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A Simple Cure for Homesickness

Gallic Rooster, Sticker, Nantes, August 2012

I didn’t know what being homesick felt like until 2004. This was a foreign concept to me: I was traveling the world and I didn’t miss France the slightest. To be honest, I didn’t miss my family either—I was too focused on living the experience abroad, on trying to find the meaning of life. Eh, what do you expect—I was selfish, the way kids barely out of their teens can be.

It all changed in 2004. My first year in Canada with a tourist status was tough. After the honeymoon stage, I was lonely and bored in Ottawa and the perspective of having to make life-changing decisions was suddenly overwhelming. Should I stay in Canada? Should I start the immigration process? Should I still register at university in France in case things didn’t work out in Canada? Did I even want to live in Canada? Would I be granted permanent residence status ever? Could I get a job in Canada with my pretty much useless French degrees?

Many sleepless nights were spent tossing and turning in bed, thinking about my future. That’s my problem—I think too much, always have.

After a few months of thinking and not getting anything done but having my tourist visa extended until fall, I started having random anxiety attacks. The first time, I was alone at home at night and I felt I was going to die right there. My heart was beating fast, I was sweating and I couldn’t think straight. I felt depressed. I was crying for no reason. Life wasn’t fun anymore. I wanted to be home.

And right there, for the first time of my life, I thought of France as “home” and I suddenly missed my family. I was homesick. I just hadn’t recognized the symptoms because they were new to me.

That fall, I traveled to France. It felt right, and it felt good. Sure, tons of things annoyed me (and I was probably very annoying with my newfound Canadian wisdom, the way new immigrants can be when they constantly compare two countries) but being in a familiar environment was comfortable. In France, I didn’t have to struggle for words, I knew how the country worked, I was confident when talking to people.

Life was easy… or so it seemed. After a month in France, I was dying to leave again. I applied for a Working Holiday Visa and headed back to Canada.

Eventually, things worked out fine. I did graduate from university in France, I did stay in Canada and I did survive the immigration process.

I have never being as homesick as I had been back in 2004, but occasionally I do miss France. Or rather, I miss some aspects of it.

I’m usually happy to visit France. I enjoy traveling and I love seeing my family.

The first few days there, I immediately feel very French as I reconnect with my roots—it feels like slipping into an old pair of jeans. I catch myself thinking that it would be really nice if Feng and I could rent a place in one of Nantes’ funky neighborhoods. We could walk to the bakery every day to buy bread and pastries—in fact, we could walk everywhere, like true Europeans. We would cook French food, I would enjoy an endless supply of French books and there won’t be so many commercials on TV. My family would be at most a few hundreds kilometres away and I wouldn’t have to calculate the jetlag when calling my parents. There would be no blizzards, no humidex. There would be no Fox News scaring people and less health and safety guidelines to follow.

I dream of a hedonistic French life, the way Americans sometime picture it.

And usually, a few days into the trip, I start missing my life in Canada.

Sure, we could rent a place in France… except finding an apartment can be a real headache—landlords are picky and the housing bubble still hasn’t burst. Besides, old apartments are lovely but I clearly remember how damp they can be in the winter.

Life is expensive in France. I know, this is always debated among immigrants, but I do find the cost of living is lower in Canada. It’s not like we are rich here, but we are not penny-pinching either.

Finding a job in France is very hard, and the unemployment rate is high. Frankly, I don’t even know what I could do for a living there. Surely, I could find some translating/editing jobs but they don’t pay as much as in Canada and there may be less demand—France isn’t a bilingual country after all. As for Feng, his options would be really limited considering we would have to work out a visa for him, and that he doesn’t speak French.

And as much as I love my family, let’s be realistic: chances are, we wouldn’t live in the same city and wouldn’t see each other that much anyway.

Yes, after a week or so in France, I am no longer homesick. I feel comfortable with my decision to live in Canada, and I don’t regret it as I remember all the little things that drive me crazy in France, from shitty customer service to the lack of multiculturalism.

Curing homesickness isn’t that hard, it turns out. All you have to do is to visit “home” once in a while.

Consomme, Graffiti in Nantes, August 2012
Employment Agency, Nantes, August 2012
Flying Back to Canada, Heathrow, London, August 2012
Feng and I, Heathrow, London, August 2012

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