Recently I had a conversation with a friend who left his home country 20 years ago and came to Australia. He described and exalted the habits and food culture of his birth nation as if he was still there. This got me thinking about a common problem migrants face: holding on tight to an image of the home they left years ago. This is not a smart idea and here is why.
First, I am not saying he should never feel homesick about certain aspects of his life back home. We all feel homesick at some stage when we migrate to another country, it’s a normal reaction. What I mean here is something beyond homesickness. When you continue to idealize your home back home as perfect, pure, and unchanged to the point it becomes your reference for everything in the new country.
The result of this is that you will end up separating yourself from the new country. Separation here means you behave like you value your heritage and culture so much that you do not want to learn about the new culture. Using separation from the local country as an adjustment strategy is bad for your mental well-being. It makes you prone to depression, anxiety, and poorer enjoyment in the new land. Like you become a bit cynical towards your new country( you did not come here for that). This is not smart thinking.
Second, places change. I remember flying back to Mozambique 3 years after I was in Australia and had the shock of my life. I could not make sense of the directions while driving to my brother’s place. New highways, road expansions, and lots of road work. I had to stop by the side of the road and call my brother to redirect me. I knew how to get there when I lived in Moz before coming here. The place had changed.
Third, culture changes too. This includes food culture, again I was shocked by the number of fast-food chains that expanded in the main parts of the city. I can no longer say Mozambique is fast-food-free like it was some 20 years ago. The local food culture had clearly changed. It was no longer saying it had the healthiest food culture.
Fourth, people and societies move on. I visited my previous job to find that my friend got a promotion while I was away. We started working in the same year and soon after I left to come to Australia. She was now the National Deputy Director of Commerce and we started in the same year. Things did not freeze or wait for me.
What to do? Accept the loss, accept the fact that you cannot be in two different places anymore. Be curious and flexible don’t hate your host country(not so host anymore after all these years of residency). Recreate a new identity that does not require you to constantly recall back home to feel safe.
Clearly, you may have to sacrifice some values to adjust but let it be and find the freedom to belong. But remember this can be your home if you want it to.