Saying Goodbye to Turkey: What To Do When Expat Homesickness Strikes

Istanbul, turkey, expat, intercultural relationships, intercultural couple

Image: Flickr / Adam Franco

Expat Homesickness Survival Tips

Ahhhh, a vacation in Turkey.  Amazing food.  Relaxing resorts. Incredible cross-cultural experiences. It’s great while it lasts.  But then we have to come home.

For me and our kids the re-entry goes pretty smoothly. Sure, there’s jet-lag and a couple of days of disorientation while we readjust to life in the U.S. But give us a week and we’re pretty much back in the game. After all, as born-in-the-U.S. Americans, the U.S. is home to us.  But, for my Turkish husband the transition isn’t so easy. In fact, he usually ends up with a serious case of homesickness.

How can you tell when your loved one has got the expat blues?

I know my husband’s caught the bug when he starts saying things like this:

“How about if we moved to Turkey?”
“Maybe I should look for a job in Istanbul.”
“It’s too hard living here.”
“I want to move back.”

That and when he places an unusually large order for black olives from Tulumba. Seriously. I love olives but have you ever tried to store ten 64-ounce jars of them?

What’s the best way to respond when your partner is feeling homesick?

Usually, my reaction is to commiserate with how he feels and then remind him why Istanbul isn’t the best place to raise our kids.  There’s the traffic, for example.  And the pollution.  And the fact that it’d take a gazillion dollars for us to have a quality of life in Istanbul that’s comparable to what we enjoy now.  So, yeah, there are some negatives to living in Turkey’s largest city, as any Istanbullian, my husband included, will admit.

That’s not to say that Istanbul and Turkey don’t have a lot to offer.  I love all the history that’s everywhere you look.  Just a ten-minute walk from my in-laws apartment are the remnants of the centuries-old city walls built by Constantine the Great. And there’s nothing like hanging out with friends at a Turkish tea garden along the Bosphorus. Or watching your kids learn the ancient art of Turkish paper marbling.  But is all that enough to make me want to raise my children there? No.

Still, it’s important to both me and my husband that we visit Turkey each year to connect with family and friends and to immerse our kids in Turkish culture as much as we can. Some years my husband even goes twice, once with us and once on his own. (Yeah, we have A LOT of frequent flyer miles.)

But here’s what I know about homesickness — Like its psychological cousin, culture shock, there’s no simple cure for it. That desire to be with people just like you. To gorge on your mom’s home-cooking. To reminisce with old school buddies. To feel completely, utterly at ease in the place you call home.  Well, like the Visa commercial says, that feeling is priceless and no amount of rational thinking will make the longing for it go away.

So, what do you do when your partner has the post-vacation expat blues?

Here are some strategies that I’ve found helpful for dealing with homesickness and the post-vacation let-down:

  1. Establish a settling-in routine. When I worked for the U.S. Peace Corps I used to travel constantly. So I came up with some tricks to help make re-entry easier. Do simple, routine tasks that don’t require a lot of brain power. For me, it’s unpacking and storing our luggage. I find that putting all the vacation gear away helps me feel grounded. My husband likes to start the day by sipping a glass of Turkish tea alone on our deck.
  2. Get enough sleep. The hassles of international travel, managing kids on long flights, and recovering from jet-lag can bring even the perkiest person down. And when you’re over-tired, acclimating to another culture can seem overwhelming. So make it a point to get everyone to bed at a reasonable hour and nap, if and when you can.
  3. Be gentle with yourself. Transitioning back to your “real” life is like stepping off a boat when you’ve been at sea for a while. Give yourself time to get your land legs before you launch any new projects or take on any new obligations.
  4. Integrate cherished memories into your daily life.  Look for ways to connect your two worlds, even when friends and family are thousands of miles away. Create calendars and scrapbooks with your vacation photos or frame them and display them in your home or office. We’ve laminated some of our favorite shots of Turkey and turned them into placemats. So at every meal we get a chance to relive those special moments.

What about you?  Have you or your partner ever suffered from expat homesickness? Got any strategies to share for dealing with it?  Please join the discussion in the comments box below!

And as for my family? Who knows? Pep-talks and TLC can only go so far to comfort someone who’s homesick. I know my husband will always have a sort spot for Turkey and we may end up living there some day. But first I need to figure out what to do with all these olives!

GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

Justine Ickes writes about culture, family, travel and people making a difference at Culture Everyday and JustineIckes.com. Her work has appeared in over two dozen publications, including Language Magazine, Litchfield Magazine, Matador, New Jersey Monthly and Parent & Child.

 

Comments

  1. says

    This is a great and timely article for me.  We often have this conversation but the difference is I am 100% completely on board and ok with moving to my husbands "home".  Long ago I reconciled that the US would never be "home" for him and that it was only fair for me to also make the sacrifice he made when he came here.  It's him that's not ready to bite the bullet and make the big move.  Maybe it's the opportunity he sees that still exists here or his fear of going back home realizing he's changed a lot since leaving.  In the meantime we make the yearly trip to visit, and more times than not he comes home reassured the US is the best place for us right now. 

    • Justine says

      Hi Amanda. That's interesting about your husband not being quite ready to move back to his birth country (Morocco, right?). I suppose there's no one "right" decision for any family. I know in my case I'd like to think we could get to a place where moving doesn't seem like a sacrifice for anyone. But that's probably idealistic on my part. I think there are a lot of factors that come into play in these longings and decisions. I know that as my in-laws age my husband feels an even stronger pull to go back and take care of them. But, for now, we do what your family does – make the most of the time we have with family and friends when we go on our yearly trip.