Studying abroad can really suck.
You’ve been told that it will be the best experience ever, and it is…at first.
But then the homesickness sets in.
Since most students choose to study abroad during their junior year, most assume that the transition will be a breeze. They think that homesickness is something only freshmen experience. But it’s not.
I was one homesick Texan while studying abroad and I was in ROME. So the homesickness was compounded by feeling guilt for even feeling it in the first place when I was in such a cool city. It was awful, but I overcame it, so I know you can, too.
Here’s how to deal with homesickness while studying abroad:
Say No Sometimes
Often, people put so much pressure on themselves to “have the best time ever” when studying abroad that they forget how they usually act. While studying abroad IS this amazing once in a lifetime thing, you’re going to burn yourself out and ruin it if you don’t slow your roll every once and a while.
When you’re at home or on your “home” campus, do you sleep in on Saturdays? Do you say “no” to events because you have a paper due? Don’t feel like you have to go 100 miles an hour at all times. You’re there for at least a semester, maybe even an entire year – you have the time to pace yourself.
So maybe the friends in your study abroad program are going to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at midnight, visit the Sydney Opera House, or even zip line in the Costa Rican jungle. So what? Those events will still be there next week, next month, next semester. Don’t feel guilty for sitting out on some things to recharge for your next adventure.
Get Out There
I’m not contradicting myself, I promise. People experience homesickness differently. While some need a reminder to recharge so they can continue to build friends at their study abroad program and enjoy themselves, others need that nudge to step outside their comfort zone.
Homesickness is often significantly tied to culture shock, which is a real and serious thing. It can be loosely defined as that confusing and nervous feeling that you get when you leave a familiar culture to live in a new and different one.
Here’s how it usually goes:
- The Honeymoon Stage
This is how you feel when studying abroad still seems like a vacation. Everything is new and exciting and you might as well be at summer camp. You might be a little nervous, but you don’t miss your parents or home or dog or whatever because you’re having so much FUN.
- The Frustration Stage
This is usually when the worst of the homesickness sets in. You’ve been abroad for a few weeks and everything bothers you – even things you once found magical. You might find yourself even actively resenting the place you thought you were going to love.
“Why don’t they speak English?” “Why don’t the buses seem to follow the schedule?” “Why can’t things just be like they were AT HOME?”
In this stage, you long for the normalcy of home. But don’t worry – it gets better.
- The Adjustment Stage
There is no set timeline for going through these stages. Those around you might power through them, while you might linger behind.
That’s okay. It’s not a competition.
BUT to get out of the frustration stage and into this one, you need to actively try to make yourself at home in your new city.
As your surroundings become more familiar, you’ll find that you start feeling a little less homesick. This is because you’ll be able to recognize bits of the local language, start enjoying the food, and understand the transportation.
You can jumpstart this process by doing any of the following things:
- Make an effort to learn the language, even if your program doesn’t require that you take it.
- Take a trip to the grocery store. If you know people’s stomachs, you know their heart. Pop in your earbuds and get to know the local grub.
- Take a preplanned walk around your city. Bring a paper map with you and wander. Which brings me to….
- Find a place that’s yours. Maybe it’s a special bench, overlook, of café. Anything that you can call your own will help ease the transitional homesickness.
- Talk to a counselor. If you’re still feeling down in the dumps, don’t be embarrassed about going to speak with the counseling office at your study abroad program, or the international students coordinator if you’re at a university. Their job is literally to make your time abroad the best time ever.
4. The Acceptance Stage
You might make it to this stage, you might not. But after weeks, months, or even years of cycling through the previous stages of culture shock, you will get to the point where you can simply accept your new culture for what it is. It doesn’t mean that you understand it – or even like it – but you can function just fine and feel joy, not resentment.
Practice Self Care
While you’re still navigating homesickness abroad and the stages of culture shock, try these “quick fix remedies.”
- Set up a weekly Skype session with the person you miss most. And don’t cancel!
- Watch a familiar show. If you binge Pretty Little Liars in America, keep up with it in Australia. The characters can be like old friends and bring sense of normalcy to your new life.
- Create a routine. On Tuesdays you have lunch at the café down the road. On Wednesdays you Skype with mom. On Thursdays you do laundry. Stability is a great way to combat homesickness.
Now go forth and prosper! And you can cry. That’s totally okay.
If you’re studying abroad this semester and need to vote in the American elections, click here.
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