Written by Yiqi Huang
To talk about homesickness, I might as well start with something from HOME: an extract from a poem written almost a thousand years ago in my mother tongue by my all-time favourite poet, Su Shi, which roughly translates to “where my heart settles down is my home”.
Su Shi was a great literate, philosopher and politician in Chinese history, but this spirited sentence actually belongs to a singer. She fell in love with Shi’s good friend and was determined to travel with him when he was exiled to the far south (around today’s Vietnam), thousands of miles away from their hometown near the now Beijing. When they eventually got back and met Shi after several years, Shi asked the girl if everything was fine over there.
“It must have been harsh on you”, Shi told her.
“Ah, where my heart settles down is my home,” she replied and smiled.
Shi was deeply touched and composed this poem, which continued to inspire generations of people afterwards, including me. I had moved around a lot in my life, from Hangzhou to Guildford, to London, to Zurich, and now to Stockholm. Homesickness is something I can never avoid but have learnt to overcome faster and faster throughout my journey. Wherever I go, I try to follow the spirit of this poem, ease my mind and make the new place my home.
So how does it look like in practice? Here are some tips!
1. Decorate your new home
Not everyone is a professional interior designer, but I believe that we all have our own ideas about how a home should be like. Is your new place nowhere near your old sweet home? Take your time to improve it! Get the IKEA beddings with the patterns you like, put up some posters of your favourite artists, bring back some plants from the market, or simply print out some photos of you with your family and friends and stick them around… There’s no right or wrong way of doing it, but it’s definitely worth spending time on.
After you’ve decorated your new home, why not throw a house/room warming party and ‘show it off’ to your new friends?
2. Meet more people and make new friends
I know this has been brought up by everyone and sounds so cliché but that’s all because… IT WORKS! We, humans, are social animals and would mostly thrive with friends around. It’s obviously easier and nicer to bond with people from your home country, but it’s also important to stay open-minded and meet more people from different cultural backgrounds. I was lucky enough to be in a class with very diverse cultures and we soon became a big family! Here is a very happy photo of us at our Christmas potluck dinner: after all, what could be better than a giant buffet with food from over 15 countries?
3. Keep something old, start something new
It’s always good to keep a balance between the old and the new when you move: lingering too much over old things will hold you back and moving on too quickly to a lot of new things can be overwhelming, but a ‘lagom’ (Swedish word meaning not too much nor too little) amount of both will surely get you through your homesickness! I have been playing the piano since I was five and I keep the habit of practising wherever I go because it’s something I’m familiar and confident with, a small piece that I’m fully in control of in a big, complex world. This feeling of familiarity calms me down and soothes me. Meanwhile, I also welcome challenges and have always tried out new things in a new place (Guildford: backstage technician; London: musical theatre and contemporary dance; Zurich: Acapella and sailing a laser dinghy; Stockholm: Spex, SNNC and more). I become more focused when I’m trying a new thing and this distracts me from homesickness. Here is a picture of our ‘Spex’ group, and I hope I’ll get the chance to write about it later!
4. Learn the language of your new home
I love learning languages, so it naturally occurs to me that I should make the most of it when I’m in a new place and learn as much of the local language as I can. It surprisingly helps! I knew no German when I arrived in Zurich, started learning when I was there and continued after I came back to London. I visited my friends there last year and found that I could now read all the ‘mysterious’ signs and ads and understand the radio programmes. The feeling of ‘back home’ struck me so hard when I was there that I almost felt homesick when I left! It’s the same with my Swedish and it just feels good when I can have small conversations with shop assistants or bus drivers. People definitely open up more to you when they see your effort in learning their mother tongue 😉
So that’s all for now and hope my modern interpretation of this old poem will help you create beautiful memories in your new home!
Good luck to all the world explorers, vi ses (och kämpa på!)!