Understanding SA Homesickness

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Homesickness: The stages of missing South Africa

Homesickness is a lot like grieving the loss of a former existence.

By Katy Scott – www.thesouthafrican.com

Homesickness stems from our instinctive need for love, protection and security. These feelings and qualities, according to clinical psychologist Josh Klapow, are what we usually associate with home.

Homesickness is therefore not about home at all. It’s about familiarity and attachment to the things that we love. It’s a byproduct of acclimatisation.

“You’re missing what’s normal, what is routine, the larger sense of social space, because those are the things that help us survive,” explains Klapow.

“It’s just your emotions and mind telling you you’re out of your element.”

Much like the young child on school camp, as soon as we begin to feel disconnected and out of our normal, familiar routine, so the anxiety and grief set in.

The stages of mourning and the stages of homesickness have rather similar effects on the brain. This makes sense considering we are, in many ways, grieving the loss of a former existence.

The five stages of loss and grief, are part of a framework that begin to help us learn to live without someone or something.

  1. Denial and isolation

Homesickness creeps up on you and catches you unaware. Many of us try brush it off as we consider our emotional distress to be a weakness. We block it out and rationalise our emotions.

There’s no future for me in South Africa. I made the right decision to move. I love my new home. Yes, I miss my family and friends, but I’m not homesick! Stop with your snot en trane and pull yourself together.

  1. Anger

Despite all our attempts to block it out, eventually it bursts in and hits us with full force. The emotion is intense and we don’t know how to cope with it. So we begin to resent our new life, the strangers around us, or the familiar faces back home. We realise that no one is to blame, and this makes us even angrier.

This is nothing like what I had back home. I can’t believe I’m stuck here. Who said this was a good idea? What made me decide to leave the most beautiful country in the world?

  1. Bargaining

After losing ourselves a little, we begin to calm down, and we begin to try regain control. While we think we are level-headed, we are just trying to numb ourselves from the reality.

Maybe I can live between both worlds. Nothing is going to change if I make the effort to stay in contact with everyone and everything back home. I will always stay in tune with South Africa. 

  1. Sadness

When we finally begin to embrace reality, so the blues come rolling in. At times we find ourselves overwhelmed by sadness, and for some, even depression.

I don’t want to get out of bed this morning to more unfamiliar streets and faces. I miss everything about home and I would do anything for a hug from ma and a giggle with the girls.

  1. Acceptance

This stage is not a phase of happiness. It is a coming to terms with being away from home. We have worked through the discomfort and distress, and we are here now, and we are going to make the best of it.

It’s OK to miss home. It’s OK to be down sometimes. By working through the difficult times, we force ourselves to keep our head above water.

Because at the end of the day, the only cure to a future spell of homesickness is going through the motions of homesickness itself.