Life&Style writer Caitlin Steele explains how you can make your student flat or house feel more like homeWritten by caitlinjsteele on 20th October 2017
How to Deal with Homesickness on Your Year Abroad
As many students start to think about their years abroad, Life&Style writer Tara Kergon gives advice on how to overcome homesickness while away
A year living in a foreign country sounds amazing, right? And it is. It’s a brilliant excuse to travel, and it delays the (inevitable) stress of final year as you stroll through foreign streets studying anything your department will give you credit for. Plus it’s a pretty cool feeling to realise you can actually live your life in another language.
“I have found myself pining for my family, a drinkable cup of coffee and a stable economy!
But after the initial culture shock fades and you grow accustomed to your new land, homesickness predictably starts to creep in. There’s just something about being so far from everyone and everything you know and love for a whole year that is quite overwhelming. Despite all of the warnings in briefing I assumed my propensity to spend months at a time away from home would keep me from missing English life, but even I have found myself pining for my family, a drinkable cup of coffee and a stable economy! So what can you do when it rears its head? How can you keep yourself from boarding the first flight home, or hiding in bed missing home? Here are just a few of my tips for keeping this particular wolf at bay...
- Immerse yourself in your new life
It’s strange, it’s new, and you’ve spent three months deciphering the public transport system with a concentration headache from trying to function in a second language. Now, however, you’ve started to feel at home, and you have half an idea what you’re doing, so it’s time to throw yourself into the life with abandon! The time may feel long, but in reality it will fly by, because at most you’ve got 12 months in this place (less for those of you in Europe, or splitting the year over 2 countries). Dive in. Explore everything. Fall in love with obscure corners of the city, and make friends with the locals. Discover their favourite hangouts and some of your own. Take classes you wouldn’t normally try, and activities you would usually not give a chance. Settle into the new rhythm of life, and keep busy discovering it. It would be all too easy to spend the days curled up with Netflix, letting the homesickness grow, but if you can hold on to the excitement of your new hometown the blues will pass.
- Don’t focus on what you miss
Yes, frankly it’s a travesty that nary a tin of baked beans can be found on foreign shores (except perhaps in a dodgy English pub), or that nobody gets your sarcasm. But if you dwell on it, you won’t find all of the things there are to love about your new country. The point of the year abroad is to fully experience a new culture, to adapt to it, so don’t spend time trying to live the same way you would in England, or bemoaning the differences. Personally, I’ve been dying for a roast dinner and a decent cup of tea since September, but I’ve discovered, and fallen in love with, dulce de leche and mate. I miss having a real schedule for buses, but I know that time is more flexible here. I’d rather not be dealing with 40% inflation and protests that block the main plaza 3 times a week, but I know it’s only for a short time. Pining over English life leaves you blind to the amazing things about your new way of life – you’ll be home soon enough, and will probably find a twinge of homesickness for everything you’ve left behind in your second city.
“Pining over English life leaves you blind to the amazing things about your new way of life
- Keep in touch, but not too much
Between the time difference and your now-separate lives, it can be hard to keep up with friends and family back home. I certainly worried I’d lose contact while I am away, but it was a pointless fear. Maybe you won’t keep up with every acquaintance, but any true friends will still be there when you get back, because a year is nothing in the grand scheme of life. Everyone understands that your life runs on a different schedule now, so just make time once in a while for a good long catch up and you’ll find your friendship as strong as ever when you come home. Besides, it’s difficult to try and live your life in two places, so constant contact with people from home won’t help your homesickness. To make the most of the year prioritise where you are at the moment: your new friends, your classes, and exploring; don’t try to remain 100% involved in England. It will still be there when you get back.
It sounds counter-intuitive to try and fix the problem of missing home by going even further away, but hear me out! I find homesickness settles in when I am caught in the routine of ‘living’, of doing all the day-to-day things I’d do at home, simply without my loved ones and in a less familiar place. The shakeup of travel, therefore, is the perfect remedy: the excitement, the adventure, the sheer freedom, was all exactly what I needed. I was lucky enough to travel for three months over the Argentine summer, but even a week or a weekend away in a new city will help revive your enthusiasm, and leave your second city feeling much more like home upon your return. I’m also currently trying to inject some of the travel spirit into my days – less Netflix in bed, and more exploration in search of new activities and areas, instead of merely shuttling to and from classes.
“The shakeup of travel... is the perfect remedy: the excitement, the adventure, the sheer freedom
- Talk about it
Lastly, one of the most important pieces of advice I have is to avoid keeping your feelings to yourself. Bottling anything up is a recipe for feeling worse about it, so reach out to someone in the same situation and you’ll find it gets easier to bear. You’ll be surrounded by other exchange students who most likely feel the same way and will be just as keen to get out and distract themselves from it, and you’ll feel much less alone. And finally, if it does become overwhelming, don’t be afraid to contact student support at either your home university or your new one. Birmingham can offer great services, especially if a student has had an existing mental health problem, and it could be exactly what you need. Just remember that everyone gets homesick and the extremely British ‘stiff upper lip’ won’t help you – don’t try and do it alone!