powered by Holland at Home
Almost every Dutch emigrant feels a touch of ‘heimwee’ (homesickness) from time to time. Heimwee is usually mild and often no more than a vague feeling of nostalgia for the Netherlands or a simple yearning for the taste of some typical Dutch products from home. Yet in more severe cases, heimwee can make Dutch emigrants (or indeed any other emigrant or expat) seriously unhappy and may even blight their entire move abroad.
What exactly is heimwee?
Heimwee comes from the German word ‘Heimweh’, which means ‘longing for home’. It’s sometimes referred to as the ‘Swiss Disease’, because it was a Swiss doctor, Johan Höfer, who first noted the condition in the seventeenth century. He undertook a study of military personnel who were displaying signs of depression and spending all day thinking about home. They suffered from a range of symptoms including reduced appetite, insomnia, rapid breathing, anxiety and even fever. As soon as these soldiers returned home, Dr Höfer observed that their symptoms simultaneously disappeared.
Heimwee can manifest itself in a variety of ways, such as the romanticisation of the Netherlands, constantly thinking about family and friends left behind, feelings of acute loneliness, insecurity and depression and actual physical symptoms ranging from an upset stomach, to difficulty sleeping, headaches, lethargy and loss of appetite. Most emigrants only ever exhibit minor symptoms which might help explain why homesickness is commonly regarded as a trivial condition. 10 to 15 percent of cases, however, are more severe and can make a person so ill that they are no longer able lead a normal life. In these extreme situations, often the only solution may be to return home. Of course this kind of drastic action is thankfully rarely necessary for the majority of Dutch emigrants!
So, what’s the best way to deal with feeling homesick?
Homesickness is never entirely preventable, but fortunately there are many ways to reduce or manage the symptoms.
1. To avoid unrealistic expectations, it’s important that you and your family prepare mentally for life in your new home. Learn the language, read up on the country’s history, arm yourself with information on important practical matters such as taxation, health care and local schools etc. Involve those family and friends who will remain behind in your project and ensure that you say your ‘goodbyes’ before you leave.
2. Try and picture precisely who and what you’re likely to miss upon emigration. If you can visualise this in advance, you’ll be partly prepared before you’ve even left the Netherlands.
3. Don’t only pack the ‘essentials’ for your big move, but also those personal items that might help you to adjust more gradually. These might include favourite wall hangings, paintings, handicrafts, souvenirs, photos, trinkets and other family keepsakes.
4. Upon arrival, make an effort to integrate into your new country as quickly as possible. Join the local sports club, start work, go volunteer or get to know the neighbours. The sooner you build a strong social network, the less likely it is that you will miss your old circle of friends and the more quickly you’ll be able to assimilate.
5. Refrain from lengthy phone calls with those back home. Of course it’s always good to keep in touch, but try to avoid conversations centred around how much you miss each other. After all, you emigrated with the intention of an exciting fresh start, so it’s far better to focus on the positives and to gently let go of your previous life.
6. Visiting the Netherlands from time, in order to time to catch up with friends and family can be a real morale booster. But it’s also crucial that you prevent this from forming a regular habit if you want to truly settle in your chosen country.
7. Remain flexible! Things might not always go exactly as planned. This is as true for the emigration process as it is for life in general and accepting that there will be challenges along the way, will mean that you are better equipped to cope. And the more receptive you are to things that are ‘different’, the happier you’ll be in your new environment.
8. Treat yourself to things that remind you of home every now and then – nowadays you can order your favourite Dutch food products online and have them delivered direct to your front door wherever you may be in the world!
9. Never ignore your heimwee, rather acknowledge and discuss it with your partner, family and friends. If you don’t deal with your homesick feelings head-on, you’ll only be storing up trouble for the future!
10. Lastly, prepare a list of all the things that you dearly miss and those that you are glad to have left behind, such as the unpredictable Dutch weather or the interminable traffic jams. Include the reasons that you chose to emigrate in the first place and you’ll be able to focus on the positive aspects of your emigration in next to no time!
Although these tips might not work for everyone, they should certainly help make your emigration process less painful. The most important thing is to recognise and enjoy the countless benefits that go hand in hand with moving abroad and exploring pastures new. Good luck!