At Octagon, we understand the challenges expats face when adjusting to life in a new country, particularly the Netherlands. As expats ourselves, we are committed to easing this transition for our clients and their employees. Recognising that homesickness is a common struggle for expatriate workers, we wanted to provide with this article, 5 practical coping strategies to help them thrive in their new environment. 

Understanding Homesickness 

Homesickness is often considered a symptom of cultural shock experienced by migrants and expats living abroad. While there are clear distinctions between the effects on these two groups, our focus in this article will be on expats. 

The impact of homesickness on expats’ lives can manifest through both mental and physical conditions, posing obstacles for the professionals and, as a result, for their employers. In a study published in the German Journal of HRM about expatriates and homesickness, participants of the study admitted that their homesickness impacted their work performance. Particularly early in assignments, managers of the expatriates were concerned about the many errors made, causing backlogs and customer complaints. In other cases, employees were showing their unhappiness at the office, negatively impacting the morale of the whole team. 

To address this and improve the quality of life of international employees, we encourage companies to implement a thorough pre-onboarding and onboarding process for expat employees. This should help set some clear and honest expectations about the new culture and work life, and as a result, provide coping mechanisms and support to these international employees. According to this study, employers can make a significant difference alleviating homesickness with specific initiatives helping international employees adapt to the culture.  Here are a few coping strategies that have been proven to minimise the effects of homesickness.  

1. Stay connected to home 

Living abroad will make it much more difficult to stay connected with family back home. However, isolating yourself from support networks and familiar faces can increase feelings of homesickness rather than alleviate them. Make the extra effort to maintain regular communication with family and friends to help strengthen connections and discover new forms of affection. When you share your new experiences, from the new places you have visited to the different flavours you have tasted, and embrace new traditions, you enrich your life abroad and you cultivate a positive outlook. In addition, staying in touch encourages your loved ones to visit you, so that together you can live those experiences you told them about and create memories together in your new home. 

We asked our expat staff how they keep in touch with family back home. Some people send and receive care packages. One of our colleagues send a video of their commute every single day, and receive one in return. They turn off the notification sound from their family back home so they can be texting, even at inconvenient hours due to time differences. The most tried-and-true way of maintaining contact? Have a regular appointment to call home. Even if you can’t make it every single time, at least you will have it scheduled!  

2. Build a Support Network 

Making friends or interacting with people for the first time as an adult is challenging in itself. We understand how daunting it can be, especially in a different language and country, and particularly in Dutch culture, where friendships are often built at an early age. However, starting from scratch in the Netherlands has its advantages, as you will encounter a wide variety of nationalities. We encourage you to get out, connect and participate. Join social networking groups, participate in professional networking events, attend expat meet ups and explore hobbies that allow you to meet new people.  

One of the most common ways expats meet and build their expat support network? Dutch language classes! Many people in these groups share similar experiences and interests, making it easy to connect and build meaningful relationships. We definitely encourage that you reach out and find these expat communities. But try not stay exclusively in these communities – or else you’ll get stuck in the “expat bubble” and miss out on experiencing a new culture. 

3. Embrace the new culture and lifestyle 

As we have highlighted in one of our previous blogs, immersing yourself in the culture is crucial, and that includes embracing all aspects of the culture, not just focusing on the “less exciting” parts. It is important to recognize and take advantage of the many wonderful opportunities that living in a new country offers. After all, you have chosen to live here for a reason, right? We believe that the Netherlands offers numerous advantages for expatriates, and we encourage you to explore and discover them. Visit museums, attend festivals, delve into its rich history: consider it a unique opportunity not just for sightseeing and making money, but to truly immerse yourself in a new and probably different culture. If your company regularly hires expats, find out if your company has any specific initiatives or networks for these employees. If there is not one – try forming one yourself!  

4. Create a familiar space wherever you live 

For us, as for many before us, home is not simply a place; home is wherever we make it. You live in a new country, therefore, everything is unfamiliar. Your home should be the one place which feels familiar – so make the effort to make it your own! Decorate to your taste. Incorporate traditional elements from your home country, hang photos of your family and friends and make sure to create new memories alongside them. Invest time in making your surroundings as welcoming as possible. Homesickness can also be triggered by simple things, such as not feeling at home. 

5. Practice Self-Care and Well-Being 

Last but not least, be sure to seek additional help if you feel you need it. If you lack motivation, feel frustrated and can’t find happiness, it may be a sign to seek expert assistance. Remember, this is an opportunity for you and it shouldn’t be detrimental to your well being. Consider seeking counselling to gain clarity and overcome any obstacles you encounter along the way. Dealing with feelings of homesickness early can prevent them from becoming a bigger issue in your life. 

Also, strive to maintain your routines or establish new ones that you are comfortable with. Eat meals you enjoy, take leisurely walks or join a gym. Organise your life so that you can enjoy your free time and take advantage of your new environment to connect more and more with it. 

Everyone experiences homesickness at one point or another during their work life abroad. We know that with the right strategies and support, expats can overcome homesickness and fully embrace their new life abroad. By implementing effective coping mechanisms, you can navigate the challenges of expat life with confidence and make your journey abroad a truly rewarding experience.  

Do you want to know more? 

At Octagon we are committed to the onboarding process for all international professionals who decide to take the leap and move to the Netherlands to work with us and our clients.  

If you are an international company in the Netherlands who works with international employees – we can help you develop an action plan to minimize the impact of homesickness and improve your expat employees’ overall experience. Contact us today to learn more about our solutions.