Many students plunge into going abroad, or just to another city, for graduate school with enthusiasm and great expectations. Often they even plan on experiencing a foreign country with some of their friends. But among all the positive excitement and rushing around, homesickness can also be a companion sooner or later during your period of study. Here is how you can handle it.
This feeling of loneliness and nostalgia is not reserved for the students experiencing studying abroad for the first time. Parents, friends, and family members often find themselves having to cope with the separation at the start of each academic year.
If you are about to leave your family nest for the first time to go and study abroad, be prepared to face not only your own personal difficulties but also the emotional reaction of a family member or friend. According to Sophie Girardeau, who is a European mobility officer at the French National Youth Information Centre, parents might experience a different kind of anxiety prior to their children’s departure abroad. They are often preoccupied early on with practical matters such as housing or financial planning, leaving little time to be affected by the emotional implications. While you may need to take care of your inner state first before giving another person a helping hand, this just goes to show that you are not alone in your distress.
Homesickness is normal
This realisation is usually the first step of learning how to handle loneliness and nostalgia. Having mixed feelings about going abroad can be expected but you should not let them cloud your judgement or make you regret your decision. Missing home is a natural part of the time spent abroad and it does not contradict all the positive memories.
“So many people […] seem to believe that if you’re homesick, you must be having a miserable time, but it doesn’t have to mean that,” says Rachel Simon, editor at Bustle, recalling her personal experience when moving to a new country. “It can simply mean that three and a half months […] is a lot of time to be so far away, and that by the end of it, it makes perfect sense to be ready to go home.”
It is then safe to say that homesickness is not really a sickness, even if its intensity weakens over time. Instead, try to think of the experience as normal and positive for your adaptation to any new environment. In addition, do not hesitate to seek professional advice if you feel like you need it. International programmes are dedicated to assisting their cohorts in any way they can, so they usually have a student advisor to hear you out and offer support.
If you want to beat the study abroad blues, it is absolutely essential to keep your mind and body busy with different activities. Whether it is work and homework, going out and making memories, or immersing yourself in the local culture, these activities will help in two important ways. Firstly, there will be no time left to feel bad. Secondly and more importantly, as you fill your calendar with exciting plans and get-togethers, you will be reminded why flying off to an unfamiliar place is worth all the challenges. Nishad Sanzagiri, who has lived in three Indian cities, the US, and two countries in the Middle East, discovered that staying busy helped him avoid homesickness during his studies at the University of Edinburgh (UK). He devoted more time to writing, being involved in student societies, and university-related work.
In addition, finding things to do seems to have more benefits than just relieving homesickness. New research published by the prestigious French business school INSEAD claims that “viewing yourself as a busy person can help you practise better self-control and make decisions that will benefit you later.” As long as you are mindful of the fine line between a healthy workload and an extreme one, your memory, brain function, and self-confidence will be positively influenced too.
Immersion in the local lifestyle and culture abroad should be a priority for students who want to make the most of their journey. Even so, some indulgence in traditions and activities that remind you of home is just as beneficial for your emotional balance. Amy Watts, who is a student at the University of Bath (UK) and participated in a study abroad programme in Italy, agrees: “My saving grace over the last few weeks has been overpriced English Breakfast tea and old series of The Great British Bake Off on Netflix – it’s not quite home, but it helps.” Whether it is a favourite dish or a particular song that reminds you of home, try sharing it with your new friends and help other people appreciate them the way you do.
While the ease of keeping in touch with family affairs in today’s digital world makes the transition much easier, social media can still take a toll on your emotional state. With all the great pictures and stories published online, it might seem that life back home is better than yours. In these cases, it is best to just shut down the social media buzz and switch to another activity. You need to remind yourself that the digital world does not offer a fully realistic portrayal of everyday life.
This is what Karina Balan Julio also had to learn throughout her time as a student and intern. “The ‘fear of missing out’ I once felt as I scrolled through the social media feeds of friends and family back home gradually stopped bothering me so much,” she writes for the New York Times. “They were evolving back at home and so was I. Missing them is part of my evolution.”
Find your own way to evolve by showing appreciation for your roots while embracing the unfamiliar.