Overcoming homesickness and culture shock

Living in a new country is an exciting adventure for new au pairs but the first few weeks of excitement slowly fades while you try to find your daily rhythm. Some may find they get homesick very early in the program, it either goes away gradually or it may become stronger. In the midst of missing mom’s homemade chocolate pie, a lot of au pairs go through a huge culture shock.

Thanks to au pairs that have come before you and me, we have ways to help minimize the culture shock and get over homesickness or make it less stressful.

Here are some ways to overcome homesickness:
1. Go out and meet new au pairs:
Don’t stayed cooped up in your bedroom reminiscing about your life back home. Even if you start by texting a few au pairs, having someone to talk to, especially someone going through the same transition as you, can be very helpful.

2. Stay away from calling home too frequently:
Seriously, calling your family every time you miss home might be what makes you cry yourself to sleep at night. I had been in Seattle for about a month when I eventually told my mom that calling me every day is not going to work, especially since every time we spoke she said I looked sad and if I’m not happy I should go back home, bless my momma’s heart!

3. Set goals for yourself:
Being from South Africa where we drive on the left side of the road I made driving around my new neighborhood a daily goal, I got miserably lost multiple times the first few months but those drives gave me something to focus on when the girls were at school.

4. Find comfort in your host family:
You will be living with your host family for a long time, communicating with them is important. If you feel lonely or out-of-place they might have some way to help you through it.

5. Set aside a time for yourself:
Finding time for yourself is important. I like to watch an episode of Law & Order: SVU or FRIENDS before bed. Find something that can be done in the comfort of your bedroom, light some candles and play some soothing music.

6. Find a place to escape:
When I just need to get out of the house after a long week or just be alone, spend some time blogging I go to my favorite coffee shop The Jewel Box, or grab some food and watch the sunset from my car at Golden Gardens Park. Find a place that you like, somewhere not too far from home, with a great atmosphere and bonus if they have the best crepes.

7. Taking classes:
Part of the program requirements is that you take classes (non-credit) at the local college. Find a class you like that gets you enough hours and is enjoyable. I found a class at North Seattle College called Strength and Conditioning, the instructor was great, I attended the class both years as an au pair.

While you’re busy trying not to break down because you miss home, you might be experiencing some culture shock. There will either be a huge difference between your home country and your host country or very little difference but either way, it can leave you confused or surprised.

According to Go Aupair, there are 3 phases of culture shock and I couldn’t agree more, going through each step will help you understand what you’re going through and hopefully give you a better understanding of how to deal with it.

The Honeymoon Phase:
Everything is new and that excites you. It is a surreal feeling and for the first few days that will remain constant but a few later you will slowly begin to feel those dream-like emotions fade, that is when everything starts becoming familiar.

The negotiation phase:
This is when you will feel the most culture shock. You will have started your full schedule and that can lead to confusion. Your old routine from back in your home country and your new routine in your host country will clash, this also makes you miss home a lot more because back home you didn’t have this stress and anxiety. You knew how to manage your time but now you have no idea what to do during the day (especially if your host kids are in school), this type of instability will give you anxiety, try to manage your time, find activities to do during the day. The best idea is to go out and explore, walk around your new neighborhood. Using some of the tips above for dealing with homesickness helps a lot with this phase too.

The adjustment phase:
Your first few months during the transition is the hardest, some au pairs go through the rematching process (find a new host family) because they don’t connect with their host family or they go home because they couldn’t cope with the distance. However, if you do make it through the first few months you will be able to handle a situation when you do find yourself confused by certain cultural differences in your new country.

Au pairs generally feel like they are the only ones going through this when they are multiple others facing the same emotions, communicate with your host family and area directors and reach out to other au pairs. Having someone who is going through the same thing as you can be helpful, you both can work together to alleviate the emotions of missing home and it’s a great way to bond. My best friend, Itsumi, and I met way before either of us left home, I arrived in the U.S. first and emailed her about my first few weeks, I told her how I felt and what to expect, when we finally met in person we had created a bond and over time it got stronger. We’ve had each other to call when either of us was down, homesick or when it was a tough week. we try to meet regularly and do something fun or just talk. This type of friendship will be most appreciated in the long run and you will have made a life long friend.

Remember to stay connected to people, your circle may become smaller but communicate as well as you can and never hide away, go out and explore. This is an adventure you will not regret.

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