Homesickness

I became close friends with a South African student not so long ago. He came to Ireland full of enthusiasm, to study economics, his second degree, he has an honours degree in maths already. He will return home in three years time.

He told me that in Africa people look at Europe as paradise, the place where everyone is happy and wealthy. You can imagine the shock when he saw a man sleeping in his car, people sleeping rough and begging for money.

Not only did he encounter poverty amongst white Irish people, he also had to deal with racism, something which to a South African, maybe even more than anyone else, is like a stab in the heart.

Looking for jobs,with a very Dutch sounding name, he would be invited for an interview, but once he got there, the vacancy that urgently needed to be filled, was either suddenly gone, or wasn’t that urgent anymore. He didn’t manage to find one.

Even amongst other Africans it was difficult to be respected. He started teaching some Nigerian kids maths ( he is a maths teacher) for less than half the price of other grind teachers, and was told by the Nigerian neighbour of the kids that he should actually do it for free, because he is African and African teachers are not as valuable as Irish ones….. I always thought that 1+1=2, wherever you are, but somehow that doesn’t seem to be the case.

And then one day it happened. He stopped talking, just stayed in bed staring ahead, depressed and sick.

I recognised it straight away, all of us immigrants go through this at least a few times. It is called extreme home sickness. Even myself, a Belgian, has had a few periods of it. The feeling of being completely fed up with your host country, not feeling welcomed, not feeling at home, missing the food, missing the sun, missing your friends, and ( for Africans certainly) missing the vibe.

I know how horrible I feel those days, but as a black man it seems to be even worse. I have had to deal with xenophobia, my children have been called Belgian bastards.  It doesn’t happen often, most Irish people are welcoming.  But when it does happen, it hurts, and you remember. I can only try and imagine how much it must hurt when you come across it every day.

Now, the question is, how do you deal with this? How do you get over homesickness.

It took me a good 15 years, breast cancer and a divorce to find a way ahead for myself in Ireland. The best way for me has been to stop trying to belong. To stop trying to be friends with everyone, and to stop trying to be Irish. Be yourself, chose your friends, be proud of who you are and where you come from. Because only when you value yourself others will begin valuing you.

When I did it, I changed over night, that ongoing depression deep down inside just vanished and I feel ten times happier.

I am now friends with many other expats, Poles, Argentinians, Nigerians, South Africans, and a few Irish blow-ins as well. We all understand what it’s like to be away from home and family, and we have a great time together..  I do value Ireland and what it has to offer, but I am valuing it as a Belgian, not a wannabe Irish woman. What is your experience with homesickness?

cultural night

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