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Pining For Pineapple Lumps?

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Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

If you’ve ever spent a good length of time overseas working or travelling, then you probably know what I’m talking about.

You’re thinking of Pineapple Lumps when you should be memorising bus schedules, you’re checking the weather in your old country rather than glancing up at the sky in your new one, you’re saying “mate” far more than is actually necessary or pertinent to the conversation you’re having.

It’s that period when you’re caught between your old place and the new, when you’re in that half-here, half-there mode - you’re trying hard to integrate into your new environment, but you’re still thinking of home. You’ve got the Overseas Experience mind-split: you’re homesick.

That’s where I’m at this week; I recently migrated to the overcast shores of London and I’m finding it unexpectedly hard. Given how much I wanted to come to London, I’m surprised at how much I miss New Zealand.

In fact, it’s fair to say I left my heart in...well, Auckland.

You would think one person leaving the country is no big deal.

In fact, one “small” decision to move to London had consequences I hadn’t foreseen: my boss trying to convince me to stay; long-lost friends coming out of the woodwork wanting to go for goodbye drinks; an epic “luggage testing” session (conclusion: buy a suitcase with four wheels; if one goes seventy-five percent will still work); a friend frogmarching me around the upper North Island so I could see what I’d be missing ...more and more evidence to add to the “Why I Will Miss New Zealand” list, rather than the one that currently has “not a lot of musicals” on it.

More reasons to come to London, so I can really appreciate what I have in New Zealand.

But, it’s hard. A friend warned me about the Seven Day Rule.

“What’s the Seven Day Rule?”

“On all OE’s, exactly one week after arrival you are going to get so homesick that entire bag of Minties you have in your luggage won’t be able to save you.”

She was right- one week to the day and misery struck- I spent the day in my brand-new flat listening to Brooke Fraser and working my way through my Minties, trying to work out what organs I’d have to sell to afford a ticket back home. 

I’m on Facebook a sad amount of the time, stalking the friends I used to be able to just show up and talk to and now have to wait for their status updates in order to see how they are. For the friends I saw daily it’s worse- it’s funny how much you miss the normality of inane conversation, of routine- I miss getting an extra coffee mug down for my old flat mate and friend; I miss telling her off for being on Facebook too much (pot, kettle now.)

I log on daily to the New Zealand Herald site (and of course, Voxy) to see what’s going on. I text my sister useless pieces of information just to find an excuse to text her: “There was a bomb threat by Buckingham Palace this morning- don’t worry, turned out there was no bomb.” She sent one back saying “...What, exactly, am I supposed to do with that?”

Frederick W. Robertson said "Home is the one place in all the world where hearts are sure of each other. It is the place of confidence. It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defence, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts. It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush ot without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule." 

Charles Dickens said “Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.”

Given the power of “home”, it makes sense that I’m torn between my old home and my new one. So how do you get over this wonderful affliction called Homesickness that I appear to have come down with?

An interesting article on moving says that while moving is often cited as one of the most stressful life events, unlike marriage, graduations, births and deaths, moving is unmarked with ceremony or ritual. “As a result, movers invariably feel a sense of loss.”

In line with this, I think it’s important before you leave to do a goodbye party- or a goodbye pilgrimage in my case- visit the places, gather the people you love best in the country you are leaving- celebrate their existence. Trust me, you’ll feel a lot better about going.

Steven Coleman has an excellent list found here which basically falls under the Sort Your Crap Out category- he advises to make sure all your documents etc are in order before leaving, and that you know what documents you will need for when you arrive, and the ones you will have to fill out. I advocate this also, as I’ve never filled out so much paperwork as I did when I arrived in London. It may not help with the OE mind-split, but at least you won’t lose your mind over which photocopies you need of what documents. 

It is important to remember that you are not the only one going through it- there are a couple of expat blogs called Homesickwanderlust, and Aliented that I really like, just because someone else is/was going through it too.

Phenomenology Online has a great article on Homesickness that I love for its in depth attempt to understand homesickness by one who is so afflicted- entertaining and insightful.

Otherwise, common sense prevails- learn as much as you can about your new home- do the touristy stuff everyone says they’ll end up doing but never do; join clubs to do with things that interest you; accept all invitations out; stay positive and keep faith in yourself and the journey; keep sight of the reasons you have moved, keep sight of all the reasons you will return...all of which I’m doing with the sole exception of the Pilates class I just joined, which is not so much based on interest so much as the fact it’s close to my new home and only five pounds a class.

I’m learning the way to stave off homesickness is to build a new home, to build a new life. I’m accepting all invites to parties, barbeques, film fests, drinks - whatever comes my way, I’m saying yes. I’m starting to do my London List- a To Do list on my internet favourites that I’ve been bookmarking for the past year. I’m filling out the endless paperwork I’ve been sent for a bank account, National Insurance number, and Oyster (transport) card. I’m finding my local supermarkets, post shops, copy places and of, course- clothing stores. I'm looking for a job. I'm finding regular cafes (one with lamingtons popped up on my radar today). I’m integrating.

Britbound  have been invaluable as a source of information about the city and also as help for setting up with bank accounts, flats etc. I highly recommend them to anyone travelling to London or the United Kingdom in general- it is definitely stress free dealing with them and you get so much crossed off your To Do list in one go.

For anyone else in a similar position, I think the most important thing to remember is you’ve done the hard part. You’ve jumped off the cliff and booked the ticket: now it’s just a matter of landing on your feet- and with support on both sides of the world things can’t be too bad.

I’ll leave you with the thoughts of another, more experienced traveller:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain

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