Being homesick is worse than having the flu on vacation. It is annoying, inconvenient, embarrassing at times, and worst of all seemingly self-inflicted. Left unchecked it can even lead to legitimate problems affecting mental and physical health, happiness, and overall well-being. And it can even sneak up on seasoned expats who have already been away from home for years.
Fortunately however, homesickness is treatable, and even curable. Of course there is plenty of info online describing the value of getting to know your new surroundings, discovering new foods and cultures, making new friends, not forgetting your old ones, staying active, and much more, but is it possible that the smartphone in your pocket could also be of help?
In theory a smartphone is designed to be nothing more than an inanimate object that keeps us organized and connected. But as we have all learned, our phones are more like dear little friends: apps keep us from getting lost, remind us of appointments, keep track of our errands and tons more. So like any good companion, a smartphone can help a lonely expat through a spell of homesickness too. The key is to load up on some apps that keep your mind busy, as well as keep you connected to home and out of trouble in your new locale.
The ubiquitous social networking app that is the bane of teenagers’ parents around the globe, Facebook is actually a pretty good tool for combating homesickness when used responsibly. Keeping up with old friends, family and even your parents is easy when you can check their status everyday (just don’t do it every hour). Facebook is also a good way to develop friendships and keep in touch with people in your new area.
Skype and/or Facetime
Skype has been around for years, and the early issues with using the program on mobile devices are finally sorted out to the point that you really can have a Skype chat with anyone around the world from just about anywhere in the world. Plus, by subscribing to a calling plan or adding Skype Credit, it turns your smartphone into an affordable international calling service so you can hear the voices of those you left behind. Best of all though, with Skype you can also see the smiling faces attached to those people, which makes missing them a little bit less painful. And for iPhone and iPad owners, Facetime basically does all of these task equally well, though it will only connect to other Facetime users.
Facebook purchased the rights to Instagram for $1 billion dollars but luckily for us the app is still free to use. Expats love Instagram because it makes sharing photos, and now even short videos, super easy. And really, one of the biggest joys of being an expat is experiencing the new culture and people around you. With Instagram you can snap pictures of the insanity on the roads, that incredible (or disgusting) dish of food you are about to eat, or some breathtaking scenery and instantly make all your followers jealous. Plus, you will get constant photos of your sister’s newborn baby or your younger brother’s new car, so you can feel like you are right there at home for a few minutes every day.
Experts always say you should write your emotions down as a way to cope with them. But why not start a blog instead? Tumblr is a free and easy way to post thoughts, pictures, links, rants and just about any other digital media, and then you can share it if you so desire. Plus, you can also check out other people’s Tumblr blogs. Blog something that other people might enjoy reading, and put some thought into it - consider blogging about your expat experiences to help other future expats know what they are getting into.
Text messages are now a part of how humans communicate. But being overseas can make sending emoticons and abbreviated conversations back to home base a bit tricky, unless you use WhatsApp. Teens have jumped on the bandwagon worldwide, saving their parents bazillions of dollars in SMS charges as a result by sending text messages and pictures over Wi-Fi or a 3/4G data package, and any homesick expat should too. The biggest reason WhatsApp is great is because it works everywhere your smartphone is connected to the internet, so it’s free and easy to send short messages to anywhere in world.
Walkie-talkies are awesome, and in some ways modern smartphones fall short of these push-to-talk mobile communication pioneers, even if it is only due to nostalgia. Now though, smartphones can be turned into walkie-talkies that put this old school technology back in your hands, plus you can send text and picture messages too. Shortwave radios never could reach around the globe in the past, but thanks to the internet, you can now queue up your friends or family and talk like its 1942. Best of all, Voxer puts all the power in one of the user’s fingers because, just like a real walkietalkie, the person pressing the button and talking can’t be interrupted until they release. Very handy during a lover’s spat.
Local Public Transit and Mapping Apps
Being lost is lame. And one of the biggest reasons expats feel homesick is because they don’t feel comfortable or acquainted with their new environs. Having a few apps that help you conquer the local bus and/or train system will keep you from being constantly lost, which goes a long way toward reducing frustration. Download the public transit apps for your new home as well as putting your phone’s maps and GPS to work. These are especially helpful if you don’t speak the local language and therefore can’t ask for directions.
Local Nightlife and Entertainment Apps
Not being lost is good, but having somewhere fun to go is better. Get a few apps that let you know what is going in your new city; it will be helpful in making sure that you don’t spend every night home alone watching YouTube videos. Check out some of the local culture, music, restaurants and events, and invite your new friends to join you. Then Instagram it. Also, a bit of quick Googling will usually turn up plenty of other people, expats and locals, who have the same hobbies and interests that you had at home, so you can often pick right back up where you left off before moving abroad, but with a whole new group of friends and acquaintances.
All of these apps, and tons more that aren’t mentioned but could prove helpful, are available from iTunes for Apple devices and Google Play for Android, and most are free, so there is no excuse for not taking a technologically proactive stance against your expat homesickness.
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