Home was constantly on my mind when I was abroad. As much as I was enjoying my studies and travels in England, I missed my family and friends. I missed Minnesota. I couldn’t wait to see them again.
Sometimes, especially during the gray winter months, I missed them so much that I wanted more than anything to just be at home again. But I already had a flight home booked for the end of May; I had to stick it out until then.
Having survived the homesickness, here’s my advice if you’re dealing with the same thing. Hopefully it will help improve your time abroad so you have the best program possible.
1) Stay busy
The busier you are, the less time you’ll have to miss home. And the more you have going on at your host university or in your host town, the more it will begin to feel like home to you too.
Try joining on-campus groups, taking weekend trips, and making friends with other students to fill up your time with fun activities.
2) Don’t call Mom
At first, it can be helpful to limit your contact with home. Of course you should check in with your family to let them know how you’re doing, maybe over email. But don’t make lengthy Skype or phone sessions every few days a habit. You will start to rely on your family and friends to make you feel better when you’re homesick instead of learning how to manage and overcome those feelings on your own.
I’ve heard the same advice given for freshmen when they go away to college: no visits from Mom and Dad for the first month or two. Because I went to college half an hour away from where I grew up, homesickness wasn’t a huge problem for me at my home university. It hit much harder when I studied abroad. Challenge yourself to focus on your new school and friends abroad for the first month instead of calling home. Eventually, as you settle into your program, you will find that you don’t miss home as much as you did in the beginning.
3) Do call Mom
After a month or so, I do recommend calling home when you feel like you need it. Hearing a familiar voice, even a familiar accent, can have a calming effect. Your family and friends back home can also give you a sometimes much-needed outside perspective on situations while you’re abroad.
I remember calling my mom from a hostel in Switzerland. I was feeling alone and sad; I had just eaten a whole box of cookies and a Toblerone bar.
She told me not to sit around feeling sorry for myself but to go out for a walk, even though the sun would be setting soon. I grudgingly followed her advice, and the result was one of the most beautiful sunset walks I’ve taken through the countryside, with Lake Geneva on one side and the snow-capped Alps rising in the distance on the other. I was so grateful she was able to pull me out of my funk, even from across the ocean. Moms are great that way.
4) Keep a journal
I like to talk out my thoughts and feelings with people, and when there are no friends around, journaling is like talking them out with myself. I’ve found that writing about when I feel sad or homesick can be a helpful way of channeling those emotions. Journaling helps you be a friend to yourself, which is especially useful when traveling alone.
5) A taste of home
Literally! For my birthday, I went and ate Pizza Hut in my host city, Norwich. I would get KFC at the mall whenever I felt particularly down. Eating familiar food made home not feel quite so far away.
In a not-so-literal sense, if there are specific things you miss from home, see if there are ways you can still do them while you’re abroad. I love swing dancing in Minneapolis, so I looked up swing dancing clubs in Norwich, and when none of my study abroad friends were interested in going, I plucked up my courage and went by myself. It turns out that swing in England is actually Lindy hop, but I still had fun and met some cool British people.
6) Look forward
Whenever I thought of something I missed about home, I added it to an ever-growing list in my phone of things I would do, places and restaurants I would visit, people I would hang out with when I got back. Try not to think about how you are feeling in the moment and focus instead on how things will look in the future. You’ll be home eventually. You’ll see everything you miss right now again.
When I’m traveling and a particular place or period of time is especially hard, I think about where I’ll be in a day or a week. I try to find things to look forward to that are still to come.
One of the best things I learned from studying abroad was that I could be away from home for a long time, and everything would be okay. There were stretches of time where I was intensely homesick, but those days passed. The next time that I traveled, a few months later, I was hardly homesick at all.
What’s the longest you’ve been away from home? What tips do you have for managing homesickness?
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