Back during the new students' orientation when I was a freshman, I remember talking about homesickness. The process of moving to a new place, feeling homesick, and then adapting to it is a process we all go through. It’s uncomfortable. It sucks. But learning how to see your situation for what it is, just as it did for me, can help you get through those emotions.
What does homesickness look like?
You’ll probably arrive with some fear and anxiety
Have you ever hit the reset button in your life? It’s a scary feeling — you’re in a new environment, surrounded by people you have little in common with, and away from everything you’ve known. It’s normal to feel the way you do. As uncomfortable as it is, starting your life from stage one has its perks.
The Honeymoon Phase
Just like a blooming romance, anxiety turns into excitement in the blink of an eye. Every experience is new and exciting, it fills you with immense joy and optimism — welcome to the ‘honeymoon’ phase. When you’re busy exploring this new world filled with opportunity, the endless exposure to new sights and sounds doesn’t give you much time to worry. However, for a lot of students, the honeymoon phase never comes. They stay locked in fear and anxiety that prevents them from experiencing everything this adventure has to offer.
All good things must end, unfortunately. As the honeymoon phase fades away, you start getting used to this new environment, and new experiences come less frequently. Like any other place, you’ll start noticing that plenty of bad comes with the good. You realize home wasn’t as bad as you thought. You start missing your room back home, your food, your parents, your pets. Reality sets in, and that’s when it really starts getting rough.
From my experience, the lowest point of homesickness came during the holidays — breaks, Thanksgiving, and Christmas — to name a few. The U.S. is full of tradition, and many holidays emphasize spending time with family. Especially as an international student, surrounded by peers who live domestically and get to go home and spend time with their families, it’s hard. Seeing them with their parents, siblings, and old friends brings back memories of times past and what could have been if you didn’t come on this journey.
Find Your Place
When did it all turn around for me? We all crave a place to belong and somewhere we can call home. You start to find your place in this big, new world. I became more independent, I created a new routine, and I found new things to get excited about — I started to find myself.
But I can’t lie. There’s a whole other side of this we don’t talk about often enough. What is it? It’s the weird reverse-homesickness you get when you finally return home. Things have changed; day-to-day life is different, and your friends are different — some of them have moved on to a new life without you. You feel like you have to live through that emotional process all over again. You begin to think, “where do I even belong?”
But that’s the thing — you might think they’ve moved on, but haven’t you as well? You’ve grown. You’re growing. And both you and your friends are chasing your dreams. Life isn’t meant to be the same forever, and neither are friendships. Do the best in your new role.
How can you deal with homesickness?
Make food from your home country
What if you don’t cook? There’s no better time than the present to learn cooking, and it can be a fun weekend activity to learn with friends. This may just be my love of food, but eating with friends is one of the best things in life. It’s a way to bond, an excuse to get closer, and the reward is (if I do say so myself) very satisfying.
Sharing food holds and creates so many memories. You can talk about what it reminds you of; meals shared with family, a soup you had when you were down, or the most delicious pastry that you just can’t forget. Soft-boiled eggs in a cup used to make me nostalgic of breakfast at my grandma’s place. Now, they also remind me of midnight snacks with my roommate during midterms.
Ceviche used to remind me of the beach, but now it also reminds me of calling three people to help me fix the watery ceviche I tried to make by myself. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that food is a way to help deal with homesickness. More than that, though, it represents making new memories to mix with the ones that make you miss home.
On that note, what’s the point of moving to the U.S. if you aren’t going to embrace it? It took me a while to do this because I focused so much on my studies, my resume, and furthering my career. It’s not that I didn’t want to explore more, I just didn’t realize the importance of it — until I did.
To me, being homesick was a sign that I needed a break. Really, what I needed to do was organize my time better so that I could take a break and get outside.
Explore the city, even if it’s something as small as going out to find a nice, quiet coffee shop (finding some yummy desserts is a personal favorite pastime). There’s so much to learn, see, or do in the U.S. You might not find it ‘fun’ to take a class, but finding yoga studios, picking up pickleball, or going for an art or sculpting class can all be extremely enriching and exciting activities.
Exploring and making new plans around the city doesn’t have to take all day; it can simply mean hanging out in the park for twenty minutes on your way home. Give yourself time to enjoy the small things about the place you’re studying and living in.
Find an outlet for your emotions
Finding a hobby you enjoy doing can pull you out of a slump, if only temporarily. I got a guitar in my sophomore year of college because that’s something I enjoy doing when I’m on my own. I journaled in a diary because it helped me feel better — made me feel productive in times when I felt I wasn’t doing anything — it made me feel less alone.
Even my friends had their own unique ways of using hobbies as outlets. My friend got a Polaroid camera and started making a collage on her wall. Another friend of mine got a trainer in our university’s gym and became super fit, eventually encouraging me to join her in this fitness journey.
An outlet for your emotions can take any shape or form. Whatever it is, the important thing to know is that it’s an outlet to help you deal with your emotions while you’re homesick. Don’t avoid your feelings, but try to understand them. It’s also a good way to distract you in a healthy way — if you focus too much on the negatives, you might forget to see the positives.
Talk to someone
For some, the feeling of being homesick is a temporary feeling, but for others, it can last a long time. There’s a stigma attached to mental health where we all need to be ‘strong’, but there’s nothing wrong with finding someone to talk about how you feel. It can be friends and family, mentors, professors, or just anyone willing to listen. If it’s bad enough, it isn’t frowned upon to speak with a counselor or to get a professional therapist to help. Many universities offer free sessions of counseling and psychological services — they can also refer you to other specialists!
Talking about mental health is becoming more accepted. If you’re feeling homesick, it can be helpful to do some research on who your university recommends you reach out to.
There’s nothing wrong with being homesick. It’s normal; it’s part of the experience. In the end, we all feel things differently, but everything you learn while you’re abroad will help you grow and get to know yourself better.
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