Thursday, 7 February 2013

English expat in Denmark: Dealing With Homesickness

I think I was homesick before I even moved out of my flat. As you may know, I lived in East London during the 2012 Olympics. I could hear the drums and see the fireworks from my living room (see Hashtag Olympics for the pic). I had friends over. We ate pizza and we drank wine, cider, beer. We cheered, we laughed and I think a couple of us may have even cried - the ceremony was quite emotional, it was the first time in a while since any of us had felt any sense of patriotism. It was a good night.

For me, the emotion ran deeper than the natural high of the Olympic Ceremony. I knew that this would probably be the last time that we would have people over to our (albeit tiny) London flat. I knew that we were moving to Copenhagen in a matter of months and, as much as it was an exciting move, it was also a scary thing. As much as I complained about the flat, the rental costs, the attitude of the London commuter (that includes you, London cyclists), I really loved living there. When it came to a month beforehand we sold our furniture. I cried, without fail, every time a piece of furniture left the flat (Philip tells me that the most ridiculous thing I cried over was the £10 Argos shoerack bidding us farewell). Perhaps not all of you are as emotional as I am but moving abroad was, and still is, the biggest thing I have ever done. The furthest away I had lived from my family was just outside West London when they lived just outside East London. I have always been at least one hour by train to my friends. This was, and is, very different. If you are on the cusp of moving then you may well know these feelings. You may react differently - I'll be the first to admit that I'm more emotional than your average Joe - but you will start to notice things around you that you perhaps didn't before. If you've already moved then you're either nodding in agreement or rolling your eyes. I feel that there is no middle ground.

I won't go into the goodbyes and the like. Just know that they were emotional, all in their own way.

Prior to the move I had been to Copenhagen about six times. And I had loved it more and more each time. Once I made the move to Copenhagen it took me about six weeks, despite the constant job hunting, to properly realise that I wasn't on holiday. It hit me pretty hard at first - I was jobless, relying on Philip for money, I couldn't properly speak the language and I discovered a downside to social media where you see how all your friends who you left behind are still having the same life but without you in it. All sounds incredibly melodramatic, I know - I promise I wasn't thinking this deeply at the time, it's only now that I'm documenting it all that I can explain it as it was. Still, I had two choices.
1) I could keep on lamenting about not living in London, in my comfort zone, how I felt I would never make friends and make 'my own' Copenhagen. I could have complained about the job market and about how my friends would forget about me. I could have complained about the lack of Marmite and that it just wasn't England.
2) I could embrace my new city with all it has to offer. I could appreciate the hell out of the fact that our friends live so close together. I could be happy with the fact that I will fulfill a long term dream of mine to be fluent in a second language. I could see every single inch of opportunity that lay before me. I could choose to see Copenhagen not as a pit of depression with everything missing but as a blank canvas that I could make into whatever I wanted.

Needless to say, I choose option 2. It is pointless heading for option 1. Why would you want to spend all your time in a country feeling miserable that it's not like home? Because of course it's not going to be like home - surely that is part of why you moved. But that is also part of the excitement of a move abroad - you can see new things, learn new things and meet new people. That is not to say I don't get homesick at all now because I do. But I know how to deal with it now. Other than what I have written in option 2, which is the attitude to adopt, here are my top tips for dealing with homesickness:

1) Email a friend. In detail. They'll love to receive a long email and you will also look forward to a long response back. It worked wonders for when Philip and I did long distance for a year (that is a whole other story which I will not bother you with)
2) Arrange Skype dates with friends and/or family. No need to expand on that one.
3) On your bike! If you have already moved here or are thinking of doing so you will already know that Denmark is one of THE most bike friendly places in the world. If you have a bike it's a great way to see the diversity of Copenhagen - the beach, the lakes, the city, the churches .. it's wonderful (see what I did there?). Exploring your new city and getting familiar with it will soon help you settle into your new home. If you don't have a bike then you can walk, particularly in Copenhagen.
4) Discover something new about the city that you like at least once a week and write it down or say it out loud to somebody. e.g. "I like living in Copenhagen because you can go out at 10pm and still take it easy"
5) Find events that are going on in the city. Or even take yourself out of the city. Check out Visit Denmark for your first port of call.
6) QI reruns. Ok, very specific to British expats but it is so useful for me. It's on most days on BBC Entertainment. They usually have loads of them on Sundays which is just perfect hangover television

Homesickness will happen to most, if not all, expats. It gets easier. And I'm writing this as somebody who still goes through it from time to time. Trust me.

(Saying all of the above though, I will ALWAYS miss Marmite) 

(Next in the series - The Danish Language. 14th February 2013)