Travel restrictions and lockdowns force many to take longer breaks from visiting home.
Homesickness is a feeling most people are all too familiar with. Especially since the beginning of COVID-19, many people haven’t been able to visit home for a period longer than usual.
Home – that’s Cairo, Egypt, for Enaya AbdElGaber, who is currently completing her undergraduate studies in political science at Memorial University. She hasn’t been home in almost two years due to COVID-19.
Under normal circumstances, AbdElGaber would visit Egypt once a year during the summer break. But last summer, travel restrictions made it impossible to go. AbdElGaber’s homesickness has grown since.
“Last summer, I could have been at home with my family and my friends,” she said. “Just having them around me would have been great, even though we would still be in a pandemic. The pandemic definitely made it hard.”
Sharon Veley, a guidance counsellor at College of the North Atlantic in St. John’s, says anything can cause homesickness.
“It could be that there’s something in the environment that reminds you of home,” said Veley. “Someone might say something, there might be some scenery somewhere that reminds you of home.”
Veley says most people struggle because they miss the support system of home, consisting of family and friends, but also culture.
She explains that a sense of belonging is one of the psychological needs of humans, following directly behind basic needs such as shelter, food and security in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Missing home and the sense of belonging that comes with it, therefore, is a normal reaction to separation.
“Whenever we feel that we have lost something, that we are without something, we do tend to grieve that. It could be a person, it could be a pet, it could be a location,” said Veley.
“There are just a lot of things that I feel like I should be there for, but I’m not.” – Enaya AbdElGaber, political science student, Memorial University
Veley says how well someone can deal with being self-reliant depends upon the individual but also upon the distance
AbdElGaber can’t drive home whenever she feels homesick. It takes her 18 flight hours or more to get to Cairo, which is an air travel distance of 4,463 miles away from St. John’s – almost 3.5 times the distance to Toronto.
She feels most homesick when she can’t be present for big life events, whether good or bad.
“My best friend of 14 years got engaged a few months ago and of course I wasn’t there for that,” said AbdElGaber. “There are just a lot of things that I feel like I should be there for, but I’m not.”
Homesickness also flared up when two family members passed away recently.
Veley says moving away disrupts the daily routines of people, which impacts eating and sleep patterns. COVID-19, disruptive in itself, adds on to that.
“It’s like watching TV and not being in the place.” – Sharon Veley, guidance counsellor, College of the North Atlantic
It’s important, she says, to stay in touch with the support system from back home.
“Sometimes people don’t want their family members to know that they’re homesick. They try to put on a brave front […] because they don’t want their parents or their brothers and sisters or their grandparents to worry about them,” said Veley.
Veley says technology that has gained even more traction since the outbreak of COVID-19, such as video conferencing systems, can only help to a certain extent.
“It can substitute, but obviously if you are immersed in a day-to-day routine with family, for example, […] video chats don’t . . . It’s like watching TV and not being in the place,” she said.
AbdElGaber says technology helps her combat feelings of homesickness because it allows her to share the experiences of her loved ones.
“Yesterday, my best friend was at a concert at home and she knows that I like the band […] and she FaceTimed me to attend with her and that definitely helped a lot,” she said.
Calling her parents, says AbdElGaber, helps when she feels homesick, and so does watching Egyptian TV or cooking an Egyptian meal.
Veley says it’s important to get involved with the new community and pursue things you like, but she finds recommending it harder since COVID-19 has hit and stopped a lot of indoor activities.
A lot of students, she adds, now stay in their home communities to study remotely and feel the opposite of homesickness.
A feeling AbdElGaber can’t relate to. She is unsure when she’ll be able to visit Egypt again.
“I was hoping this summer, but still with COVID it doesn’t seem likely, so it might not be until end of this year or next year.”