Longing for home – that’s the simplest way to explain what homesickness is. It is the feeling of sorrow that results from leaving behind loved ones and friends to go somewhere far, usually overseas, for a long period of time. The coronavirus currently wreaking havoc in different parts of the world definitely exacerbated homesickness among people who left their respective homelands and are now based in another country (like me). On top of the sorrow, they worry about their families back home. They also worry about themselves.
Well, a lot has been written about the subject. The loneliness one feels when away from home is the theme of many essays, stories, and poems. There are also movies about homesickness and plenty of books and speeches sharing tips on how to overcome it are available.
As an expat working here in South Korea (since 2013), I can say that I am no stranger to homesickness. I am so familiar with this emotional experience. I know how it feels to be hundreds to thousands of miles away from the comfort of home and the warm embrace and assuring presence of friends and loved ones. I know how discomforting it is to be in an unfamiliar territory where almost everything is different from what one was accustomed to. The current pandemic added another dimension to that discomfort. Just imagine how it feels when the only places you can visit are the four corners of your apartment because you either fear getting infected by the COVID-19 or you have to heed the advice of authorities to stay home.
There are people claiming to have never experienced homesickness. Well, good for them.
What about me?
I waged a battle against this emotional discomfort during my first weeks here in South Korea. I thought that mentally preparing for a departure from my comfort zone would be enough to help me overcome whatever challenges that await me in this country – including homesickness.
While waiting for the day I would fly to this country, I tried to prepare for it mentally by accepting that I would not be with my family for only God knows how long and that my wife who lovingly treats me like a king when I am home wouldn’t be there to hug and kiss me when I am down, to take care of me when I get sick, to cook my favorite dishes, and what have you. I thought that somehow I could also prepare emotionally for a life away from my country and my family by simply accepting that it would soon be my reality. I was wrong. It’s easier said than done.
Excitement overwhelmed me when I came out of the plane at the Gimhae International Airport. I was so happy seeing South Korea for the first time. I also felt so blessed thinking of my good fortune for being given the opportunity to teach here. But the euphoria was short-lived. Upon entering the apartment the university provided, the reality that I was by my lonesome in a faraway place, something that I thought I have already fully embraced when I departed home, seemed like tiny needles starting to prick every part of me. They burst the bubble of excitement I felt when I arrived.
When I began unpacking, I recalled the conversation I had with my wife and my son while they were helping me stuff all those things into my luggage. The lady of my house trying unsuccessfully to control her tears while giving me a litany of reminders was like a movie playing endlessly in my mind. I also remembered the phone calls I made to my parents and siblings.
It was less than a day of being separated from my family and I was already missing them. Just that and all of a sudden my first episode of homesickness kicked in. Sadness crept in slowly. The early spring weather giving me a chilly welcome intensified it. I felt no emotional ease in the land of the morning calm.
I tried to dismiss the thought of me feeling homesick by thinking that I was just tired, hungry, and cold at that time. But the feeling lingered in the next days notwithstanding the heater in my room, the multiple layers of clothes in my body, and the hot and spicy foods on my table.
I dreaded the coming of night and the weekend for it meant being alone in my room. At least when in the workplace I have the company of my colleagues and my students and the work made me preoccupied.
During my first two weeks here in South Korea, I was admittedly in a funk and I knew I couldn’t afford to stay that way or else my job performance would be adversely affected. So, I resolved to address the problem. I know I have in my repertoire of skills something that I could summon to help me figure out how to get out of the said funk – and that’s my ability to bounce back from adversity.
The first thing I did was stop denying that I was longing for home. I stared homesickness in the eye. I treated it as a problem so I would be able to have the mindset that it could be resolved.
And much that I was missing home and my family, I tried to see if “Skyping” my loved ones in the Philippines longer than usual would help. Thank God it did. I pushed it further by requesting my wife as well that when we’re done talking she should not cut the Skype connection. I directed her to bring the laptop in any place in the house where I could see her and our son. That worked more wonders for me. Seeing my wife and my son moving around our house in the Philippines doing what they usually do and hearing the songs they listen to and other familiar sounds – the roosters crowing, the dogs barking, the horns of vehicles honking – was emotionally comforting.
I told some friends about those long video calls I have with my family. A couple of them ridiculed me saying it was too much. Well, their reaction was surprising but I just ignored them. I kept the habit for it worked wonders for me.
It’s hard to believe but I had homesickness figured out within my first month here in South Korea. Thanks to Skype and Facebook Messenger. Thanks also to South Korea’s fast internet connection that allows me to make a video call with my family practically anytime and wherever I am – home, office, or even in the mountain when I am hiking.
I and my family could Skype (or use the Facebook Messenger) as long as we want. But that wasn’t all the time. There are times as well that my wife or my son have pressing concerns and other things to attend to that makes connecting with them impossible.
Those are the times when I pursue my other passion – writing. I write stories, essays, poems, and research papers. I write in both English and Filipino. It’s only a hobby. Yes, sometimes I get paid for the things I write but I am doing it primarily for the immense joy and sense of satisfaction it gives me.
I have a lot of free time here in South Korea. That gave me the opportunity to create and maintain my own websites (M.A.D. LIGAYA and “Mukhang Poet”). The said websites serve as repository for my writings.
Maintaining my websites and creating their contents have been making me super busy so much so that I could no longer find time to be homesick. That word suddenly disappeared from my dictionary.
There were times that I could not even do my video calls to my family because I was busy attending to my websites. I became all the more busy after work when paid writing jobs started to pile up.
Nowadays, whenever people ask me how I got through homesickness, I already have a definite response – through long video calls with my family and writing.
Anyway, there are other activities that I do after work not only to keep homesickness away but to achieve work-life balance – watch movies and the sports I love, go to the gym, read books, and watch videos on personal growth and development. You may say I have a boring routine. But it works for me.
I do go out and hang out with the few close friends I have here in South Korea. But I have always been a lone wolf and a homebody. That is by choice for I wanted to avoid vices, troubles, and the negative conversations that people are so accustomed to doing when they are together. I came to South Korea to work and to find to what extent I could develop myself as a person and as a professional. I avoid intentionally anything (or anybody) that will not contribute to the achievement of the said goals.