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Being thankful where you are.

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- Like many other expats who are far removed from family and friends, occasionally I suffer from bouts of homesickness. While not an actual physical illness, homesickness creates a longing for home, a restlessness, a sense of feeling like an outsider. It can be triggered suddenly by simple things. A smell that brings up memories of favorite meals shared with family left behind, seeing a group of friends sharing coffee and a chat and suddenly realizing how much you miss the camaraderie of old friends who you grew up with.

It can be a dull ache in the pit of your stomach as holiday time approaches and even bring on depression as you wonder why you are so far from home. While advances in technology make it so easy to keep in touch with family, there is nothing like having the chance to see each other in person.

There are ways to fight homesickness. First of all, stay connected with friends and family in your home country. Have video chats with friends as time allows. Share your thoughts, daily life and successes with family. Give them information on what your new daily life is like and how it is similar and different from your old life. Keep a diary or blog and keep a record of your achievements and even setbacks you have to face.

Network to find others with similar interests living in the same city or neighborhood. This can be through clubs for expats or online chat groups or forums. Many expats have had to deal with the same issues that may frustrate you and talking about problems can be a good way of letting off steam before a small problem grows. Building a network of friends will help avoid a feeling of isolation that can come from living in a country that is foreign to you. Everyone has ups and downs and having a support system to help you deal with feelings or problems is comforting.

Get out and explore your new surroundings. Or, if you have lived in the same neighborhood for a long time, extend your range and take walks in new areas. Take an interest in what is going on and get to know your neighbors. Do not worry about language problems -- a smile and even feeble attempts at the language will gain you new friends who are willing to overlook grammar mistakes and forgotten words. Be willing to laugh at yourself and your attempts to communicate. Genuine laughter is always a great ice-breaker.

In Turkey, no matter how long you live here or how fluent you become in the language, you will no doubt always be labeled as a foreigner. This simple word sets you apart from others who were born and raised here. It is a word that can bring on homesickness as you suddenly want to be in a place where you can slip into anonymity and blend into a crowd instead of standing out as being foreign. I, for instance, have lived in the same neighborhood for almost 16 years. I have seen children grow up, get married and have children of their own. I have attended funerals and mourned the passing of neighbors. And yet, I am still referred to as the foreigner of my neighborhood. However, it is not meant in a mean way or used as a way of excluding me. It is simply how my neighbors identify me to others.

Although I have lived in Turkey for many years and my son and I both consider it to be our home, there are times when I feel a sudden rush of homesickness wash over me. For me, towards the end of each November as American Thanksgiving approaches, I start to feel that tug at my heart and I miss the traditions I shared with friends and family before I moved to Turkey. The huge dinners prepared with my mother and friends are now a thing of my past, as are the Thanksgiving weekend trips to New York for a friend's yearly concert at Carnegie Hall. While it would be so easy to sink into depression about what I left behind, I choose instead to be proactive.

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner

Every year, I host a large potluck Thanksgiving dinner for fellow American expat friends living in the area. What started out years ago as a small, sit-down affair has grown into an afternoon and evening of people coming and going, bringing their favorite holiday foods to share. We cook together and catch up on everyone's latest news. Even though my apartment is very small, the event has grown to approximately 30 people. We sit on the floor, perch on the arms of chairs that are already occupied and spread out on the sofas in the living room. The children play in my son's room or outside in the small garden. It doesn't matter that I do not have enough seats for everyone. What matters is that we take time to celebrate a holiday that is important to us all. Before we eat, with full plates balanced in our laps, we take turns saying what we are most thankful for this past year. We have seen each other through the highs and lows of life and we cheer each other onward. My Thanksgiving dinner is definitely not an elegant event, but none of us care about that.

One year I invited an American couple I had met in the historic area of the city. As we talked, they mentioned that they were sad to miss out on Thanksgiving with their own family due to their travel schedule, so I invited them to my house. They had a memorable evening chatting with other expats and gaining insights into the country that they would not have had if they had not been willing to share the holiday meal with a group of strangers. Another year, a friend arrived with a young man she and her sons had met while walking down the street to my house. He was house-sitting for a friend of his who lived in my neighborhood and was thrilled to hear someone speaking English on the street and stopped my friend to ask about the area. My friend mentioned that they were on their way to Thanksgiving dinner and asked if he would like to join. He jumped at the chance to talk with other Americans who had been living here for years.

So, even though there are times when I miss my homeland, there is much that I love about my adopted country. When I feel bouts of homesickness, I try to counter it by reaching out to friends, becoming more active in my community and finding ways to laugh and enjoy life. It is not always easy, but it is definitely worth the effort.

KATHY HAMILTON (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Nov 27, 2013
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