When my alarm went off to remind me to take a five-minute Pomodoro break from doing research, I went over to YouTube to reboot my brain for a bit.

Right smack at the center of the perfectly aligned video thumbnails was the two-and-a-half-minute song of the Everly Brothers called “Devoted to You”. The familiar title aroused my curiosity, and the video was short enough for me to click fast without giving much thought. Little did I know, as soon as Don and Phil Everly sang the first verse of their 1958 hit, my naive curiosity would lead me down a rabbit hole called homesickness.

Searching for memories of home, my mind and body wanders

Images of home were conjured up by The Everly Brothers’ singing to my ear. Almost immediately, I was lost in a teenage memory of our family road trip – my parents sat in the front seat and I was at the back quietly annoyed at knowing that the band’s two-disc Greatest Hits album will be our playlist for the next hour. Before I knew it, I started yearning for more memories of my household: the scent of my mother’s shampoo, the familiar taste of my father’s recipe, and the extra firm pillows on my grandmother’s bed. It was only then that it dawned upon me: homesickness blues are triggered by all of our five senses.

Homesickness is a feeling shared by many international students like us. A good buddy of mine who practices Islam always longs for home whenever he walks along a grocery aisle between rows stacked with non-halal comfort food that he cannot indulge in. One friend feels the homesickness funk in a Tokyo karaoke booth that plays a few songs in his native Filipino language and yet there is nobody else to sing along with. A Japanese friend who studied in Brazil recalled that his homesickness was mostly prompted by the sheer thought that home is thousands of miles away. Regardless of the distance or the duration spent in the absence of our family, homesickness is simply a component of the collective experience of living abroad.

As someone who has been living in Japan for almost six years now, I noticed that my feelings of homesickness come and go. It is sneaky, and catches me off-guard like those small earthquake trembles in Japan that appear and disappear yet never fails to distract focus. But, just like the recurring earthquakes, I have gotten to live with it and live through it. Homesickness, personally, hits me the hardest when the holidays are nearing, even as early as October when the cool temperature in Tokyo starts to resemble the Christmas season weather in my home country. Recognizing the seasonal patterns and the triggers that put me in a funk helps me resist homesickness before it pervades my entire mood. And when the slump does get into my head, I simply allow myself to feel it. After all, feeling homesick is a valid emotion. Yearning for the comforts of someone or something familiar happens to everyone. Wallowing in it is not a weakness, but a moment to appreciate what I have and accept what I don’t have.

As holidays near, feelings of homesickness start to sneak

For some people, however, the slump gets into their head so much it debilitates them physically. One friend remembered a surging feeling of homesickness during the final months before his thesis submission. Somehow, the piled-up stress of a student life impelled his body to yearn for the comforts of his family who were a six-hour plane ride away from him. The blues stopped him from being productive for a day, and for the next day, and for the next few more days. It got really bad to the point that the only form of damage control was to seek professional help. He pointed out that the thing about homesickness is sometimes, when it is combined with other mood-related symptoms, one’s mental health may be seriously compromised. Fortunately, he addressed the situation before he imposed danger to himself, and he was able to receive counseling from Tokyo Tech’s Health Support Center.

Now that we are still in the middle of a pandemic, conversations about homesickness aggravated by COVID-19 cabin fever is more relevant than ever. Recently, my chatter with a group of friends helped me realize that Japan is my home away from home. Perhaps, talking about homesickness is, in itself, a way to cope with it. And as my next five-minute Pomodoro alarm break goes off once more I, however, will not talk about feeling homesick but instead will sing the Everly Brothers’ Greatest Hits songs until thoughts of my family’s road trips comfort me, once again.

<Mental health counselling support in Tokyo Tech>

Tokyo Tech offers mental health and counselling support in the Health Support Center that have professional counselors that can advise students on matters such as anxiety, relationships, and other mental health and wellbeing issues regarding school life and/or work place. All consultations are held in the strictest confidentiality