Homesickness and culture shock

Preparing for moving abroad or for a long journey is more than just taking care of important documents. Many who move will later discover that everyday life in Australia will not always turn out as they dreamed of it to be. Despite being well prepared and having all the paperwork in order, some choose to move back to their home country for this very reason.

When I read guidebooks, heavenly wonderful travel reports or blogs with photos from sunny beaches, I seldom see anyone talking about what problems one might encounter in Australia. It’s easy to get the impression that it never rains or that life in Sydney is a walk in the park. My experience, however, is that many emigrants in most cases initially think that the move is very difficult; Wrestling with doubts, insecurity and homesickness. For most people, everything will work out and they manage to establish a daily life in the new country, while others feel such overwhelmingly negative feelings that they choose to go back home. I know that many newcomers experience a clash of cultures and initially feel very uncertain after their move abroad.

Don’t be surprised if everything feels up in the air and stressful during your first few months (perhaps even the first half of a year) after you landed. If you are from a non-English speaking country, suddenly you are surrounded by strange people who do not speak your language and cannot relate to many of your experiences and references. Even if you are good at English, it is frustrating to not be able to express yourself as unhindered as when speaking your first language. Even for English-speaking new arrivals, the Australian English can take a bit of getting used to. Combined with the concern about finding a job, having decent living arrangements and making the money last, it is very easy to be depressed.

All people who move to a new country go through changes and situations that are foreign and new to them. Some of these challenges will feel confusing, annoying or perhaps a little scary. By being prepared for it, knowing that is natural and common to experience negative feelings while adapting to a new country, it will be easier to manage the emotional roller-coaster that many emigrants and long-term travellers go through.

You will be forced to learn a lot of new things during your first year in Australia. Most likely, you will need to improve your English (unless it already is your first language) and you might have to settle with a job or a home that is not really what you hoped for. The difference between your life in Australia and your life back home will be huge, and your friends from home will not be next to you to give you support in the same way as before. I myself felt alone after leaving family and friends in Sweden and found it difficult to find new friends in Australia.

For couples or families who move, it can be hard when one in the family quickly gets a job and get into everyday life while the other has a harder time to establish themselves.

Four emotional phases

When talking about cultural clashes and the emigrant experience, four emotional phases that are common to go through, are often discussed. I am not saying that I know how you think and feel, but for me, this model fits in well with what I experienced when I moved.

Phase 1: Honeymoon (fascination and euphoria)

Just before and shortly after you arrive in Australia you will have great expectations and hopes. It’s an exciting time and everything is new and fun. During this phase, you are often very confident and find it easy to handle problems that arise.

Phase 2: Disappointment (frustration, irritation and negativity)

Over time you will have many positive experiences and some less enjoyable. One day you feel proud over everything you have accomplished, but then waking up the next day feeling frustrated, confused or perhaps depressed over all the difficulties and obstacles you find yourself facing. During this period, it is easy to see all the differences between Australia and your old life at home. Australians don’t seem to be as friendly and easy to interact with as you first thought. Life in Australia is stressful and full of complicated obstacles and you start to miss your home, maybe even feel unrooted and lonely. It can be difficult to stay motivated and to go to work or school, or even look for a job. This phase can be very stressful, and for those who came to Australia as a couple or with their family, friction can arise within the family when you or everyone are stressed. Sometimes the homesickness is very strong, and you feel annoyed and disappointed at how the move to Australia has turned out.

Phase 3: Adaptation (recovery)

If English is your second language, it will improve over time and you’ll start to better understand Australia and how the Australians think and work. Your confidence is getting stronger when things start to “fall into place” (for example, housing, jobs and friends) and you increasingly feel that your new life is under control. You will get perspective on the process you need to go through to better adapt to and integrate in Australia. You get a stronger sense of goal and meaning, and the intervals between times of feeling depressed gets longer.

Phase 4: Acceptance (acclimatization and integration)

You feel more comfortable in the new culture and in your new homeland. You’ve got some new friends and feel increasingly “at home” and as part of the community. You understand how the system and routines work and no longer regret that you moved to Australia. You may have found a better accommodation and job than the one you found in the first few months and you are increasingly at ease.

It’s OK if it feels tough

My point is that it can easily take several months until you start feeling at home and have your own routines in Australia, so don’t be too hard on yourself if it feels tough in the beginning. It is natural to feel sad, you have just left family and friends back home, and it is natural to initially feel doubts and frustration.

When combining the feeling of homesickness and you missing your old life, with the frustration of having to adapt and learn things anew, it is easy to feel low and get sad. Don’t forget that this is OK, it is a natural process. Thousands of people have gone through similar experiences and in most cases, things turned out good in the end.

Give the process some time and do not be too pessimistic and hard on yourself because everything is not immediately as fun, happy and exciting as you thought it would be.

Finally; It is OK to move back home. Some travellers only discover first after they left their home country how much they deeply appreciate it, and therefore chooses to go back. Others are doing their best to thrive in Australia but despite years of brave attempts it just doesn’t feel right. Moving to or going on a long trip to Australia is a dream for many, but the long stay can easily become a nightmare if, for example, your family relationship breaks down, if you have trouble getting a livelihood or you just realize that a move abroad was not really right for you. Don’t forget that it is OK to go back after trying out the dream abroad. Australia is not right for everyone, so do not hesitate to change your mind if, after a time-brave attempt, you notice that your life abroad is not working for you.

For some, their first trip to Australia leads to moving there for good and they almost become more Australians than anything else, while others choose to take the best from each country and build a cosmopolitan life where they live in both countries. For others, the trip to Australia is instead an interesting and educational experience that confirms to them that they belong back home, the place where they thrive best.

No matter how you choose to design your life, I hope that your long trip to Australia will be everything that you hope it will be. Good luck!