When studying abroad, nearly everyone experiences homesickness. Homesickness, like most illnesses, can have mild effects, like a cold, or feel more like a flu that makes you miserable. The good news is that there are ways to combat your homesickness so that you can truly enjoy the experiences you are going to have in your host country.
1. Know that you aren’t alone
Almost everyone who studies abroad feels homesickness at some point. You aren’t the only one to go through this, and the people on the trip with you have likely been going through it as well. While you might not talk about your miniature breakdowns, you’re likely all having them to some extent.
2. Find little pieces of home while abroad
I discovered that in the grocery stores of Botswana, I could buy Nutella. Having this small item that tastes exactly the same here as it does at home has helped me to feel more comfortable and content. In addition to food, having things to make my dorm room more of a home like pictures and my own sheets and towels really helped me. Staring at empty shelves just made me think about how lonely I was in a foreign country completely by myself. When I started filling up those shelves I started to feel like my dorm room was truly my home, at least while I was in Botswana!
3. Stay in contact with your family and friends
Do not isolate yourself from the people who care about you. They want to know how you are doing, and they are the people who will love you regardless of your breakdowns. The first week and a half I spent in Botswana I didn’t have WiFi in my room, so my contact with my parents was rather limited. That sent me over the edge multiple times and made me seriously question if I would be able to handle studying here for five months. Once I started being able to communicate with them regularly and keep them updated, it got better. The homesickness didn’t go away completely, but it was stalled from completely taking over my life and my enjoyment of Botswana.
4. Don’t obsess over what you’re missing at home or what has changed while you’ve been abroad
Everything will not be the same when you go back home. Things will change. My parents sold one of my horses while I was abroad which shattered the “nothing is going to change” mantra I had been chanting to myself up to that point. Things will change, but the most important things will not. Your life will still be waiting for you to pick it up at the airport where you left it when you return. Studying abroad means that you will also be different when you return home. Different does not, however, have to be a bad thing.
5. Take a breath, cry your tears, move on
Lastly, know that your breakdowns are normal, acceptable and expected. Regular situations happening while you are in your home country suddenly seem much bigger and scarier when you are in a foreign country. Take a deep breath, have an ugly-crying session if you need one and then move on. Don’t sit in your room all day being upset. Go do something with your study abroad friends. Even if it is just making yourself go eat a meal with them, keeping yourself busy and building your international support system are key steps to fighting homesickness while abroad.
While these five tips will not make it so that you never experience homesickness, they can help to soften the blow and help you to better cope with being separated from your home. Remind yourself that, in the grand scheme of things, a summer, a semester and even a year is not that long. The time you spend abroad will likely be one of the most important times in your life, but it will not be the single narrative of your life. Use your time abroad wisely. Explore whatever your country has to offer, and discover yourself. Find out just how strong and brave and capable you truly are.
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