Studying abroad gives you a chance to make new memories, open your mind, see what life is like in a different place, and meet new people from all over the world. Spending an academic year or semester studying in a new country can also benefit you both academically and professionally.
If you plan to study abroad, you may experience mixed emotions before and during your program. On the one hand, you may be excited about having new adventures. At the same time, you may feel sad about leaving home.
That negative feeling is called homesickness, and it’s very common. As part of our commitment to helping international students fully benefit from the study abroad experience, our team here at Remitly put together this guide on how to deal with feelings of homesickness. Read on to learn more about experiencing homesickness abroad and what you can do about it.
Homesickness is a feeling of distress caused by being away from familiar people and your home. It doesn’t just happen to those who have studied abroad. Anyone who travels for work or personal reasons may experience it.
If you live on campus or attend school in a city other than where you grew up, you may have already dealt with homesickness. One study found that 94% of students feel homesick during the first 10 weeks of college.
Triggers and symptoms
Often, people don’t feel homesick right away. When you first arrive in a new country, you may be in a honeymoon phase where your excitement overwhelms any negative feelings.
Within a few days or weeks, homesickness may set in as you deal with culture shock and the realities of your new surroundings. At this point, you may experience some of the following emotional, mental, and physical symptoms:
- Difficulty sleeping, such as tossing and turning or waking up frequently
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Crying or feeling sad
- Nausea and diarrhea
Homesickness may come and go during the duration of your time abroad. In some cases, the feelings may return due to triggers that remind you of home, birthdays, the Christmas holidays, or seeing posts from family and friends on social media.
Stay connected with home (but not too much)
Maintaining a connection to life back home can help you adjust to your new environment and ease homesick feelings. However, it’s important not to avoid new people and your surroundings by focusing too much on home.
Regularly scheduled calls
One of the best ways to stay in touch with your friends and family is to set up regularly scheduled calls. Strive to talk once or twice per week on the same day of the week at the same time. This way, you can have something to look forward to when you find yourself missing home.
Use technology to experience a piece of home abroad
It may help to spend quality time with your loved ones from a distance. Streaming a movie or TV show together once per month or playing a game together online can be a great way to combat homesickness.
The importance of not overdoing it
As previously mentioned, too much contact with your old friends and family can do more harm than good.
If you’re constantly spending your free time talking to people in your home country, you may miss out on the opportunities to fully benefit from studying and living abroad. Sacrificing your current social life to talk to your loved ones can lead to social isolation that could worsen homesickness.
Embracing your new life while staying in touch with the people you love will help you strike the right balance.
Build a support network
Feeling alone in a new country can contribute to feelings of homesickness, so having social support while studying abroad is important. Some people who can form your network include:
- Your loved ones: Your best friend and your closest family members can be a source of support when you experience homesickness, as long as you don’t rely on them entirely.
- Your advisors: Your study abroad advisors at your home university and your international school can provide guidance and support.
- Faculty: Keep in touch with professors from home and get to know the educators who teach your courses while you’re studying abroad.
- Classmates: People who are from the country where you’re studying can be a valuable resource and source of support. In your classes and outside the classroom, look for opportunities to make new friends who you can ask questions and learn from.
- Other international students: Other foreigners are in the same boat as you. They likely feel homesick, too, and can relate to what you’re going through. Strike up conversations to make new friends.
- Locals: Your host family and friendly neighbors in the community can be a valuable source of support as you move beyond your comfort zone while living abroad.
- Online contacts: Cultivate positive relationships with other people online. Post on social media and consider keeping an international journal blog where you can interact with commenters.
Customize your new space
Whether you’re staying in a dorm, in an apartment, or with a host family, your room should be a safe space for you during your time abroad. Personalize with touches of home as a way to strengthen your connection to your loved ones.
Bring along some small personal items that have meaning to you. For example, you can place a framed photograph on a shelf or bedside table or wear a piece of jewelry that a special friend or family member bought for you.
Stay busy with activities and experiences
Staying busy can help you adjust to the environment while you study abroad. If you fill your day with activities, you’ll have less time to dwell on home and may be less likely to experience homesickness abroad.
Immerse in a new culture
Delve deeply into the culture of your new home away from home. Not only will immersing yourself in the culture by attending local events and visiting museums and cultural sites distract you, but it can also help you feel more at home while abroad.
Learn how to have the richest cultural experiences possible while you study abroad for more tips on the subject.
Explore the area
Get out and explore the community where you’re staying so that your new environment feels more like your neighborhood rather than a place where you live temporarily.
Take walks. People watch in public areas. Visit a place of worship.
Shop in person in stores rather than using delivery services, and eat in restaurants rather than getting takeout all the time. Seize every opportunity you can to get to know the area where you live.
Clubs and organizations will allow you to meet people and make new friends. Consider volunteering with a nonprofit or finding a group related to your interests on or off campus. Playing team sports can also be a great way to connect with others.
Consider visiting another part of your destination country or a trip to a neighboring country during your stay.
Have an outdoor adventure to clear your mind and benefit from fresh air, or see the sights another place offers. A change of scenery may reduce negative feelings related to missing home.
Mental and physical health are intertwined, and taking good care of yourself can help when you feel homesick. Here are some ways to prioritize self-care to ease homesickness.
Although you may not be able to have a home-cooked meal often while abroad, you can take steps to eat a healthy diet while you’re away from home—strive to eat fruits or vegetables at every meal and watch out for fast foods and processed foods.
Physical activity is good for the mind as well as the body. If you’re not accustomed to exercise, go at your own pace. For example, you can spend 10 or 20 minutes taking walks each day and then work your way up to longer exercise sessions.
Avoid unhealthy habits
While adjusting to a new environment, don’t self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Substances won’t eliminate homesickness, and being heavily intoxicated in an unfamiliar place could be dangerous.
Try mindfulness, meditation, and other stress-free activities
Managing stress can help when you’re feeling homesick. Use an app to try mindfulness or meditation. Listen to music or read a book to unwind. Sometimes, taking a few deep breaths helps to calm and center you when you’re having a hard time.
Seek help if you need it
When homesickness persists and interferes with your quality of life, reach out for professional help.
Homesickness vs. depression vs. anxiety
Homesickness has much in common with mental health issues like anxiety and depression. The biggest difference between these conditions and homesickness is the intensity and duration of your symptoms.
Feelings of hopelessness, a drop in self-esteem, a lack of energy that makes it difficult for you to perform daily tasks, and thoughts of harming yourself could indicate that you’re suffering from depression. Panic attacks and being preoccupied with worries could mean you’re dealing with more than just anxiety caused by your new environment.
If you believe you may have an underlying mental health issue, reach out for help as soon as possible.
How to get help
No matter where you are in the world, help is available for persistent homesickness and mental health concerns. Here are some mental health tips:
- Tell your friends and family what you’re going through. Don’t pretend everything is fine if you feel overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious.
- Reach out to your host school and your home university for assistance accessing mental health services.
- Consider online therapy with a licensed mental health professional back home if you have difficulty finding help while abroad.
With help from professionals, you can move forward positively and make the most of your study abroad program.
Feeling homesick is a common part of studying abroad. Anticipating that it may happen and planning for it can limit its effects on your mental health.
Keeping the above tips in mind can help you while dealing with homesickness. If you find they’re not enough, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from professionals as well as friends and family.
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