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Study Abroad Tips: Overcoming Homesickness and Culture Shock

by Kendra Gordillo

Culture shock and homesickness are very real. Before I left to study abroad, I thought that I’d be totally fine, that I’ve been out of the country before and lived away from home before — but it still hit me. In the United States, I attend Clemson University, which is about 13 hours away from my home, so I know what it’s like to not see your family for an extended period of time. However, living somewhere with a new language, traditions, and customs is still a new experience.

Here are some things that are helping me overcome culture shock and homesickness as I study abroad:

Staying active

Don’t sit around thinking about your friends, family, and old comforts. Instead, go exploring! Find new restaurants, try new foods, seek out a museum, and meet the other people you are studying with. By going out with the people in my group, I was able to make new American friends who reminded me of my friends back at home. It’s nice to go out to dinner and have normal conversations with people from your country even though you are somewhere new. I also found that many other people were experiencing culture shock or missed home.

Keeping in touch with friends & family back home, but not too in touch

While I let my parents know I made it to Salzburg safely, I haven’t texted, called or FaceTimed them regularly. Of course I’ve posted updates on social media and pictures, but I haven’t been in near constant communication. My cousin who studied abroad in Italy years ago told me not to message people back home often or it can make you miss them more and feel more homesick. Instead, try to make friends with your fellow students abroad, as mentioned above. So far, the people in my program and I have had many experiences together and have attended many group adventures organized by AIFS, which has kept my mind off of home.

Trying new things — you might surprise yourself!

Living in a new country means being exposed to new customs and traditions. What’s worked for me is trying to learn more about the new culture I’ve been immersed in instead of trying to maintain my usual habits. For example, one aspect of a country’s culture is the food. Breakfast here in Salzburg usually consists of coffee or juice and a pastry, like a croissant. Sometimes I miss large American breakfasts with pancakes and eggs, but I’m definitely okay with having tea and chocolate croissant for breakfast, too! Additionally, the food and grocery stores are quite different in Austria as compared to in the United States. Many ingredients I am used to buying are not in stores, especially other international foods. However, I have still been able to find foods that remind me of home, like pasta, but have also been able to try new foods or variations on food I am used to eating. Don’t be afraid to try something new!

Austrian pastry | AIFS Study Abroad

Side note: AIFS organized a pastry tasting seminar for us! We were able to try many traditional Austrian pastries. I think we all surprised ourselves with how yummy they were! If you are looking for an opportunity to try new things, pastries are a great way to start.

Keeping a journal

Something I’ve always found interesting but never invested the time into is journaling. I brought a nice, empty leather journal with me when I went abroad and I’m so glad I did. When I first felt homesick, I decided to vent my frustrations into this journal. I could doodle, make lists, or just write whatever came to my mind. This way, you have a creative outlet to release your thoughts rather than obsessing over them in your head. Even if you don’t journal regularly, I find writing down my thoughts and reading over old pages shows me how far I’ve come. It’s also a great way to document exciting journeys and adventures, too!

I hope these tips help you settle into your new home! It takes everyone a different amount of time to adjust, but just realize you are not alone. If you are still feeling homesick, reach out to your AIFS Resident Director and they can help you, as well.

Culture shock and homesickness in Salzburg, Austria | AIFS Study Abroad
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