For me, it took four days before I was able to get over my culture shock and homesickness. Admittedly, I went into the study abroad experience thinking culture shock wouldn’t affect me and that I wouldn’t really miss home. I was completely wrong; it hit me hard and took a while to figure out how to resolve it.
But don’t be alarmed, it is totally possible to get through your homesickness and really enjoy your experience abroad.
1. Keep yourself as busy as you can the first few days.
This is one of the biggest things I wish I knew from the start of my time in Prague. My mindset, since it was the end of January and the beginning of February, was that it was still too cold to be out and about exploring. I figured I would have plenty of time later, once it warmed up, to go explore the city. Don’t fall for the same trap that I did.
No matter what the weather is in your city, go explore whenever you have free time. You’ll actually get a lot out of exploring early. You will be too preoccupied to think about things from back home, which can often make you sad about not being home. You will be able to navigate your city more easily because you are taking the time to learn the streets, transportation, and where you may like to hang out and do homework later in the semester.
2. Find some way to get in a routine.
When I had a schedule to follow during orientation I never thought about home or felt sad. There were things to do and I wasn’t sitting around thinking, “What can I do today? Nothing, I will just relax.” Once the intensive language class started for me, I quickly got out of my homesickness and culture shock certainly became less prominent.
If you are like me and don’t have classes for the first week that you are in your city, try to make at least three things that are a routine in your day. You may like to set an alarm for the same time every day your first week, get up, shower, make breakfast, and then head out to explore the town. Maybe you want to go to the same café for coffee or tea every day at 3 PM to read a book. And lastly you might like to meet up with friends in the evening to have dinner and talk about what you all explored that day.
3. Attempt to befriend some locals.
There is a program here in Prague that I was able to be a part of. It is an international club through the school, Charles University. The program matches you with a Czech buddy that is also going to school at Charles. This is a great idea because you can ask your local friend about any questions you may have about culture, where to go, what to do, and they can help out with really anything you need. Sadly, my buddy was sick the first few weeks that I was here, so I wasn’t able to hang out with him, but it was still nice to have someone I could email any questions to. The Resident Directors of the AIFS program I am in are also very knowledgeable and friendly; they are always open to any questions that I might have. I would highly recommend talking often with them.
4. Contact your family and friends back home, but not too often.
This is one of the things that I also didn’t know, but wish I would’ve, going into my study abroad program. The first few days, I texted and FaceTimed with my girlfriend way too much. All the time that I spent in my dorm room I was texting her, calling my mom, texting other friends back home, and that all made me think too much about home and what all I was missing. It sent me into a tailspin of thoughts questioning why I was in Prague, if I wanted to stay, and I had thoughts of giving up and going home.
It is definitely important to stay in contact with family and friends when you are abroad. They will want to see and hear about what you are experiencing, and you will enjoy hearing their voice. However, a simple post of pictures on Facebook will show them what you’re experiencing. And as far as talking with them, set up one or two times each week that you will talk, and then stick to that plan. It sounds hard, but I promise it will help. And if you find yourself really missing home even when only having contact a couple times each week, cut yourself off completely for a week. Completely immerse yourself into the city and culture. It has to become your new normal for the time you are there.
5. Be honest about your feelings.
If you are feeling sad and missing home, or you are questioning your decision to study abroad, or anything else, you should find someone to talk to about it. Maybe you tell your mom, dad, girlfriend, Resident Director, or other friends on your program. The chances are your friends are experiencing very similar feelings to you and you can talk things out with them. Your mom, dad, and girlfriend are likely missing you a ton as well, but they are also excited for you and will do whatever they can to help you get used to your situation so you can enjoy it as much as possible. And your Resident Director has certainly heard many students who have had the same feelings in the past.
Whatever you do, don’t conceal all of your feelings. Don’t cry yourself to sleep at night without telling anyone. It is okay to cry though, that’s part of working through your feelings. When you isolate yourself it’s much easier to think you are the only one going through what you are and that will only lead to a perpetual cycle of feeling bad about yourself and your situation.