dissonance are hardwired by evolution. This is why we feel annoyed when one of our beliefs is challenged or stressed if pondering a problem.

But just as we know that the mental strain we experience when contemplating how to solve a problem is part of the process to get results, so too should we know that feeling homesick is part of the process towards adaptation to a new environment. Panicking then giving up on an exam question as soon as the first sign of mental effort is required would be an irrational overreaction. Likewise, panicking and flying back to where you came from as soon as you feel the first sign of homesickness would be excessive.

The reality is emotional boundary testing can be a sign of evolution. Growth comes from moving beyond our comfort zones.

Think of it like a wild animal plucked out of its natural habitat. The contrast will feel frightening and it’ll crave the familiarity of its home environment. But that doesn’t mean it can’t adapt and even thrive in the new one.

Seen this way, homesickness is a blessing in disguise. It forces you to recall the unique cultural background that helped shape you while signalling the possibility of adaptation. Behind every signal of pain lies the chance for growth and development.

Coping with feeling homesick

Understand homesickness is a phase

As stated before, feeling homesick is often an automatic response when we’re in new environments for sustained periods of time.

It’s important to know that these feelings are your body’s way of recalibrating to the situation. Being homesick allows us to seek out the familiar to achieve internal harmony.

Recalibrations are transition phases. They don’t last forever. When it comes to a person adapting to a new environment, recalibrations don’t tend to last long either.

This is even more the case with intense homesickness. The brain doesn’t want to stay in an agitated state for long. Once it perceives that the unfamiliar environment you find yourself in isn’t a threat to your wellbeing in the way an immediate danger provoking a fight or flight response is, it’ll lesson the emotional impact of being homesick.


Exploration as a balm to feeling homesick is a coin with two sides.

On one side is exploration as a means of seeking out the familiar.

Homesickness induces in us a desire for home comforts—that which we know well. The knee-jerk reaction to repossess that which we know well is to return to our place of origin, to return to the familiar.

Seeking out the familiar is different from returning to the familiar. Instead of perceiving homesickness as a sign to return from where you came, you can see it as an emotional mode that will help you find the commonalities between past and present environments. Being homesick pulls you towards the things that display cultural similarities with your place of origin, whether that be products, personalities or points of interest.

Much of the essence of culture is a country’s unique spin on shared goods and phenomena. 

Two people from different nationalities could take the exact same ingredients and come up with distinctive dishes. Two people may differ in upbringing and language yet have the same personality type. Two countries may be separated by thousands of miles but have their own beautiful beaches.

Underpinning differences are similarities. When you find the commonalities in things, you’ll understand why they got shared across cultures in the first place. Seeking out the familiar in this way will help you grasp why much of the world is more likeable than would appear.

The other side of the exploration coin is adventure.

Adventure is a characteristic that adds spice to our life and enriches our experiences. It’s not a particular occurrence to seek out but the by-product of an open mindedness to the unfamiliar.

When we embody the adventurer’s spirit, we shift our focus from a reliance on home comforts to embracing difference. In this way, we’re more likely to see the positives in a new situation rather than dwell on the negatives.

The best part of adventure abroad is how easy it is to find. No matter how long you’ve been in a foreign country, there’ll always be something new to discover or learn.

By finding cultural similarities and embracing adventure in the country you’ve moved to, you’ll lessen the intensity of homesickness and take a step towards removing it altogether.

Homesick explore

Protect contact time with important people

Living overseas, you might not be able to journey back to your home country whenever you want but you can communicate with it through the people there.

Not everyone has the luxury of visiting their place of origin as often as they’d like. The next best thing is to stay in touch with people you know and care about back there.

Staying in touch this way reminds you that you’re still connected to the place you came from. It’ll update you on life in those parts and ground your current situation in comparison to what’s happening in your home country. When the distress of being homesick kicks in, many people find speaking to people they know back home, particularly loved ones, reminds them of why they moved abroad in the first place. Thus, staying in touch has a positive double whammy.

Quality contact time isn’t only restricted to speaking to loved ones on a call. A large determinant of wellbeing in another country is a person’s social support network. It’s no surprise that people who have a high-quality social life and network integrate better and are less affected by homesickness.

Cultivate quality connections with people in the place you’ve moved to. Although you can have one, don’t feel you need an enormous social circle to integrate well—focus on good time with supportive people. There are ways of finding likeminded people even if you’re feeling culture shock.

Establishing quality relations with others is one of the biggest factors leading to good wellbeing. Protect time with important people and you’ll help ward off feeling homesick.


What’s one of the most tried and trusted ways of dealing with unfamiliarity?

Gaining more knowledge.

While you can never truly know how you’ll feel in a new environment until you experience it in person, you can prepare as best as possible by researching.

Researching before you move helps provide clarity and perspective. Read about the country you’re moving to from multiple sources. Talk to people who’ve lived there. Watch videos about the culture.

For lifestyle factors that are most important to you, research is crucial. You don’t want to be a vegan moving to a country without knowing where the vegan-friendly places are. Or a gym shark with no fitness centres around. Prior research can reduce the likelihood of being homesick.

If you’re already living in the country and feeling homesick, research can help explain some of the confusion you may feel. What was a challenging situation becomes an aha moment due to external information.

A powerful form of research is information from other expats in the same country.

These are people who’ve been and done it before in the place you are. There’s a strong likelihood that they’ll have experienced the degree of homesickness that you’re feeling and understand what might be causing it. Finding content they’ve produced or reaching out to connect with them is one of the best ways to gain a grounded position and know what to do where you are.

Practice gratitude

Wherever you are in the world, you can be grateful for something.

It’s amazing what a few seconds of appreciation for something in your life can do for your immediate mood. Studies show that taking even a little time in your day to practice gratitude can lead to significant benefits to your happiness and wellbeing.

Gratitude is a powerful way of reframing our perspective and reframing our perspective is the opposite of disorientation from unfamiliarity. Therefore, it lends itself as a useful method against feeling homesick.

Centre your mind on the positives of where you’ve moved to rather than what you miss from somewhere else. There will always be a positive to find even when homesickness makes you feel down.

What’s interesting is how you can be grateful for having things to be homesick about. This is not as contradictory as it sounds—you can be thankful for how your place of origin has shaped you into the person you are and how you still care about it (which the emotions of homesickness prove).


It’s natural to feel homesick in a new environment.

When we’re pushed out of our comfort zone in the way that moving to a new country can do, our body responds with its own defensive mechanisms. Homesickness is one of them.

Be careful not to panic when feeling homesick—more often than not it’s a signal of adjustment, not an alarm to flee. Not overreacting to signs of homesickness will help you grow into the region you’ve moved to.

During the adjustment of settling in to a new life abroad, there are many coping strategies to deal with being homesick. 

First, understand that homesickness is a sign of a transition phase in your life and that the uneasy feelings won’t last. Keep your mind sharp against the negative emotions of homesickness by seeking out what’s familiar in the culture you’re in and treating your explorations as adventures. Maintain quality contact time with people who’re important to you both in your home country and where you’ve moved. Accumulate useful knowledge about the place you’re in to gain clarity against the confusion of being homesick. Practice gratitude to focus on the positives you have right now rather than on what you miss.

As a minimum takeaway, never let feeling homesick rush you into returning to your country of origin. You may decide to go back at some point but that decision shouldn’t come about from panic or haste. By understanding that feeling homesick is a recalibration exercise, you’ll calm your emotions and have a better chance of adapting.