Studying abroad can be one of the most memorable, exciting times of your entire life, bringing both challenges and opportunities like you could never imagine! However, many students experience times of difficult adjustment, mostly due to missing friends and family back home. In fact, whether people want to admit it or not, it’s something that almost everyone deals with at some point in their lives.
Homesickness can come in a variety of forms, including missing a friend’s birthday, craving food from your favorite takeout place or longing to watch television without subtitles. Yet, for whatever reason you’re feeling these sentiments, and no matter how intense the feelings, it can really put a damper on your experience studying abroad.
Homesickness is the often intense feeling of longing and sadness that’s caused from being away from home or comfortable surroundings for a prolonged period of time, even if this time away was planned and of your own choosing.”
These feelings can be brief, sometimes only lasting until you get settled in and begin to meet interesting people and make new friends, or they can be long-lasting, causing negative effects on the person’s life. These effects can include withdrawing from social activities, especially at a time when mingling is important to the student’s acclimation to a different country, a new school and an unfamiliar culture. This can sometimes even lead to anxiety and depression.
While there isn’t necessarily a standard cure for homesickness, or something that works for everyone, there are quite a few ways in which it can be reduced. Therefore, we’ve put together six helpful ways to help you settle into your new university, while alleviating your feelings of sadness when thinking about loved ones back home.
Even thinking about pulling the plug for a bit may seem a bit over the top. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is an actual thing, and social media makes it easier than ever before to keep track of your friends and still manage to feel “in the loop,” even when you may be an ocean away. Yet, sometimes it can be really difficult to see your friends continuing life without you, getting together and having the type of fun that you were once always a part of. So, if you really think about it, limiting your time on social media might actually help with your homesickness. Have you ever heard that old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind”?
Of course, your friends will continue to meet up, having BBQs, going out clubbing and doing all of the many things you would normally do on a free weekend. But keep in mind that they are all also probably eager to hear about your time studying abroad, some actually living vicariously through you as you tell them about the delicious new foods that you’ve tried or the most amazing nightlife scene you’ve ever experienced in your life. So, don’t hesitate to show off your new city and document all of the really cool things that you’re experiencing.
Decide that you will set a limit on the amount of time that you sit and scroll through your newsfeed. Also try to keep a good balance between the amount of content that you’re consuming, versus the actual content that you are contributing.
Even though your primary focus will be on studying while you’re abroad, chances are good that you won’t spend all of your time sitting in lectures every hour of the day. In fact, you’ll probably have a lot of spare time on your hands.
As that you may be somewhat out of your element, you may initially feel a bit lost on what to do when you’re not in class or studying. So remember, you are in a new place, offering plenty of exciting opportunities to broaden your horizons and introduce you to fascinating people and cultures. Take a little bit of time to research the museums, parks, nightlife and other attractions in the general vicinity, and make a list of what you’d like to see and do during your time abroad. You may even want to plan a few day trips to some of the closest capital cities, like Rome or Paris, especially during winter break.
Also think about asking your housemates or a few friendly people that you meet in class to accompany you on some of these great exploits. There’s no better way to bond with new people than to jump in the car and go on a classic road trip!
Above all else, please keep in mind that you need to do more than just chill at home with Netflix (though we don’t discriminate against that). This is a thrilling time to discover your fascinating surroundings and awaken your adventurous side. You won’t regret it!
Finding the foods that you typically enjoy can often be challenging when you are out of the country, especially if you are immersed in a completely different culture. This can be especially hard if you're a picky eater to begin with.
Make sure to slowly introduce your stomach and your digestive system to new foods, especially if you’re not used to a lot of spices. But don’t hesitate to try new things! Searching the streets for a familiar fast food chain will only make it more difficult for you to adapt later on. Ask around on campus to find out some of the best places to eat, or check online for guides to the area.
Meals are also a great way to meet people and discover similar interests. If you don’t have lunch plans with friends, try to eat on campus and sit with a group. Chances are that many are new acquaintances and will be eager to invite you to take part in their conversation. Everyone is adapting in one way or another, even local students. So be sure to take the chance to socialize as often as possible.
As with social media, you will want to try to find a balance for keeping in touch with friends and family back home. Facetime, Whatsapp and phone calls are wonderful for keeping in contact with the important people in your life, but you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where the constant communication only makes you feel further away. Plus, you may even begin to use this as an excuse to not go out and meet new people, especially if you aren’t generally a very social person anyway.
Try to allow time to talk with loved ones from home, but also set aside plenty of free time to spend exploring your new home or going out with new friends. Keep in mind that if you’re spending two or three hours every day catching up with people back home, that’s less time that you have to spend actually living your life in the present. Your family members and friends will be waiting for you to return, anxious to hear about all of the amazing things you experienced and the exciting new people that you met. You won’t have many stories to tell if you’re always on the phone or online keeping up with what’s going on at home. Find a good balance, and stick with it!
Sometimes it’s a lot easier said than done when it comes to keeping a positive attitude. When assignments are piling up and all you can think about is how much you miss your pets, putting on that brave smile can often be a bit overwhelming. However, staying positive is key to having a great experience studying abroad.
Try to plan out your days so that they consist of at least one enjoyable activity that you can look forward to. This can be having a few drinks with friends after class, watching your favorite guilty pleasure on TV or even splurging on something new to wear to the next big party. This can go a long way toward your overall well-being.
Plus, with a happy, positive attitude, it’ll be easier to make new friends. You’ll be fun to hang out with, and the invites will start rolling in before you know it.
But just remember that it’s perfectly normal to experience homesickness, regardless of how far away from home you may actually be. If you ever find that you’re worried about your studies, finances or feelings of homesickness, then be sure to reach out. All universities have counsellors who can offer assistance, whether it be working through a serious problem, or just talking about the changes in the way that you’ve been feeling. Help is always available. All you have to do is ask for it!
If you’re not feeling physically well, then this can definitely increase sadness, anxious thoughts or bouts of homesickness, so be sure to take care of yourself. This means that you need to eat healthy foods whenever you can, even if you’re tempted to stick to the all-too-familiar fast food chains. Ask some of your classmates about some of the healthier options that they’ve found for meals.
Always try to stay hydrated after a long night out partying. Stick with the general rule of drinking one glass or bottle of water for each alcoholic beverage. This can also help with the following morning’s hangover.
While this may be a given, be sure to get a good night’s sleep. It can be incredibly difficult to get in your recommended eight hour’s worth when you’re cramming for a final exam, but sleep is extremely important. If you miss a few hours one night, try to make up for it the next. Always keep in mind that your body needs to recuperate.
If you find that you’re starting to slip into bad habits, then it may be an indicator that the situation needs to change. If you’re not quite feeling like yourself, then you may want to slow down on the drinking, as that this can increase negative emotions. Take the time to start a few new healthy habits, like walking everywhere when it’s feasible, or trying healthier food options. Your body will thank you for it!
Studying abroad can be a real adjustment for even the most outgoing person, so give yourself time to become familiar with your surroundings. The feelings of homesickness may pop up when you least expect them to, so just keep that positive attitude, stay social and take care of yourself. You’ll be feeling “right at home” in no time!