“so, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
never enough for both.”
The first time I read this quote from Ijeoma Umebinyuo, feelings of sadness and confusion splashed over me and I suddenly felt like I didn’t belong. At that time, I had been away from my home country for two years and I felt like a visitor there. It took over four years to find my own place here: it’s a happy medium that combines elements from my native culture and the new culture, which I’m still trying to call my “home.” Feeling out of place was one of the most challenging experiences I’ve had to endure but it certainty taught me some valuable lessons along the way.
If you’re someone who recently left home in pursuit of bigger and better opportunities and you’re struggling to find your place, here are some things to consider to help you cope with feelings of loss.
Recognize the symptoms. Is it loneliness? Homesickness? Sadness? Nostalgia? Recognizing and naming symptoms can help you understand where feelings are coming from and help you take control of how they affect your daily functioning. It’s important to understand that feeling sad doesn’t necessarily mean you’re depressed. Sadness can be situational. It doesn’t have to impact the rest of your day. It’s okay to feel sad and nostalgic when thinking about your past. In fact, it’s to be expected. Recognize that you can also move past it.
Be present. You may find yourself daydreaming about your old life without realizing how much you’re missing out. Looking back in time brings us a sense of comfort and induces a familiar feeling but it also keeps us from enjoying our new surroundings. Practice living in the moment and keep an open mind. Rather than fearing differences, welcome them and think of how much you can grow. As someone who enjoys routine and isn’t particularly fond of change, this was a challenge for me. I had to train myself to live in the present. It was so worth it. It’s incredible the things you learn when you allow yourself to step out of your comfort zone.
Find a purpose. Setting daily goals helps shift your focus and increase feelings of productivity. These goals can be anything that will make you feel like you’re working towards something. For me, it was choosing to focus on my health and incorporating a daily workout routine while tracking and monitoring my results. Did it help me fall in love with my new environment? I doubt it. But it did give me a reason to get out of bed every morning and it distracted me from negative thoughts.
Get involved. This is definitely easier said than done. Personally, I dreaded it. Everybody told me to “get out there,” go to events, and improve my network. What does all that even mean? Was I meant to show up at random places and initiate conversations with strangers? Connect with someone on LinkedIn and hope for the best? It took me months before I had the courage to sign up for an event that I found on the internet. Did I make new friends and keep in touch? Not that I recall, but it felt like an achievement. Overtime, attending events and talking to people became a lot less torturous. If you’re someone who doesn’t naturally blend in well with people, that’s okay. Don’t let that be a reason to keep you away from new opportunities. Instead, see it as a way to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. Why not try forcing yourself to attend an event at least once every two months?
Keep familiar things around you. As we integrate into the new environment, we may find ourselves slowly stepping away from our cultural roots. That’s totally normal! If you’re ever feeling homesick, do something that reminds you of home (i.e. listen to music, eat your favorite meal, etc.). As you make new friends, try introducing your favourite foods to them. Work on strengthening the connection between familiar sources of comfort and new sources of emotional support.
Allow time to take its course. Be patient. You’re not expected to adapt right away, and it may take you a few months or even a few years to find your place. In the meantime, try to enjoy the differences and accept the hardships. Allow yourself to grow and recognize the changes you’re making. Remember that change also means growth.
If there’s one major thing to take away from this post, it’s that finding your place is a combination of time and hard work rather than one or the other. With that time and effort it can be so rewarding!
Rasha is a therapist in our Toronto clinic. She provides therapy in English, French, and Arabic.