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How to Deal With Homesickness Abroad: Insights From an Expat Dietitian

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Note: This blog post aims to provide guidance. It is not an exhaustive guide to homesickness or mental health. If you’re struggling with intense emotions or feel unsafe, you can reach out to TelefonSeelsorge, a 24-hour crisis hotline in Germany, at 0800 111 0 111. For those in the USA, call 988 for the crisis hotline.

Toy plane over travel maps
Image by Freepik

Congratulations! You did it. You’ve taken the leap and moved abroad. The initial excitement, mixed with a touch of nerves, fills your body as you settle into your new city. You start to make friends, travel to new destinations, and even discover your new favorite local cafe that makes the best oat milk latte. And yet, almost sneakily, symptoms of homesickness starts to creep in.

I’m Kristen, a registered dietitian-nutritionist from the United States. I’ve called Hamburg, Germany “home” since 2021 when I moved here with my husband and cat. Moving abroad was one of the best decisions I ever made, but it hasn’t been without its fair share of challenges.

Kristen and her husband eating pizza in an unfurnished apartment.
Our first night in Germany

Early on, moving felt like an extended vacation. The joy of buying new furniture, newfound friendships, and easy European travels – everything was so fun! Then, as the dust settled, reality sank in. Vacation was over. This was my life now. And I remember thinking “holy sh*t…what did I just do.”

I started sleeping poorly, not eating regularly and completely stopped exercising. Some days, getting out of bed was a challenge. Maybe I’m oversharing, but sometimes I take pictures of myself when I’m actively feeling a strong emotion – be it joy, sadness, anger, or even anxiety. This is to remind myself that I felt this way. The emotion was real.

I took this picture exactly 1 month after moving to Germany, in the midst of the most intense bout of homesickness I’ve ever felt.

Kristen crying due to homesickness.
This is me crying on the internet!

At that moment, I felt completely lost.

Emotions ebb and flow, and it’s crucial to realize that you do not have to suffer alone. By sharing my experience, I hope you can feel validated that your feelings are normal.

Let’s open up a conversation to normalize these feelings and find strategies to cope with homesickness abroad together. Discover more about my journey to Germany and my anti-diet nutrition philosophy here.

As a registered dietitian-nutritionist, I understand the intricate link between mental well-being and nutrition. Many people experience a disruption in sleep or changes in eating behavior after a turbulent move compounded by homesickness. However, there are strategies to help keep your nutrition and mental wellness in check!

Read on for 5 expat homesickness tips from Kristen, a registered dietitian-nutritionist, on how to overcome homesickness abroad.

1. Connect with a friend or family member while you eat.

Nothing feels better than sharing a meal with a loved one. Thanks to various video chat and messaging platforms, staying connected with friends, family, and loved ones is just a call away.

When I first moved to Germany, I used to avoid talking with my mom on the phone because I would often end up feeling emotional after the conversation. However, avoidance is not the answer! In fact, staying in touch with home helps normalize the distance and shows that you can maintain meaningful relationships, even from a distance.

When eating feels too challenging, consider asking someone if they’re available to virtually share a meal with you. Having a virtual meal buddy can provide comfort and support, helping both you and your loved one feel more at ease. Plus, it can boost your confidence that you’re nourishing your body even through tough times.

Woman video calling on a laptop.
Photo by Surface on Unsplash

2. Cook a meal that reminds you of home.

Food and scent often hold so many memories. Embrace these memories by cooking one of your favorite meals from home. This is a chance to reach out to a family member and ask for a new recipe to try. Cooking a meal that reminds you of your home country can serve as a beautiful reminder that “home” is wherever you make it.

Consider sharing this special meal with some of your new friends, and take the opportunity to chat about your hometown. This might even spark a conversation about homesickness, giving your friends a chance to offer their support as well.

Simple meal of pasta.
Image by Freepik

3. Keep it simple.

When life gets busy and you feel homesick while living abroad, you still need to eat! But there’s no need to stress over preparing elaborate meals that will (literally) eat up your time. Instead, keep it simple.

Aim to have a source of carbohydrate, protein, and fiber in every meal. This will ensure that your body is nourished and your mind remains clear.

Remember, not every meal needs to be balanced. You don’t need to eat perfectly “healthy” every single day. Be gentle with yourself and acknowledge that you’re doing your best.

I personally love creating meals that can be easily made in under 10 minutes. For inspiration for quick and easy recipes, follow me @kristenkiesownutrition on Instagram or subscribe to my newsletter. I’ll be sharing effortless recipes to help you out during days when you need a little extra support.

4. Keep a routine.

Just because you moved abroad doesn’t mean you have to completely change the things that brought you comfort at home! If you used to enjoy a morning walk in your hometown, keep up that routine in your new city. If you were a fan of yoga classes, consider finding a yoga studio in your new community. Maintaining a daily schedule can prevent you from spending too much time on social media and feeling isolated.

However, always reach out for support when you need it and allow yourself to feel your emotions as they come. It’s okay to have a sad day in bed every now and then (I’ve experienced this, too).

Coffee and a daily planner.
Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash

5. Homesickness is normal - and you still deserve to eat.

When homesickness, depression, anxiety, or low energy strikes, it’s common to neglect your nutrition. Undereating can lead to brain fog, anxiety, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and overall exhaustion. As you adjust to your new life, it is normal that eating might be a bit unsettled at first. If homesickness creeps in, you might even find yourself too disheartened to eat or believing you don’t deserve to.

I’m here to say that you always deserve to eat. Take a moment to revisit the tips above and consider trying one new approach this week to overcome homesickness abroad.

Picture of Kristen on a European street.
Let's chat! I offer a free nutrition session to see if we are a good fit :)

Are you a homesick expat and looking for support with your nutrition? Well, you’re in a safe space. Your next step is to apply to work with Kristen. At the end of the application, you can schedule a free, non-binding nutrition consultation. During our chat, we will can discuss your nutrition challenges, health aspirations, and chart a sustainable path to success.

Kristen is an English speaking dietitian and nutritionist currently living in Hamburg, Germany.

PS. Interested in keeping this blog as a PDF? Click here to download and share with a friend, family member, or colleague!


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