Homesickness is a common experience for most students who study abroad. When I went abroad last Spring, I didn’t think much about homesickness before I left. I thought that because I was so excited to go abroad, surely I wasn’t going to get homesick at all. However, not only did I get homesick, I felt homesickness worse than most of my peers who I spoke to about it. Homesickness affects everyone differently, but it affects most people in at least some way while they are abroad. Methods for coping with homesickness are also a little different for everyone, but I’m going to discuss just a few coping strategies that helped me get over my homesickness. The most important thing to remember is that homesickness is temporary. Despite how homesick I got in my first few weeks abroad, by the time I left I didn’t want to leave at all.
Know yourself. Different personality types experience homesickness in different degrees. If you are like me and you feel lonely very easily or are not used to being alone in your everyday life, you may experience homesickness stronger than people who very rarely feel lonely. If you have never been far away from home before, you may also be more prone to homesickness than students who have already moved far away from home. There may not be much you can do to stop yourself from getting homesick if you are prone to homesickness, but knowing ahead of time that you may experience homesickness can help you know what to expect so you can come up with ways to adjust more quickly to your life abroad.
Do your research. Culture shock can definitely make homesickness worse. Part of what causes homesickness is the feeling of being disconnected from your home and your home culture. If you travel to a new country without first doing your research about that country, everything is going to seem even more new and different and unlike home. Again, just knowing what to expect from your time abroad can go a long way.
Get off of Facebook. It can be very tempting when you’re abroad to want to keep up with the lives of the people who are still back home. Staying connected to your friends and family can help your new environment not feel so new and lonely, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. However, when you are too busy focusing on the birthday party you are missing back home, you miss out on what is happening around you abroad. If you spend all of your time dwelling on how far away you are from everything you care about back home instead of giving yourself the chance to care about the things around you, you will only feel more lonely and disconnected from your life back home. Remember, you are the one having the cool, life-changing experience, so let yourself experience it.
Figure out what you love to do, and do it abroad. A lot of homesickness is caused by missing things about your life back home, whether it be the people you love or the things you love to do. When I was feeling homesick, I found that my homesickness went away more quickly once I started putting an effort into making my new home feel like my home. At home, I loved going for walks into town to get coffee, so that’s exactly what I did when I was abroad. Flexibility is key when you are adjusting to a new environment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the things you used to enjoy, just with a slightly different twist.
Go outside. This is one of those annoying pieces of advice that I hated getting when I was feeling homesick, but I promise it actually does work. It may be the last thing you want to do, but going outside and getting some fresh air really does go a long way. When I was feeling lonely, going into town and surrounding myself with people helped me feel like part of the community, even if I didn’t talk to anybody. This goes along with the getting off of Facebook point. If you spend your time abroad holed up in your room on social media, it’s going to make it harder for you to adjust to your new environment, which makes sense. How can you adjust to an environment you spend all of your time avoiding?
Caitlin Smith is a senior at the University of Kentucky studying French and Sociology. She studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France during the Spring 2016 semester.