building, architecture, illuminated

how to deal with culture shock and homesickness

culture shock and homesickness are real

read, socks, coffee

Living away from home can be difficult in any situation. You have to find your new favourite coffee shop, the closest grocery store with your favourite brands, new friends, and the list goes on. Throw in a new language plus a new culture and it just complicates things so much more. Thankfully, as an au pair, we have a host family to help us with most of the basics, but that doesn’t mean we won’t miss the comforts of home. When I moved away from home for my studies, I missed my mom’s cooking so much! Even though I had the recipes and she had shown me how to make the dishes, it just wasn’t the same. Fast forward four years when I moved to Germany as an au pair and this was multiplied by 10 – new country, new house, new language, new customs, etc. Fast forward another four years and it started all over again in Spain. Let’s just say, I’m familiar with these feelings. 

embracing a new culture

When we go to a new country, we know that things are going to be different, but it’s hard to know exactly how different. When I went to Germany, I didn’t really have to adjust to a different timetable because the German timetable (as far as work and meals) was pretty much the same as where I’m from in Canada. The biggest difference I noticed was with the people. Where I come from people are very open and friendly and they would stop and talk to you on the street if you were looking for directions or needed to ask something. Where I was in Germany, it almost seemed like people would go out of their way to avoid a conversation with you. Moving to Northern Spain, I found the people to be much more open and friendly (just like back home in Canada) but the biggest adjustment was the timetable. In Spain, the workday starts as usual (8-9 am) but lunchtime is usually around 1:30pm and it lasts for about two hours. During lunchtime, most businesses and small shops close and people either go home for two hours or eat lunch at a restaurant. Later, dinnertime is sometime between 9-10pm. When I first moved here, my in-laws joked that I was like a kid because I always needed a snack between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and dinner, as is typical for children.
migration, integration, migrants
sisters, love, family

The whole idea of being an au pair is based on having a cultural experience and learning a new language. For some, the adjustment is harder than others, but I think the key is keeping an open mind and not comparing your new country to your home country. If you are always comparing and thinking about how different things are where you are now, it is hard to live in the moment and enjoy the contrast. Try to embrace the differences and find something positive about each new situation that you experience. Even if you like the way things are done in your home country more, you’d be surprised at how much easier it is to adapt to a new culture if you just put your whole energy into living the experience instead of comparing and thinking about how different it is.

au pairs

As an au pair, you can share your own culture with your host family by explaining how you do things differently back home. Always try to do this in a light-hearted and respectful way so as to avoid making them feel like you are criticizing the way they do things or judging them. You could also ask to have a theme night where you offer to prepare some traditional food from your region to share with the whole family to help them get to know you and your traditions a bit more. You might even play some typical board games or read a story or anything really that was typical for your family when you were growing up

boys, chess, play

host families

meat loaf, liver cheese, eat

As a host family, it is important to be sensitive to how much of a culture shock living in your country might be for your au pair. Just like I did, one thing that our au pairs often have to get used to is the different meal times. I always try to make sure that there are lots of snack foods available so that they can help themselves during the adjustment period. Try to ask the au pair before they come if there is any specific food or drink that they really like and see if you can get some to have in the house when they arrive. When I was living in Germany, there was one supermarket that had theme weeks and during those weeks, they would have typical food from whatever country was the protagonist that week. When it was “American week” my host mom always bought a container of peanut butter and some packages of chocolate chip cookies. It was a small detail, but I really appreciated it.


Homesickness hits some people harder than others and it lasts longer for some than for others. Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick fix for homesickness, but there are some things you can do to help combat it.

When you’re feeling homesick, try to plan some extra video calls with friends and family back home. Talk to them and tell them how you’re feeling, but also try to tell them about the new things that you are experiencing and what you are doing day-to-day. Keeping a positive attitude can be hard, but sometimes when we share our daily activities with someone else, they can help us see things from a different perspective. When I was struggling with learning the language, I remember calling my best friend and she said something about how lucky I was to be learning the language in the country where it was spoken. I had been so obsessed with how hard it was, that I hadn’t looked at the positive side of how much of an advantage I had by being immersed in the language.
girl, young, board
selfie, a smile, happy

Another thing that I found helped combat homesickness was talking about my friends and family back home with my host mom and friends in Germany. I was really lucky to have had a good relationship with my host mom and we talked about pretty much everything! When I was missing home, I often told her stories and showed her pictures of things my friends and I used to do. It helped a lot to be able to reminisce about my friends and family and re-live our memories together.

One more thing that helped me get through those particularly difficult days was music. I had different playlists for different moods and I had playlists from road-trips with friends back home and playlists with my favourite artists. It might sound crazy, but even still, I sometimes listen to Justin Bieber just because his accent is the same as mine and he “sounds like home”. It is amazing how much of an impact music can have on our moods, so use it to your advantage

girl, relaxation, listening
cafe, girl, book

Find “your place” in your new hometown. Find a place that you really like and where you can go and just sit and relax. Maybe there is a waiter or waitress that speaks your language and you can talk to him/her or maybe they have something on the menu that tastes just like home or maybe the place in general just reminds you of a place back home. Having a place like this can be a little bit of an escape for you outside your regular routine with your host family.

What do you think?

As always, I’d love to hear from you. Is there something in particular that helped you get over those horrible days of homesickness? Is there something that you do as a host family to help your au pair to adapt to cultural differences? Leave a comment below, send me a message on Instagram or here.

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