Academic journal article International Journal of Psychological Studies

When Home Isn't Home - A Study of Homesickness and Coping Strategies among Migrant Workers and Expatriates

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychological Studies

When Home Isn't Home - A Study of Homesickness and Coping Strategies among Migrant Workers and Expatriates

Article excerpt


This paper addresses, homesickness, an important issue in the area of international human resource management. It uses psychological and sociological literature to highlight the negative effects of homesickness on migrant workers and expatriates. These effects range from psychological disruptions to physical manifestations that affect the health and welfare of individuals and impact on work performance. The paper presents a model of coping strategies used by expatriates to deal with homesickness. This model is built on the empirical evidence collected. It concludes that there is significant amount of evidence found to substantiate that homesickness is an illness and detrimental to psychological and social well-being. It is crucial that further research is undertaken in this area as affecting expatriates because the size of the investment in expatriates commands that risks of failure are minimized.

Keywords: homesickness, migrants, expatriates, adjustment, multinationals

1. Introduction

Moving away from home has always led most people to feel homesick. Homesickness as a psychological state created by the prospect or the reality of social isolation continues to attract research attention. Much of the literature in international human resource management acknowledges that one of the key issues facing expatriates and international workers is related to adjustment to the new place. For instance Black, Mendenhall & Oddou (1991) identify a typology of adjustment difficulties formed of four major elements: individual factors, non-work factors, organisational factors and job factors. However, while issues of culture and the family occupy a central place, homesickness is not mentioned.

Homesickness is often covered in expatriate literature within the framework of culture shock, a connected but different psychosocial reality linked to displacement. The article draws on the literature and interviews with expatriates and migrant workers to show far reaching consequences of failure to tackle the problem. The first part provides a definition of homesickness and examines some theoretical models and attempts to differentiate it from culture shock; the second part considers the experiences of the expatriates and migrant workers interviewed to explain the manifestation of homesickness and its consequences in the host country. The unique contribution of this article to the literature resides in its contrasting of migrant workers' and expatriates' experience vis-à-vis homesickness and the development of a typology of copying paradigms.

Van Tilburg, Vingerhoets & Van Heck (1996, p.899) define homesickness as "the commonly experienced state of distress among those who have lefttheir house and home and find themselves in a new and unfamiliar environment". The authors argue that homesickness is a big stressor which can cause ill-health in the people affected, e.g., "depression, deficiencies in the immune system, diabetes". The authors' claim is not isolated. Other scientists such as Ekblad (1993), Leffet al. (1970) and Weissman & Paykel (1973) found evidence to support claims that homesickness affects health. If homesickness affects people on the move, even the voluntary migrants, then there is strong probability that it could be more pronounced in expatriate populations. Indeed, the literature suggests that homesickness is common among displaced people and is an illness of socially disorientated and isolated people.

2. Literature Review

2.1 Homesickness as an Illness

As an illness, according to medical and psychological evidence, homesickness has tangible symptoms which are physical, cognitive and behavioural. Sufferers complain of gastric and intestinal pains, lack of sleep, headache, feeling of tiredness and some eating disorders. Baier & Welch (1992), Fisher (1989) and many others noted much evidence to support this claim. Examining the cognitive symptoms of homesickness, Fisher (1989) reveals that there develop in the displaced person obsessive thoughts about home and sometimes simultaneously negative thoughts about the new place. …

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