Back during the new students’ orientation when I was a freshman, I remember talking about homesickness. The whole process of moving to a new place, feeling homesick, and then adapting, looked something like this:
- You’ll probably arrive with some fear and anxiety; it’s a new place, new people you’ve never met, new activities. You’re basically starting your life over in a new environment.
- Soon, however, that turns into excitement for very similar reasons—everything is new. It’s a honeymoon stage. Sure, it may take a while to get used to it, but when you’re busy trying to explore all the possibilities, there’s not much time to get homesick.
- As you start getting used to this new place, you start noticing the differences more. You start missing home: your food, your parents, your pets ... and that’s when it starts really getting rough.
- Holidays. At least in my opinion, the lowest point of homesickness happens during the holidays. Breaks, Thanksgiving, all of those. Especially as an international student, you don’t get to go back home as often as domestic students. Seeing them with parents, siblings, and old friends makes you feel even worse.
- But finally, you start to find your place again. You become a bit more independent, following a different routine, finding new things to get excited about.
Of course, I’m not gonna lie. There’s a whole other side of this we don’t talk about as often, and that’s the weird reverse-homesickness you get when you do get back home. Things have changed, life for your old friends went on, so you feel like you have to live that whole emotional process all over again. But, that’s the thing—you do it again and you already know that even if it’s full of fear and anxiety now, it can (and will) get better.
The question is, how?
There are countless articles online that will give you advice on how to deal with homesickness, but here are some of my favorite advice and tips on what has helped me and hopefully will be helpful to you as well:
- Make food from your home country
And if you don’t cook, try learning to cook with friends or find new places to eat. This may just be me loving food, but eating with friends really makes things so much better. It’s a way to bond, an excuse to get closer, and you even get rewarded for it.
Food can be connected to memories—you can talk about what this reminds you of, while also creating new memories. Soft-boiled eggs on 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 like three people to help me fix the watery ceviche I tried to make by myself. So, I guess, food is a way to solve the problem, but more in the way that it represents making new memories to mix with the ones that make you miss home.
- Call Home—but not every minute of every day
I was a little annoyed when I saw so many sources online phrase it this way: “Talk to your parents—but not too much. Call Home—but not too often.” But, the thing is, they really have a point when they say that. It’s good to keep in touch with your family and friends. It’s a problem when you’re talking to them so much that it’s stopping you from having real experiences in this new place.
So, of course, keep in touch with your family. Call the people you love often, keep them updated with your life and ask them how life is going for them. You’re going to need that. Think of it this way—the more you’re living outside of your room, the more you can tell them later about everything you’re learning.
On that line of thought, truly try to explore the city that you’re studying in. It took me a while to do this because I focused so much on my studies and my resume, but it really is important. To me, being homesick sometimes was a sign that I needed a break. Really, what I needed was to organize my time better so I could take a break and go for a walk.
Explore the city, even if it means finding nice, quiet coffee shops to go do homework with some dessert. Buy a sandwich with a friend and ask them if they want to go eat it at the beach while you see the sunset. Exploring and making new plans around the city doesn’t have to take you all day. It can mean hanging out in the park 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
I got a guitar sophomore year of uni because that’s what I like doing when I’m by myself. I keep a journal, sometimes, because it makes me feel better and productive if I need time by myself but I don’t want to feel lonely. My friend got a Polaroid and started making a collage on her wall. Another friend 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 emotion can take any shape or form. Whatever it is, it’s important that especially when you’re homesick, you find a way to deal with your emotions. Don’t avoid them, 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
Sometimes, however, it doesn’t feel as temporary as it should, and then there is nothing wrong with finding someone to talk to about how you’re feeling. It can be friends and family, mentors or professors that you feel can understand you. Or it may mean talking to a counselor or getting psychological help if that’s what you think you need. A lot of universities offer a few free sessions of counseling and psychological services, and they can also refer you to other specialists.
Talking about mental health is becoming a lot more open. So, if you’re feeling homesick, it can also 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. And 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.