How I’ve dealt with homesickness in France

Trying to integrate in France. Just kidding, this was my costume for a Bastille night fancy dress party.

I have wanted to work abroad for as long as I can remember and even though I love France, there are times when I would love to be back in the UK. I think that everyone experiences homesickness on some level and it’s deeper than just an initial need to create a routine or sense of normality in your new environment. My husband has worked in France for 20 years and would describe himself as a fully fledged Francophile, yet he still has moments (albeit very occasionally) when he wishes he was back in England. We all need to feel love, protection and security and without these things in our life we start to crave familiarity and security, which for many people means being at home close to family and friends. I think it’s normal to feel homesick at times, especially when you’re living in a different country, but it’s how you deal with these emotions that is important.
After all this time of feeling homesick from time to time, I’m still here and for the most part, enjoying my time here. So it can’t be that bad. Well, no it isn’t, but I have worked hard to overcome these feelings and to make the most of my life in France. Here are just a few things that have helped me to feel settled here and reduce my longing to go home:

Get to know and get excited about your local area
When I worked in the Loire Valley I lived ten minutes drive from the stunning
Château de Chambord and a ten minute walk to beautiful views overlooking the Loire River, so this one was super easy for me! However, it doesn’t matter where you are, it’s really important to go out and explore your local area if you want to feel happy in your new home. I knew that I wouldn’t always be lucky enough to call the Loire Valley home, so I made myself a list of all the things I wanted to see and do there and every time I had a day off, went a did one of them. I worked there for almost three years and still didn’t tick everything off my to do list! Spending your days off doing what other people have paid to do on their holiday is one of my favourite things about working in the travel industry. I have so many fantastic memories of the Loire Valley now and some life changing moments happened for me in the grounds of the different Châteaux of the Loire. Getting engaged under the bridges of
Château de Chenonceau was absolutely the highlight.

Chenonceau, one of my favourite places in France

Enjoy the local food and wine
One of the best things about travelling is getting to try all the different foods that country has to offer and there’s a very good reason why France is so famous for it’s food and wine! I’d obviously eaten cheese before I moved to France, but in the UK I’ve never been for a walk around my local village and returned with a freshly baked baguettes, cheese from a local dairy farm and wine that was harvested and bottled just a few kilometres away from where we lived. Returning home to eat my purchases in the sunshine was a wonderful experience, proving that sometimes the best things in life are the simple things. In the Loire we lived within walking distance of a fantastic, family owned vineyard and just a short drive from an independent, but delicious, chocolatier and made sure I went to both of them as often as I could! Just before I left for France for the first time, I put a post on Facebook asking for advice on what I should take with me. Lots of people responded with great advice, but my favourite comment was from an old work colleague who said, “Don’t take a damn thing! Embrace the French kitchen, they have everything you need and more!” She was absolutely right.

Goats cheese from Lemey Frères and baguettes from the local boulangerie in Muides sur Loire

Embrace the culture
French life may not be hugely different to life in the UK, but there are still differences and it can take a while to adapt. When I first moved here I found it really frustrating when shops shut for a two hour, sometimes longer, lunch or when all the supermarkets would be shut by 7.30pm. Now that I’m used to it, I absolutely adore the slower pace of life and the focus on work life balance that the French have. When things are closed at lunch time or by early evening, it means you have no choice but to go home and enjoy your evening with your family. I also found it helpful to read the local news and get involved in local events. In the Loire, I was an avid reader of the Nouvelle Republique and without this newspaper I wouldn’t have known about or taken part in my first half marathon in Tours or met François Hollande. Ok, I didn’t meet him exactly, I shook his hand while he was on an official visit to open the gardens at
Château de Chambord, but it was still a really interesting day!

I also think it helps to find yourself a good local, preferably one that isn’t frequented by tourists. We used to go to great little tabac in the village of Muides sur Loire where the locals went when they finished work. It was wonderfully French and we were made to feel very welcome by the owners and the other locals. The owners would even “faire la bise” with us, which is a sure sign of acceptance in the local area.

Shaking hands with François Hollande

Learn the language
When I first moved to France, I specifically searched for jobs abroad that didn’t require a language and that is essentially how I ended up working in the travel industry! It was a fantastic way to get a job working overseas, but not knowing the local language, beyond the basics you learn at school, does cause other issues. I was vegetarian when I moved here and I remember going to a restaurant with my now husband, but boyfriend at the time, and asking the waitress for a vegetarian meal. She replied, and although I couldn’t understand everything she said, I know she said something positive so I just responded with “Oui, s’il vous plaît”. Chris advised me that she had just said that she would make me a salmon dish and I had agreed to it, despite the fact that I don’t eat fish. Whilst not the worst thing that could happen, it would have definitely would have ruined my meal! I am still far from fluent and my language learning journey is very much ongoing, but on occasion my job has required me to have some very difficult conversations. Having struggled through “what’s the best way to send these 11 tent gazebos to Austria please” in the Post Office or “I need sixty rectangular pillows please” in Ikea has left me with the biggest sense of accomplishment and pride at how far I’ve progressed. It is very difficult to completely integrate when you don’t speak the language. However, you don’t have to be fluent. Just a few key words or phrases is enough for people to see that you have made the effort and this will be appreciated.

Go home!
The main thing I missed was the people back at home and I’m pretty sure this is the most difficult thing for most people when they move overseas. This is especially difficult when family and friends are going through difficult times or when you are missing exciting life events, like when you’re friend has a baby and you can’t get home for a couple of month. It’s really hard!­ While it’s important to integrate yourself in to your new home as much as possible, I also think it’s important to go home when you need to. People often feel they can’t go home, particularly when doing a seasonal job. However, if you miss all your friends weddings and other important family events, you’ll probably start to feel resentful about your situation and miss home even more. Last year I flew home at the last minute for my niece’s christening and I was so grateful that I did. I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I hadn’t gone home and I know my sister appreciated the effort.
At the end of my first week in France, I honestly thought I’d made a mistake moving overseas. I was very tired, hadn’t had any chance to explore the local area and barely had time to speak to my work colleagues. When I look back, I can totally understand why I thought about leaving, but I’m not someone who gives up easily and in reality, I was never going to go home so soon.

Just six weeks after I thought about going home, I met my future husband. Who knows how differently things would have worked out if I hadn’t stuck with it? Feelings of homesickness still resurface from time to time, but I’ve lived here long enough to know how to deal with this now. In fact, in my next blog post I will talk about what I’ve done and plan to do to adjust to life overseas this time!

Have you experienced homesickness while living and working abroad? How did you deal with it?

Thanks for reading.
A bientot,
Catherine xx

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