It’s amazing what a difference a couple of months can make. When my son was heading back to his overseas college after Christmas break, he was feeling pretty down about spending the next few months far away from home. He had a tough first semester, feeling very homesick and out of place. He was thinking that maybe he wouldn’t go back for his sophomore year but rather try to transfer to a school closer to home. As a mom, I badly wanted to help him feel better but there wasn’t much I could do. All I could say was: give it a little bit of time and things will be different, and if they aren’t, you can always come home.

Of course, I had no way of knowing how he would feel, whether time would really help him settle in or not. All I could do was to think back to my own first few months in college. I remember how very homesick and lost I felt, and I only moved two hours away from home, by car. My son is a 10-hour plane-ride away – no wonder he was homesick!

I also know by now that when moving to a new country (whether far away or not), there is going to be a learning curve, there are going to be moments of feeling like you don’t belong. And this is where time helps, because the more you are exposed to everyday life in your new country, the more “normal” (for lack of a better word) it seems and the less surprised you are by how people line up for the bus or eat their fries. And one day, you’ll find yourself dipping your fries in mayo without even thinking about it, even though it was the grossest thing you’d ever seen just a few short months ago.

With time you also get a chance to build relationships and make connections, which is extremely important for an overall sense of wellbeing. I am not suggesting that any of this happens automatically or without work, I am simply saying that time is a necessary ingredient in order to make a new place feel like home.

Back to my son, who now has a few more months under his belt and with that, a whole new perspective. Just a couple of weeks ago he signed a lease together with four other guys for an apartment rental for next year. We have gone from near daily FaceTime sessions to maybe chatting once a week. Between the time difference and his now busy schedule, he simply doesn’t have the time, nor the need. Just this week he was playing volleyball, going to a concert and having his standing weekly dinner with a group of friends.

It’s easy to feel powerless when trying to help your teenage children settle in a new place. They have to do much of the work themselves and it’s often the case that you just have to let time pass. Because it’s so crucial for teenagers and young adults to be part of a larger context, to have friends they can relate to, developing friendships is high on the list when talking teenage adaptation. And while you can facilitate and help, you can’t actually make it happen for them. Sometimes all you can do is remind the young adults in your life to give it a little bit of time.

By: Felicia Shermis

The expat travel dilemma
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