We’ve all heard that it happens, denied that it happens, and tried to rationalize it. But let’s speak honestly about this for a minute. Homesickness is a very real part of everyone’s study abroad experience. I often see other students who try to deny these feelings and end up feeling lost. So let’s just face it! You can still have a great experience abroad even if you have times when you are homesick; these feelings are completely natural and everyone feels them a little differently.
Maybe you miss your family. Maybe your brain is stuck on a mouth-watering image of that macaroni and cheese your mom used to make. Maybe you can’t find anyone who can quote your favorite movie with you. Whatever your triggers are, sometimes a wave of homesickness crashes over you when you least expect it. You cannot avoid homesickness with preparation, and sometimes you cannot cure it completely, but there are ways to alleviate your homesickness and remind yourself how lucky you are to be an explorer at this point in your life. Online you can find millions of tips and tricks that have worked for other adventurers, but here are some of the things that help me:
- Take a walk around your neighborhood. Look up! Think about the history, architecture, and people around you and how inspiring a new environment can be. Think about how much you will miss this place when you have to return home to less inspiring views (and how much you will miss the pastries.. yum!)
- Talk to someone. Whatever you do, try to avoid using friends and family at home for online venting sessions. This makes both parties feel worse. Instead, try to find someone who you feel comfortable talking to who understands where you are coming from and can give you concrete ideas about how to move forward. This could be a fellow AIFS student, a local friend, or even a host parent. Bonus: Closer friends!
- Do something you normally do at home. This is a little vague, but think about what makes you happy at home. Do you jog, write, read, go to the movies, dance, draw? Make things that you already love a part of your daily life abroad. I like to exercise when I am at home, but I tried to avoid joining a gym first semester to try to adjust to the Spanish lifestyle, in which gyms are not as popular. However, this semester I allowed myself to get a gym pass and my life feels much fuller and much more established because of this decision.
My personal experience with homesickness has taught me a lot about what is important to me and how I handle challenges. Although it may not seem like it at the time, this feeling can be an asset to your experience, and help you to grow personally. When I first studied abroad, I spent a semester in the middle of Patagonia in Argentina, going to a local high school for my senior year. I lived with a family and the closest English-speaking person lived in a town two hours away. I was young and nervous and recall times where I felt very lonely. However, I have many more happy memories than homesick ones because I did everything I could to integrate and I spoke openly about my feelings to my new friends.
The second time, I studied for the summer in South Africa, which was so short a time period that I did not experience much homesickness at all. However, spending a whole academic year abroad has really changed my outlook on culture shock and homesickness and I feel much wiser about my triggers and how to overcome emotional challenges. The key is to accept that some days are going to be harder than others. Some days you are going to need some more support. Some days you might just want to watch a movie and be a little sad. That is all okay, as long as you remember to get up, get out there, and keep exploring.