There's no place like home!

Columnist Gemma Good is loving life abroad but missing home.

Four weeks in Brussels and I feel as though I am qualified enough to write a first few weeks' survival guide to living abroad. This is based on my experience as someone who can be quite stubborn and doesn’t really like asking for help – not a good combination as I have learned.

Honestly, it is only now that I am starting to settle in here. The first two weeks of my time in Brussels were completely consumed with hunting for accommodation, going for long walks, going to the gym, working and ringing home. I tried to keep myself extremely busy to combat the urge to book a flight back to Ireland. Every time I saw a plane in the sky (which was often considering the airport is about 10km away) I wanted to burst into tears. Having something to look forward to during this period really helps. For me - this was having my parents come over to visit. It has been really hard not seeing them for a month.

A big recommendation I have for those moving out of Ireland is to bring your adapters with you to charge your devices. The first day I got over here, I raced to find one before shops closed. There was no way I was surviving without my phone on the first night.

Taking time to familiarise yourself with your new surroundings is also very important. Travelling underground is not something we are used to in Ireland but, here, everybody takes the metro. I had to take it for the first time last week, I had been avoiding and dreading it.

With limited time, I took the metro into the city. I had the route on Google maps so I could check I was going in the right direction. I got to the first station and panicked, the name of the station was Arts-Loi instead of Kunst-Wet. I tried to ask a lady if she knew if we were headed for De Brouckére but she only got frustrated at my lack of French. All I could catch was “Tu ne comprend pas francais” in a frustrated tone, while throwing her hands up in the air. At this stage, I felt as though the walls were caving in on me, my breathing accelerated and my sight was starting to go, all while this lady was shouting at me in French.

Thankfully, just before I passed out a Spanish student on the metro caught wind of what was happening. He pulled out Google translate on his phone and gave it to me. I told him where I was trying to go and it turned out he was going to the same station. I was so relieved but never again did I want to step on that thing.

That evening we went out for drinks after work. I explained what had happened to one of my work colleagues who is from Greece. She laughed and told me that I was going to work with her on the metro the next morning. It was the best thing I ever did, she showed me where to go to get on the right metro, how to check the direction it was going in, how to open the doors, and even where I could get a student discount card.

Initially I so felt stupid asking for help. I thought that someone twenty years of age should be able to manage a train underground.

As it turns out, I was on the correct metro that day but I looked at the Dutch sign instead of the French. Arts-Loi is Kunst-Wet in Dutch. Lesson learned.

When people speak about moving abroad, you always hear about all the friends they made, the amazing experiences they had and how they didn’t want to leave their destination country. This was not how I was feeling at all. I had no interest in getting to know anybody or in learning anything new at work. I thought I hated my job and seriously considered handing in my notice. It is only now that I realise that this was just pure homesickness.

Even in the past week, I find myself getting more interested in what I am doing. Conversations with my housemates are starting to become more natural to me. For homesickness, the only cure is to just sit it out. Also speaking with others can help massively. I was afraid to tell my work colleagues how I was feeling, they clearly love their job and I didn’t want to say that I was feeling the opposite.

One morning in the office there was a huge buzz as an ex-intern was coming to visit. She was from Ireland. I couldn’t wait to speak to her. As soon as I said hello, she asked where I was from. Her eyes widened when I said Cavan. Wynette, it turned out, was from neighbouring Monaghan. I was delighted, it was so nice to talk to somebody from home. She asked how I was getting on and I told her that I did miss home a lot. She said she felt the same on her first exchange, but come her second she didn’t want to leave. This conversation gave me a massive boost and I was so glad I told somebody who had been in my shoes how I was feeling about the move.

I am happy to say I am over the worst of it now and the experience can only get better from here, especially considering my parents came with Lyons teabags. It was amazing to have them over for the weekend and show them my new life out here.

Every time I go somewhere new, I fall in love with this city a little bit more but, really, there is no place like home.