Guest contributor and social worker Vicky Ang shares her thoughts on homesickness, and on how she handled the gloom of missing home.
I HAVE BEEN LIVING away from home for a rather long time, a total of 13 years. Prior to that, I did not even experience house-moving and only stayed away from home during trips or travelling for international seminars and conferences.
In retrospect, when I finished Form 5, every bit of me longed to be free and to live away from home, experiencing differences and ‘seeing’ the world. I could not wait to move out of the nest back then!
Well in all honesty, I still do enjoy all the fruitful experiences I gained away from home that make my life so colourful. These experiences were only possible because I moved out from my comfort zone.
Nevertheless, living away from home comes with a huge price to pay as well, and there are some moments of homesickness that are just unbearable; sometimes to the point that I wish I could have Doraemon’s magic door and walk through it back home to Kuching.
It actually hurt when I returned home during my university summer holidays to find that my grandfather did not remember who I was. I tried explaining, but he looked so puzzled. My baby nephews were also reluctant to be friendly with me for they only recognised me in pictures. Endless birthday parties, wedding ceremonies, big and small occasions of family and friends came and went with me being absent. It is just so different to be updated through modern technology and although Skype helps, it is no Doraemon door.
Homesickness is probably one of the biggest issues for a person living away from home, especially when home is as awesome as our beautiful Sarawak.
Homesickness can lead to unproductivity, of being addicted to social media to stay alive among the circle of friends back home or to be emotionally detached from current realities and surroundings. In severe cases, homesickness could even lead to depression and we wouldn’t want to go there.
How can we battle homesickness, then? It is indeed a delicate issue, for home is usually where our heart belongs. We do not want to forget our commitments back home nor be an emotionally dead person trying to suppress our real feelings.
Here are some pointers that you may find useful if you are battling homesickness. As usual, embrace the situation with an open heart and a positive mind.
1. You are living in a different environment. Explore!
Take time to explore your new or different surroundings. You may find comfort in the change of weather. You may learn to see beauty in what lies around you. For photography enthusiasts, this is a plus point. When things are new and fresh, your senses are usually sharpened to notice things that others usually do not. Bask in these changes! Take little adventures whenever you can.
For those living in seasonal countries, the changes of season bring so much delight and newness over the months in a year. As this is different from our beloved homeland, this is an experience to cherish and wonderful tale for the future generation, or for friends and family back home when you do go home.
For those living in countries with natural disasters, although it may sound horrific, it is an opportunity to rediscover your natural instincts to survive. It is also new knowledge to keep yourselves safe from whatever disasters may strike.
2. FOOD! What about it?
Trying new food may be a dread for some, but for us Sarawakians who are born food explorers, a food-hunt for new food may sound exhilarating too! Within your religious boundaries (if you have any), enjoy different platters of gastronomical delights. Create a bucket list of food maybe! Try out what the locals find delicious and you may enjoy your new life a little more. And if you do not like the food they serve, it is indeed a new challenge to create the food from home!
I learned how to cook when I started living in KL. Although it wasn’t always successful, it was a whole new experience for me. Living in the Philippines made cooking a necessity. I wanted to eat Malaysian-Chinese flavours and that wasn’t always an available choice. When it was, it burned multiple holes in my pocket! I learned how to cook with different ingredients that were available, and somehow made them taste of food back home.
3. New friendships and new family members.
Living, studying or working with new people from different places becomes part of life when you leave home. During my KL days, I experienced living with West Malaysians who became my emotional support group and my new ‘family’. We enjoyed talking about our lives back home and I had a good time visiting their homes that were nearer than Kuching, of course. Kuching isn’t actually that far from KL, but when you have a limited budget to fly as often as you desire, the comfort of your friends’ home, and the new home you create with your friends do go a long way.
The 4 years in the Philippines moved me even further away and the culture differed even more. On top of that, I was living in an international dormitory with friends from over 20 other countries. Being the only Malaysian, I started forever-friendships with people around the world. This ‘phenomenon’ is actually continuing to date, as SOLS 24/7 (the NGO I work with) has over 30 nationalities working together serving the Malaysian community.
My foreign friends and I have so much and so little in common all at the same time! The differences are new learning experiences for us and interesting new stories to share; and we go through our current lives with the love and support we have for each other through our newly-built friendships. These friends can become your new emotional support system and sometimes even your new non-blood related family members.
The beauty of friendships with people from different places could ensure you a place to bunk in or a nice warm meal when you go globe-trotting! It also ensures you that there is always someone at some corner of the world loving you at any given period of time.
Living away from home is tough. But it is up to you to see the beauty of your present life. It is also up to you to bridge unity among different human beings from across the planet. This new mission, while battling homesickness, could also bring about greater peace in the world through new international friendships!