The hardest part about living out of town is missing the birthdays of your family and friends, the First Communions, the soccer games, the Sunday night dinners.
But when you live abroad, there’s an extra spot of trouble: the holidays of your home country that aren’t celebrated in your current country.
How do you survive the homesickness?
Holidays away from home can be tough, but if it’s a holiday in your current country, too, it’s easy to make it an amazing experience. Like when I spent Easter with my Irish friend Mairead’s family. The real problem occurs on American days like Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July…
When everyone around you is going about an ordinary day, but your Facebook newsfeed is chock full of photos of your drunk friends wearing festive clothes and posing together, things can get a little teary.
It got so bad, my boyfriend learned that any day that’s a holiday in America needs to automatically spark an increase in back scratches.
Working for an American company online, I was recently off work for the Fourth. But to everyone in Ireland, it was a typical Thursday. So you can imagine how lonely it felt as I wandered the city, feeling happy and celebratory inside, but not hearing one person utter “Happy Fourth of July!”
No matter how cheesy you think the holidays have gotten, it’ll strike a discordant cord with your memories.
So how do you cope? I have a few go-to methods.
1. Throw a party. Now, you have to be careful with this one. This could very easily backfire. Since it’s not a holiday for your new friends, and they probably have to work, the party may be a bust if nobody shows up. However, if you can find a time that will draw a crowd, a party is a great way to feel the holiday mood far away from home.
I convinced a chef friend in Ireland to cook Thanksgiving dinner for all of our friends, and it was a smashing success.
I also had beer and friends over for the middle-of-the-night Superbowl.
On the other hand, nobody was around to celebrate the Fourth of July, which meant I had to rely on numbers 2-4 below.
2. Make a feast. Whether friends are coming over or not, go all out! Even though I only have three roommates, I cooked for ten. I made an American flag out of cupcakes!
I even made party potatoes, a staple of any party my family throws in St. Louis.
Another pro? You’ll be eating leftovers for days!
3. Decorate. I do this whether or not people are coming over. My apartment is where I spend most of my time, and if everyone who enters it (i.e. the handyman) sees red, white and blue balloons, they’re sure to feel a little holiday spirit, too.
Of course, since it’s not an Irish holiday, I had trouble finding a banner that was relevant.
And if it comes to you and your roommates throwing red, white and blue balloons out of the window at 2 a.m., the drunk people below will have a bit of fun, too.
Warning: Because it’s not a holiday anywhere but America, the white balloons may read “Happy Wedding Day!” Of course you won’t notice this until after you leave the store.
4. Make everyone American. If you have other American friends in your current country, chances are that you won’t feel so alone. But for me, I was the only American in my friend group. The solution? In the same way that everybody’s Irish on St. Paddy’s Day, make all your friends American!
Your roommate’s boyfriend who you learned, like, yesterday was born in Boston – he’s American! And your roommate who was born in Holland and raised in Ireland but has such a strange accent people assume she’s American – guess what? Today, she is!
If you’re lucky, you have a great group of people to pull this little trick on. They don’t have to know you’re doing it. Sometimes, you won’t even have to try!
Like when your boyfriend grills hot dogs and hamburgers in the freezing, windy Irish night, on a tiny 2-euro disposable grill just so you can say you had a Fourth of July barbecue. (It would be a little less freezing if he’d just wear a jacket!)
I also had a blast describing the proud grill ownership of suburban American dads to my boyfriend. I think he might aspire to such creations in the future.
Later, my other roommate surprised me by turning out all the lights in the apartment and streaming a Maltese fireworks display on YouTube just to make me feel at home. (And the kicker – it was actually the one thing missing! After that, I felt like I’d had a complete Fourth of July.)
The key, to me, seems to be to surround yourself with good, loving friends – no matter where in the world you are!
How do you cope with homesickness abroad? Share your tips in the comments!