If you’ve ever seen the Instagram page of someone studying abroad, you’ll most likely notice an array of beautiful landscapes, mouth-watering foods, eye-popping portraits, and wonderful experiences. It’s easy to feel like that person is living a new and glamorous life so far away from them even thinking about home, and that they wouldn’t want to hear from you all the way across the pond. Though that might be true for some, I can say from experience that even while in the middle of the life-changing adventure of moving overseas, people still feel homesick.
The hardest thing about study abroad homesickness is the feeling that nobody back home knows how much you still think about them while you’re away, and that can sometimes make it hard to stay in touch.
If you’ve ever felt this way, or are feeling this way abroad, know that you’re not alone! It’s very common to feel nostalgic for home and that doesn’t make you ungrateful or unappreciative about your experience. Being in a new place is overwhelming but, as cliché as it sounds, often absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Some people get more homesick than others, and that often depends on the circumstances and environment. Everybody feels it at some point though, and are faced with how to respond with it.
Here’s the paradoxical truth about keeping up with people back home: it’s going to be really easy and really hard at the same time. It’s hard for the obvious reasons: you will be in different time zones catching up on important moments that you couldn’t be intimately there for in person. Sometimes calling falls through because of timing issues, and sometimes you’ll go days or weeks without talking with some of your most intimate confidants. Those things can be discouraging, but they are so normal.
The good news is that we are in a time where keeping up with each other is easier than ever. We have so many social media apps made to keep up with people’s lives more intimately. We have endless options for messaging — from the usual gambit of apps like Snapchat and Messenger, and the obscure ones like Marco Polo. We also have video and voice calling that doesn’t come attached with international fees. It’s easier than ever to stay connected with people even when going across seas for a semester.
This in and of itself is also sometimes a double-edged sword. In a time where we’re more connected than ever, study abroad students can be faced with a really odd homesickness: FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s a disparaging feeling to be having the experience of a lifetime in a country that you’ve always dreamed of visiting with sights, foods, and excursions that you’d never trade for anything, but still feeling a little left out when you see your friend group back home meeting up for Wednesday game nights. Again, as silly as it seems in the moment, it’s not abnormal! You’re not crazy if this happens to you and you’re not crazy if it doesn’t.
So what do you do when you’re faced with this? Well, in my experience the only thing you can do when you’re in the midst of a new and uncomfortable feeling is use it to learn something about yourself. That’s the whole study abroad experience! FOMO and homesickness, as crummy as they feel, are actually a positive reflection on your life. Feeling homesick means you have something back home worth missing, and that’s worthwhile! So take it in its stride. Breathe and remember that you can do anything temporarily, and that you’ll be home before you know it. In the meantime, don’t let it take away from one of the most transformative opportunities of your life. The most important thing is to come home satisfied with yourself and your experience. The homesickness monster can take away from those things if you let it, but if you see going home as something to look forward to, it’ll make your time abroad so much more fun and impactful. Until then, there are plenty of things you can do to distract yourself in a new town with new people. And you’ll make so many friends that you’ll be missing when you’re home, so enjoy them!
Finally, it always helps to go offline for a little and take the pressure off of yourself to post a perfect experience. You’ll enjoy it just as much, if not more, if you’re living in the moment totally unplugged. It also opens up the opportunity to keep up with your closest friends in unconventional methods like online letters, video chat updates, and whatever else you can think of when you put your heads together.
The best part of being away is also one of the most challenging. In the end, you’ll know who the people most invested in your life are, and who you’re closest to. You can’t always keep up with everyone, which doesn’t mean that your connection will fall off when you get back. What it means is that you’re one step closer to finding the lifelong friendships people don’t often get to figure out until way later. Relationships that survive distance will be able to survive so much more. If you can’t keep in touch all the time, don’t sweat it. It just means that when you’re finally home you’ll all have a lot to talk about.
So breathe, enjoy it, unplug, and don’t be scared to miss people here and there, so long as you’re not taken out of the present moment.