Homesickness is different for every traveller. Some experience it the moment that they leave home, while for others it sneaks up after the initial high of their new destination has begun to wear off. Most students embarking on a study or work abroad program will experience homesickness at some point during their adventures, and it is important to remember that this is perfectly normal and manageable. This article shares some tips and coping mechanisms to help you battle homesickness while studying abroad.
|Taking the plunge into a semester abroad can be equally exciting and scary. Homesickness is natural! Read on to find out more on dealing with homesickness.|
First thing’s first…
Take it easy on yourself! Homesickness is perfectly natural and something most students experience while studying/working abroad. There are a few things you can do even before leaving home to make your transition easier and limit the amount of unease that you feel.
Before you leave for your destination, do the shameless call out. Ask friends, family, your academic or work community, and social media networks if they have any contacts in your new destination city. You’d be surprised by the amount of friends you can make this way. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and message a new contact to see if they would show you around. When leaving to work in South Africa and Uganda, I reached out to my Facebook network to see if anyone had contacts in the cities I was moving to, and was immediately forwarded to a few people who were happy to show me around upon my arrival.
Reaching out to friends of friends is a great way to create a familiar network in a new place!
Break your travel time down into manageable, measurable, bite-sized chunks. I have found it helpful to print out a calendar of the weeks or months I’ll be gone so I can mark off each day and visualize the amount of time I have left to complete. Before you know it, you’ll be forgetting to mark off the days as you integrate further and further into your new home. Note the amount of weekends that you get to spend abroad, and begin to fill them with exciting plans. Thinking in terms of weeks or weekends can feel much more manageable than days; being gone for 12 weekends sounds a lot less intimidating to most people than 90 days.
When you have your calendar set up, make a bucket list of everything you are excited about. Challenge yourself to try one new thing or embark on one new adventure per week- even if it’s just trying out a new restaurant! Make sure that you are planning things to look forward to, sorting out the logistics so your plans are attainable, and keeping yourself busy.
Your time abroad can be less daunting once you've visualized and written down what you plan on doing- this way you're keeping busy and you can make the most of your time!
While you are abroad
Buy a journal and each week record a list of your highs and lows. Sometimes your list of lows might outbalance the highs, or sometimes the highs will far outnumber the lows, but it always feels good to reflect and put things in perspective. Even hard weeks will have some bright moments shining through!
Create a routine in your new home. Find your morning coffee shop, your favourite route to work or school, a friend to meet for dinner once a week, and before you know it, it will start to feel like your new home. Do your best to include aspects of your life at home that you are missing. Are you a runner? Perhaps your new place isn’t as accessible for outdoor activity, but maybe there’s a part of the city you could bus to where you could run, or a local gym you could join. Some habits from home might be harder to practice while abroad, but don’t write them off if they are important to you.
Go out of your way to make room for the things you liked to do at home, this will make your new place feel more familiar.
Make your new space a home, even if you are only there for a couple of months. Small things go a long way to making your accommodation feel cozy. Buy a nice blanket for your bed or a pillow in your favourite colour. Or maybe some flowers for your kitchen table, a poster for your wall, or hang up photos from home.
Seek out other travellers! It can be comforting to surround yourself with people who are in a similar situation to you. Check out InterNations, a website that helps connect expats all over the world. Most urban centers will have a Facebook group for expats, so try searching your destination on Facebook and seeing what groups come up. Another great way to meet people is to join clubs, sports teams, and attend events.
Staying in touch
Find your happy balance of communication with those at home, recognizing that too much or too little can make things difficult. If there is a significant difference in time zones, schedule times for phone calls with your loved ones to ensure you can connect. When you do connect with those at home, don’t be afraid to talk about homesickness. Everyone goes through it, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t grateful to be travelling. While it’s important to stay in touch, try taking a break from social media. It can be detrimental to keep up too much with your life at home and focus on what you are missing.
Keep in touch, but remember to maintain a balance. You will want to maintain enough distance that you will still enjoy where you are now, but not so much distance that you will only miss home more.
Homesickness is a part of mental health, and health always comes first when you are travelling. If you are truly struggling to get past your homesickness, or it’s triggering other mental health conditions, seek support. Where there are expat communities, there are typically English-speaking counselors. Many counselors do online or telephone sessions, so you can also reach out to someone from your home country.
A healthy mind also means a healthy body, and this is even more important when you're abroad. Read this article on how to take care of yourself while studying abroad for more tips!
While homesickness comes and goes, memories of your travels will be with you forever. If you can push through the challenges, you are sure to be rewarded with awesome adventures.
Or click below to access Insight Global Education's handbook for the program in Uganda below!