Don’t be fooled: This isn’t one of those generic, overly upbeat listicles detailing X number of ways to get over culture shock when you first arrive to your study abroad location – which is a lot of what I found when I tried to Google some kind of blog post that would put what I was feeling into words. I didn’t need tips on how to feel better; I wanted someone to relate to me and tell me that my sadness wouldn’t last forever. Which is what I’m here to do now.
I actually skipped culture shock (I think), but I had a really hard first couple of days nonetheless. My home university is only a three-hour drive from where I was born, but despite that, I’m fairly independent, but I’m also really close to my family. My sisters are my best friends, my 2-year-old nephew is my entire world, and I prefer an evening with my mom and grandparents over going out with friends most of the time. For these reasons, I wouldn’t have called myself excited to leave in the weeks approaching my departure. I’m the most reasonable person you’ll ever meet, so I reminded myself how much fun I would have, how important this experience would be for me, but I was kind of dreading the ride to the airport.
I know from experience, having moved out nearly four years ago, that I usually only miss my family for a few days after I leave them. After that brief period, I return to my everyday routine – which is usually too busy to sit and think about how much I wish I were back home. Truthfully, I don’t often wish that; I like my life away at college. It’s my own, and I’ve made it all by myself.
I figured studying abroad would be pretty much the same, and it is now, but it didn’t happen right away.
I had a long month with my family at home, as opposed to the usual week or weekend, before I left for England, which made leaving that much harder. I cried for about two straight days before I boarded the plane and I had a pit in my stomach the entire nine-hour ride. When I landed, I still wasn’t excited like I was hoping I would be. I had a lump in my throat waiting in line at customs, and when I finally got to my room at my new university, I cried again – secretly, because I didn’t know when my roommate would arrive, but it happened. And it happened a few more times throughout the next few days.
The nights were the worst. I was trying to get on a schedule, but I would find myself waking up at 4 a.m. when it was nighttime back home, when I knew my parents were home from work and my sisters were relaxing for the night – in other words, when they would be free to text back and forth for hours. I distinctly remember the third night this happened, which was probably one of the hardest nights of my life. My sadness was literally consuming me, and I couldn’t remember what it felt like to not be miserable. I wanted to go home so bad. I never would have, and I would have regretted it if I did, but it was a recurring daydream of mine. I decided right then and there that I would never move away from my family for good, even though it has been my goal to get out of my home state for as long as I can remember. I resolved that living in the city, an hour away from my family, wouldn’t be all that bad if it meant I could avoid this feeling forever.
There is no way to avoid sounding pretentious in this situation. You’re probably thinking that I must have had a really privileged life – and still do – if moving to London and missing my family is the worst I’ve ever had it. I won’t sit here and try to convince you otherwise, and it’s true that this may not even happen to you when you go abroad, but I know there are people out there who have felt exactly the same. I’m extremely family-oriented (have I made that clear enough yet?) and also innately sensitive, so the combination of the two definitely accentuated my homesickness.
The good news is, it doesn’t last very long.
I made friends on the very first day, which sped the process up a bit. I made sure not to hang any photos up, and I refused to talk to anyone on the phone until I was a little more emotionally stable. Aside from the late-night texts, I tried to distance myself from them. The sooner I started to create a life here, the sooner I would get over my homesickness. And it worked.
One day you’ll be shopping and wonder out loud, “I wish my sisters were awake so they could tell me if I should get this dress,” and your friend will look at you and say, “I’m your family now. Get the dress.” And as hilarious it will seem in the moment, you’ll realize it’s true. Another day you’ll be at lunch with your roommate and say, totally casually, “are you ready to go home?” It will feel weird in your mouth the first time, but then, out of nowhere, it won’t. One weekend you’ll leave the country for a short little vacation, and instead of missing the States – your “real” home, your family – you’ll miss your study abroad location: Your bed, your friends, your classes.
The truth is, you’ll always miss your family.
I still text mine every day and FaceTime them twice or three times a week, but it gets easier. We only have a few good overlapping hours in the day (and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look forward to dinnertime when everyone would be waking up back home), but just like back in the States, I’ve made my own life here, and I love it. When orientation week is over, you get into a routine and realize that this is your life now – at least for a little while. It won’t happen all at once, but you’ll start to appreciate the little moments of realization and store them away to pleasantly look back on later.
I’m actually glad it happened this way; I didn’t waste too much time that could have been spent exploring new areas, meeting new people or trying new foods. It only took three days to go from my absolute low to my absolute high, and the happiness I feel now, a few weeks in, was worth the hardships when I first got here. You could research every blog post, every Pinterest listicle, every YouTube video, but the cliché of “this will be the best time of your entire life!” doesn’t sink in until you experience it yourself – and you will. Promise.