Monday, March 31, 2014

Surviving Homesickness in Madrid


I may love living in Madrid, but that doesn't mean that I'm immune to homesickness. About a month ago I got mono, and four lethargic weeks later, I'm still sick. Inevitably, with sickness comes the longing for mom's cooking, the comfort of my own bed, cuddling with my cats during movie marathons, and simply being taken care of. I'm a long ways from home, and homesickness has decidedly hit.

For six months I avoided homesickness by constantly staying busy. "The busier I am," I thought to myself, "the less time I have to think about home!" My strategy was serving me well until I got sick, and then I finally had to sit still with my thoughts.

That's not to say that I don't love Spain - no, that would be crazy talk. I'm obsessed with this place. Being homesick surely isn't the most pleasant feeling in the world, but it's definitely a manageable one. All expats are susceptible to it, but we're also perfectly capable of overcoming it. Here's how I deal with homesickness in Madrid:


If I'm exceptionally homesick on any given day, you can find me hightailing it to the nearest Starbucks and seeking refuge there, consoling myself with chai tea lattes and pretending that I’m back in Seattle. This little sanctuary of mine was particularly revitalizing around Thanksgiving, when I was heartbroken over the fact that I couldn’t feast upon turkey and gluten-free stuffing with my family. When I was holed up there on Thanksgiving Day, missing my parents and moping over the sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie that I couldn't eat, the store started playing Death Cab for Cutie as if it knew exactly how to comfort me.



At first I avoided using Skype because I thought that it would make being far away from my family and friends that much harder. I tried not to think about the need for Skype in hopes that avoiding it would help me acclimate to life in Madrid faster. Now I know that I was being delusional. I've since come to realize that Skype is in fact a huge (and necessary) blessing, because you know what? Face to face contact is crucial when it comes to relationships. You don't get that kind of closeness via email or texting. Here's my reality check: you actually miss people less when you are able to see their faces every once in a while.

I also just learned how to FaceTime (welcome to 2014, Courtney...) and I finally chatted face to face with my best friend for the first time since Christmas. I was surprised by how much less homesick I was after FaceTiming her, and I felt cheerful and revitalized for the rest of the week.

My point being: don't distance yourself because you think seeing your loved ones' faces will just make it harder. At the end of the day, Skype is a huge mood booster and homesickness reducer. Embrace it.


No offense Spain, but when I’m missing my mom’s home cooked meals and my favorite restaurants back in Seattle, the last things I crave are patatas bravas or jamón. No, no, tortilla española and huevos rotos just won’t do. Instead, I seek out American comfort food, whether that be cooking gluten-free Mac & Cheese at my apartment (thanks for the care package, dad!) or going to Carmencita Bar for brunch – where there’s actually real bacon, hash browns and mimosas.

Sometimes I’ll head over to Taste of America, a small chain of stores here in Spain that import goodies from the States. If I wanted to, I could buy peanut butter and Betty Crocker cake mixes there, although it would probably cost me a small fortune. (A box of Fruit Loops costs almost 10 euros!) While I'm allergic to most of the foods sold there (and I probably couldn't afford them anyways), just wandering through the store feels oddly comforting.

Nevertheless, what I miss the most about Seattle is Whole Foods, in all of its organic kale-and-quinoa-loving glory. It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally found some healthy restaurants that mimic the Pacific Northwest's health-crazed, alternative spirit. My new go-to place is Federal, which uses mostly fresh, organic ingredients and even serves a killer green juice. Not to mention, their breakfast dishes are reminiscent of my favorite brunch locales in Seattle.

Baked eggs with spinach, goat cheese and caramelized onions alongside green juice at Federal. The closest thing I can get to real brunch on this side of the Atlantic!


Printing out pictures and bringing them to Spain with me was arguably one of the best decisions I made when I left. They're now hanging on my walls and residing in frames on my desk, reminding me of how rich my life is no matter where in the world I am. Every day I look at them and realize how grateful I am to have these amazing people in my life. Being surrounded by such pleasant memories brings good vibes into my living space. And besides, looking at blank white walls is just depressing.

Adorning my room with pictures from back home has made my apartment that much more of a 
happy space.


The key to overcoming homesickness is simple: get out of the house and explore. Having mono and all, every day I'm tempted to come home from work and just sleep for a few hours, further toying with the possibility of not leaving my house for the rest of the day. I mean, even without mono I love a nice siesta just as much as any Spaniard, but giving in to my natural instinct to hibernate all day isn't going to help me.

As soon as I get over my languid sloth-like state and step out the door, I'm overwhelmed by how gorgeous Madrid is. A simple walk around the block does wonders for reducing my homesickness, so you can imagine how great it feels to squeeze in an entire day of adventures around the city.

Not only does getting out and exploring cause me to fall more & more in love with Madrid, but it also makes it feel more like home. Every new restaurant, café and plaza I discover makes the city feel a bit more like my own. The more I feel at home in Madrid, the less I focus on missing the States.

A moment captured on one of my random photo walks through Madrid. I fall in love with the buildings and colors of every street I walk down.

While I still struggle with missing my parents and the comforts of home, I love Madrid too much to let homesickness define my experience here. Such feelings of nostalgia and rootlessness are a natural part of moving to a foreign country, but I believe that they are manageable when you implement the right survival tactics.

Have you ever dealt with homesickness abroad? 
What helped you overcome it? 


12 comments:

  1. Embarrassingly when I'm homesick I watch a marathon of really shitty TV, like the bachelor!

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    1. Haha I love it! That always does the trick too :)

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  2. omg GREEN JUICE IN SPAIN?! ahh that's unheard of!! I can't wait to check out Federal when I pass through Madrid in a few weeks, & I might have to find an apartment near there when I move back in Sept...

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    1. I know, it's incredible! Technically it's called a "smoothie" on their menu, but it's consistency is definitely more like a juice. Or maybe a mix between both. Either way, it's green and delicious, and I'm obsessed.

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  3. I'm glad you're not letting your homesickness overcome you! I actually got homesick while I was living in Brasil for a bit, however when I returned home I figured out I missed Brasil more than I missed home when I was there! Crazy how that works huh?

    It's a blessing to be able to experience another part of the world and you are a very lucky lady, just always remember that! :)

    XX
    Marisha
    avidaebelaofm.blogspot.com

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    1. It's true, I'm sure the minute I move back to the USA (eventually...) I'll be missing Spain more than I ever missed Seattle! It always seems to work out that way :)

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  4. My homesickness went away after a good three years here. It took making a life in Spain and finally feeling comfortable with work, friends and Spanish.

    And Starbucks is always my go-to when I feel it creep up from time to time (usually around football season). It used to be a splurge for me when I was an auxiliar, but now it's something that I can afford!

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    1. Ah yes, missing football season over here was the worst! Nothing that a grande chai tea latte from Starbucks can't fix though!

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  5. Thanksgiving was roughhhh for me too! I agree with Jess; trashy TV binges are definitely my go-to for homesickness....or maybe just to forget about it for a couple of hours.

    AMEN to missing Whole Foods and green juices....every time i go to the grocery store I'm reminded of how amazing that place is. I'm going to tell my family to have a kombucha and kale salad waiting for me upon my arrival. In the meantime, let's plan a whole foods style picnic on my terrace for some post Semana Santa sunbathing!

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    1. I completely agree - health food terrace party pronto!

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  6. I hope you're feeling better soon and back to normal! :)

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    1. Thank you! It's taken awhile but I finally am!

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