Expats’ invisible enemy
Published on September 1, 2014
DUBAI Hope for a better future for her family is what led Lucy Banks to leave her two-year-old child and husband behind. New job, new place, a ‘new phase’ in her life — all at a heavy cost of an agonising heartache — the pain of leaving behind her family and friends.
The first few weeks, after the 27-year old’s arrival in Dubai, were spent in anguish as she spent sleepless nights crying for her only baby.
“I prepared myself mentally and emotionally before coming here to work. But no amount of preparation could spare you once loneliness sets in and when you begin to miss your loved ones,” she says.
It comes as no surprise that Banks’ case is not the only one in the UAE. Being separated from loved ones is a common factor amongst expatriates who come to work in the UAE.
According to the United Nations estimates in 2013, out of a total population of 9.2 million, the UAE had 7.8 million migrants — the fifth largest stock of international migrants in the world.
This comes as a direct result of the nation’s popularity. UAE attracts both low and high skilled expatriates due to its economy, relative political stability and modern infrastructure.
Just like Banks, Irfan Khan came to Dubai seeking better employment opportunities and higher living standards for him and his family back in India.
The father of five left his family 17 years ago to earn a living. “Every time I return back home I hardly recognise my children, as I can only visit them every four years. Almost all my life I have lived outside of my country. I never saw how my children grew up, never had the chance to play with them,” says Khan.
Samineh Shaheem, a psychologist who studies homesickness among expatriates, says homesickness goes beyond missing or mourning the loss of a familiar place. It’s brought about by lost memories and a lack of family attachment. Though homesickness is considered rare in adults, research suggests it can be experienced at any point of an adult’s life. With people increasingly migrating to bigger cities or different countries, its feeling is in fact shared by many. “People can feel homesick by moving just a street away,” says social psychologist Dr Gary Wood. It’s all about how we cope with change, he adds.
Relocating to another country or a foreign environment can be a daunting experience, particularly for those who do not speak the language or when there is a cultural shock. This can be made worse during traditional or religious holidays when away from home and family.
“I miss my family especially on special occasions like Eid or if there is some other problem like if someone died. We cannot afford to go back to our home country always and hence, this is the time when we feel stuck and frustrated,” says Khan.
Homesickness can lead to severe health problems, including psychological insecurities. Although less common, physical symptoms of homesickness can include sleep disturbance and headaches. However, the most common effects of homesickness are depression and anxiety, which if not addressed, may lead to negative outcomes in everyday life.
Social withdrawal or unwillingness to engage in and commit to social events is a behavioural symptom associated with homesickness. At workplace, laziness within the first few weeks can be linked to homesickness.
So how do you overcome homesickness? Rather than allowing homesickness to get the better of you, there are several ways to overcome this emotional hurdle.
One of the most important tasks is to take good care of you. This includes eating well, getting enough sleep and some form of physical exercise. This will help you to establish a routine, thereby creating a balance between work and leisure.
Trying to connect with others is another vital step in improving your emotional wellbeing. By making new friends we are able to create a support network, which is a necessity for off-loading stress. This will also help you get involved in different activities and events. Exploring your surroundings, seeking out interesting places, being active and making time to familiarise yourself with your community can have drastic improvements in your life.
Khan and the rest of his building-mates, call friends and family at 5.30 am every day. “We buy Dh20 phone credit and spend it by calling our family. This is the only way that keeps us going,” he says.
Finally, planning a home visit can be really helpful, as it keeps makes you a positive person thereby enabling you to focus more on your goals and targets. “I have made a countdown for my annual leave next year. I keep track of the remaining days and months… and that definitely helps,” says Banks.
1. Do you know anyone who has been a victim of homesickness?
2. How do you overcome homesickness?
3. Is there any way your employer can alleviate homesickness?
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