Homesickness? That’s so 1990s
comment 10 Written by on November 6, 2009 – 8:05 am

I started the day like most days. Shower, coffee, log on. Check emails, Facebook, Twitter, Guardian headlines and then turn on the Today programme on BBC iPlayer.

It was just like any morning in London. Except now I live in Buenos AIres. Not exactly fully ‘going local’, is it? Although I do sometimes have media lunas with that coffee.

Yes, I should probably start rethinking this routine. I need to get into the habit of adding local media to my morning list. (I read it, but typically later in the day.) I also need to settle in with a local radio station – it’s silly that I haven’t already, as it would do my Spanish the world of good. (Recommendations would be welcome. Although I’m not sure I can fully part company with John H and the gang.)

A few internet comforts make living abroad much easier these days. I just passed my one-year mark out of the UK and although I’ve lived abroad in various places, this is the first straight year for me. In the past, I’ve always had time at home between trips and although I’ve never had desperate homesickness, I have felt unsettled, far away and in need of seeing someone I’ve known for more than a short while.

This time has been different. Although I’d love to see my family and friends, I’m not at all homesick. Perhaps this is due to the particular relationship I have with BA and because I built up friends here over five years of past visits, but I’m sure I can also thank the internet.

I first moved away from home when I was 18 in the late 90s. It was only to France, so no big time differences to contend with and only a short train ride away. Yet this was a time – hard as it is to imagine – when there was no email. I wrote to my core circle of school friends longhand and waited for response, which came a few weeks later – or sometimes longer. How things have changed.

The greatest invention of all has to be Skype. A video call to friends may not be the same as a chat over a pint, but it sure beats a postcard.

And for all the concerns about the amount of information Facebook holds, it can be an expat’s best friend. In the past, you could only stay in touch with close friends – now you can keep in touch with everyone. Perhaps this isn’t appealing to everyone, but I love it and the other advantage of this constant contact is that people find it easier to drop you a line when they’re going to be in your neck of the woods. I’ve had a string of familiar faces passing through this year. Quite a lot didn’t come specifically to visit me, but were backpacking or on business and we had some great days hanging out, catching up and reminiscing over times with mutual friends. But I wonder how many would have got in touch if it had involved sending an email out of the blue after a year or more of no contact? And if it had involved finding out my address to write a letter? No chance.

Expats and travellers – has homesickness got more managable for you thanks to the internet? Any guilty pleasures? I mainly use services to keep in touch (social networking) or stay informed (beloved news services), but I also have a proxy so I can watch BBC and ITV programmes too – although I try and show restraint on this.

There are probably those who think I should take this foot out of ‘home’ life. I don’t agree. It’s not intrusive and I’m not sacrificing anything. It’s all part of being a global citizen. I’ll never be truly local. And actually I wouldn’t want to be.

Picture: still from BBC iPlayer

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10 Responses to “Homesickness? That’s so 1990s”

  1. Great post, Vicky. You’ve got a great point. It’s funny how interconnected everything is now. I agree with you – not only do I kind of take all my friends and family with me wherever I go, but I even take my business!

    Working at the same desk everday, expensive long distance phone calls and cramped hands writing letters back “home”? That’s so 1990s.

  2. None of the things I really miss about England is available for download. (I´d better not list these things: it would get very Hallmark. very quickly.) But I´d find it hard to cope without Skype video chat, something which was still in the realms of science fiction seven years ago, when I moved abroad.

    I find that spending time online is as likely to provoke homesickness as it is to assuage it. Maybe I´ll see a photo of some dark stretch of moorland or an ancient oak tree, a barrel of Mansfield or a village war memorial. A full frontal of a transport caff can reduce me to tears.

    Of course much of what we think of as homesickness is really youthsickness. Who could ever grieve for a place as acutely as for a time?

    My guilty pleasure is Test Match Special. Radio is still the most evocative medium, don´t you think? Anyone who’s ever found themselves stuck in a hellhole and reached instinctively for the World Service, will know what I mean.

    Very thought provoking as always, Vicky.

    By Matt on Nov 6, 2009 | Reply
  3. Cheers Andrew. Makes you wonder what the next ten years will bring, eh?

    By Vicky Baker on Nov 6, 2009 | Reply
  4. And as always very thought provoking comments from you, Matt. Thank you.

    Give me seven years and I might feel the same. At the moment I think I can pass on the transport caffs. Mind you, in past experience, it’s only when the plane starts hovering over England’s hedged fields and terrace houses that I get that full ‘home, sweet home’ rush.

    Radio – yes, for years I severed relations with it, but I’m a recent returner. Less of the old Kiss FM, XFM and the like, more news and comedy. Hmm, that’s probably a sign. I could be in for an acute attack of youthsickness sometime very soon.

    By Vicky Baker on Nov 6, 2009 | Reply
  5. Hi Vicky!
    Interesting topic and one that I think about often… I lived in Africa for two years before internet, and I did the same long rambling letters that took a month to receive a response, but then jubilation when I did. I often think about how maybe my whole living abroad time might have been more relatable to friends back home and might have quelled my homesickness better.

    Living abroad in Japan now, I am completely hooked on all those modern communication tools, and I also have to get a fix of my favorite news and culture station from the states everyday.

  6. Hi Mary, Thanks for reading. The other thing is in ‘the olden days’ you’d have to fill your friends and families in on a whole year’s worth of experiences. That would mean sitting down and talking *at* them for hours on end, which they probably wouldn’t thank you for. At least with modern communication tools people get little titbits along the way. Then you have a basis to build on and don’t have to reconstruct everything in one big swoop.

    From Africa to Japan? You must have had some interesting times! Hope they continue.

    By Vicky Baker on Nov 10, 2009 | Reply
  7. Hi Vicky! I really like this blog post. I think that Skype is fantastic for staying in touch with family and friends. I use Skype all the type to speak to, and see, my sister and her son who live in Boston.

    However, I think that Facebook can sometimes be a hindrance. It gives such a distorted portrait of what is really going on!

    With regards living abroad, despite internet connections, I still found it very difficult to REALLY stay in touch. Because I would dip in and out of friends’ lives, it was hard to keep a good conversation or relationship going over time.

    Also, I felt the risk of a thing called ‘accidental exile’. I lived in Moscow for nearly 2 years and found myself drifting away from life at home to the extent where it was becoming more and more difficult to go home again.

    I wrote a blog post that you might find interesting. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it…


  8. Thanks Dot. I feel slightly depressed reading your blog post! It does ring bells though. Interesting what you say about Facebook too. I think you need to keep ‘proper’ contact with the ones you really care about too. For example, I know a certain friend of mine is going through something hard right now and needs support, but to the rest of the world it’s all happy photos and silly comments on Facebook as usual. A friend of mine recently told me I was at the ‘peak’ of my expat experience. I have a strong circle of friends both here and at home, but the more I stay away, the more I may drift away from connections at home. I hope not. Oh well, I guess if we overanalyse, we’d never do anything, right?

    By Vicky Baker on Apr 5, 2010 | Reply
  9. While I will always be Canadian. The Island of Roatan, Honduras has been my home since 2007. When i first arrived to Roatan everyone here told me it would take me two years to decide. I thought they were implying that after two years I would have had enough of living here. But when the time came I realized that after two years I had no interest in returning to a way of life (in Canada) that was now foreign to me.

    I do miss family and friends however. Facebook, skype, twitter, my blog at , emails, etc. etc. are an excellent way for me to stay in-touch with them.

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