Homesickness is a common feeling for people far from home, and the feeling can be especially strong during festival seasons, such as the Spring Festival for Chinese people and Christmas for many African people. ChinAfrica asked a Chinese national in Senegal and three African expats living in China to tell us what they miss about home and how they deal with homesickness when abroad. Despite different cultural backgrounds, people share common feelings about home.
Ratsizakaina Isaia Herimialy
Malagasy student at Beijing Language and Culture University
I once heard a well-known Chinese singer lamenting "Come back, oh! Come back, my dear child who has gone far away," in the song The Clouds of My Hometown. This lyric often comes to my mind during the holiday season, because I also have gone far away from my home, from my country and from my family.
I have been living in China for four years and it is always hard for me not to spend Christmas with my family. It's a sacred moment of family reunion, a time of sharing, joy and affection. Old and young cannot help but be happy on Christmas day, and all await with excitement the delicious Christmas meal prepared with love by the women of the family. After an exchange of gifts between children and parents, the day usually ends in music and songs.
In Madagascar, where I am from, we celebrate Christmas in the heat and humidity of our tropical climate. In China, the bitter cold of winter often aggravates my feelings of homesickness in this period of joy. I miss my family. Fortunately, life has been generous during my stay in China. I am surrounded by loving and warm people who are like my second family here. Every year, to make up for the distance with our respective families, Malagasy students from Beijing gather at the Embassy of Madagascar to celebrate Christmas, reenacting the warm loving atmosphere of our family holidays. We decorate the embassy and cook our favorite meals. In the evening, everyone gets dressed up. The melodious music of Christmas carols can be heard throughout the embassy and the party begins. China has brought us together, and we are grateful for that.
After the meal, it is time for singing and dancing. We no longer feel homesick. We are no longer individuals in a foreign country. We are a Malagasy family who celebrate Christmas in a very typical Malagasy way. We do our best to make everyone feel at home so every heart can feel love. For this is the spirit of Christmas.
Senegalese Founder of Yiwu Crestone Trading Co. Ltd.
Homesickness doesn't have to be gloomy. For me, it's proof that we have grown up and accumulated enough experience to blaze new trails. Yet, in the middle of the night, it is easy to miss our hometown and old friends.
I have been doing business in Yiwu in east China's Zhejiang Province, for several years now. Yiwu is my second hometown, and a place where I made good friends. It was in this city of hospitality that I met my Chinese "parents" who welcomed me as their own son.
I am happy to have them as "parents" in China, as they have gifted me true parental love. Homesickness simply means that we are far from home, but also that it remains deep in our memory. Homesickness is like a cup of tea, which is always bitter, with a little hint of sweetness, but whose taste lingers for a long time.
A Ghanaian Ph.D. student in Beijing
We have all been homesick at one time or another. And for those of us who are spending time far from home, the Spring Festival will remind us of just how homesick we can be. That is, if we are not prepared. To be fair, you can miss home anytime in the year, but it is much more intense during the Spring Festival because most of our friends, both Chinese and foreigners, leave for home. For two weeks, Beijing is not so crowded.
So how do you avoid homesickness at this time of year? Do something fun! In my first year in Beijing, I hiked up a mountain on the eastern outskirts of Beijing. It was so much fun and so tiring that my body kept complaining for the rest of the holiday. In my second year, I took that time to catch up on all the stuff I had left untouched on my to-do list and that included binge watching some really good TV shows. This year, I plan to visit a friend and experience the Spring Festival with a local family. The point is to plan something ahead of time, so that you are not left without anything to do, which then invites in the feeling of homesickness.
Just like back home in Ghana where we go to our hometowns during Easter or Christmas, and have to answer some very complicated questions about relationships, babies and how much money we are making, I expect many people will be answering a variety of those questions from inquisitive aunties and doting parents all over China during the festival. I wish them all good luck and good fortune.
Chinese healthcare aid worker in Senegal
I celebrated the Spring Festival in Senegal last year when I worked as a medical aid worker in the country. That was my first Chinese New Year in Africa. Festivals are occasions of emotion. As the Chinese saying goes, "It is during the festive seasons that one misses their loved ones most." Despite being far away from home, my local colleagues and I decided to keep up with traditions and celebrate the Spring Festival as we would with our families back home. We put Spring Festival couplets on the door, decorated our apartment with red ornaments and prepared a family reunion dinner for the New Year's Eve. Making dumplings is essential for this celebration. It was great fun as the process was full of laughter and innovation. Many people were making dumplings for the first time, but everyone did their part. Some made the filling, some kneaded the dough, and others wrapped dumplings into different unimaginable shapes. In my mind, they were the best dumplings I had ever eaten and the convivial warm atmosphere touched me deeply. After dinner we held a spontaneous gala where everyone, with or without talents, performed a show. Karaoke singing crowned the evening with excitement and laughter. As we all sang along, the spirit of the Spring Festival was alive and all those who experienced this occasion agreed that it would remain an unforgettable and cherished New Year experience to last a lifetime.