When the Initial Excitement Wears Off
During your initial months of living in China, you’ll experience a roller coaster of emotions before things start to level out and become your new normal. There’ll be the excitement of moving to a new place, the adrenaline rush of exploring new sites and experiencing a new culture; and then there’ll be the lows of missing home–friends, family, food, and everyday comforts.
Before you find your new normal in China, and it becomes everyday life, it’s normal to have up days and down days. It’s easy and fun when you’re on the highs of your roller coaster, but the lows can hit hard. Just know that pretty much every expat has experienced this roller coaster, and those who have found their new normal in China remember their early days.
Tips and Advice from Experienced Expats
So, here’s some advice from experienced expats on how they made it through those low times:
“Always check your school calendar and make plans for holidays. Having something to look forward to is the best medicine for the homesick blues.
If you have children, make friends with other families. The sooner the kids settle in, the sooner the family will be happy.”
– Riaan Loots, currently living in Shenzhen, originally from South Africa
“The number one thing that has helped me over the years is getting out and doing something. That means leaving the house. It can be as simple as going to buy groceries or checking out a new part of the neighborhood, but it is important to get out and not get stuck at home thinking about how miserable you are.
Pretty simple but it has always helped me.”
– Stephen Howard, currently living in Shenzhen, originally from Washington, U.S.A.
“I think the biggest part of my not feeling “homesick” is making sure that I actually feel like China IS my home. A big lesson I learned was how important it is to have a life outside of work–find a hobby (despite being an atrocious artist, I took a Chinese painting class, now I’m taking Chinese language lessons, salsa dancing, etc.). Not only will this help balance your life, it gives you more of a sense of community. I work really hard at making sure that I have social friends with whom I do not work. Walking into the grocery store or a restaurant and seeing people I recognize really makes me feel like I’m ‘home’ and not just visiting or ‘staying for a while.’
Also, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese! Every summer I bring a dozen boxes back from the U.S. so that I have my ultimate comfort food when I just want a taste of the U.S.”
– Amy London, currently living in Hangzhou, originally from Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
“How to Beat the Homesick Blues for First-Time Expats:
1. Pamper yourself! China is great for affordable manicures, pedicures, haircuts, and foot and body massages.
2. Travel locally. For this, use WeChat to follow local travel groups. Most of the organizers are bilingual and they offer day experiences like making mooncakes, Chinese calligraphy, hiking, and city tours. Traveling this way is also an easy way to meet new people in your city.
3. Keep yourself active: go to the gym, try a Kung Fu lesson, yoga, or Tai Chi.
4. Make your Instagram happy! Go and explore local shops, walk around your city and find art galleries, light installations, tea houses, coffee shops, local markets and take pictures to make all your friends at home jealous with your adventures.
5. Plan ahead for your next holiday. There are many beautiful countries nearby that can actually be cheaper than staying in China.”
– Perla Hinojosa, currently living in Hangzhou, originally from Mexico
“The best method I know to fight homesickness is to remind yourself why you left home in the first place. If you love to travel, then do a weekend trip, or start planning for your next long vacation. If food is your passion, find a new restaurant or try a new dish. If the joy of discovery is what you are after, then nothing is easier than wandering about in your new city for a while. The hard part is done and you have moved abroad. Now it’s time to go out and enjoy it!”
– Jennifer Meade, currently living in Shenzhen, originally from Florida, U.S.A.
“I’d give myself a ‘refresh’ weekend when I noticed my daughters or I were getting a little overwhelmed by the move. We’d either have a staycation at a hotel with ‘western’ comforts (like a bathtub and breakfast buffet with waffles) or a weekend trip to Hong Kong or Macao where we’d get hotel comforts and a nice change of pace in a city where English is spoken a little more. It’d re-energize and remind us how fortunate we are to experience China.”
– Rachel Zanardi, currently living in Shenzhen, originally from Texas, U.S.A.
“1. Make sure you have set up a communication line in the form of WeChat or Whatsapp to feel connected to your family at home and to reach out to them when you need to talk.
2. Order your favorite food from a food delivery company like Shenzhen Eat or another local source to help you feel like you can still find things you like in your new surroundings.
3. Make time to meet as many of your new colleagues as possible and try to make plans to explore in the first couple of weeks. Being busy and getting a network of people with similar interests is my number one pick for enjoying expat life!
4. Find an activity, club, community, or sport that is available in your area on sources like That’s Guangdong, Shenzhen Party, or similar websites to get you active in the community.
5. Be kind to yourself and understand that there are days that will be harder than others. Holidays and birthdays are the days we can feel the loneliest. I recommend planning activities that make these days more enjoyable abroad.”
– Jessica Loots, currently living in Shenzhen, originally from South Africa
“Living abroad isn’t easy. If it was, more people would do it. It means giving up many of the possessions, routines, and relationships you’re used to. It’s not an uneven loss though, as you gain mobility, flexibility, and opportunities to redefine yourself and your lifestyle. Feeling a little down? Take a moment to capitalize on your new surroundings. Go out with new friends, take a trip to a place you’ve never been, or buy yourself something new. That’s the great benefit in all of this; something new.”
– Andrew Meade, currently living in Shenzhen, originally from Michigan, U.S.A.
And when all else fails…
“A positive attitude to life everywhere is my mantra.”
– Karen Hill, currently living in Shenzhen, originally from Australia