When you think “Study Abroad” you probably picture instagram models lying on exotic beaches or posing by the Eiffel tower, latte in hand. However, living abroad for a year is not always Eiffel towers and beaches. I won’t lie to you, studying abroad is really challenging a lot of the time, and if you think you won’t succumb to homesickness or frustration, you’re wrong. At some point, you will miss your parents, your bedroom, and your four cats (or dogs). It might come within a few weeks of your arrival, or it might be right before you go home. The only sure thing is that you will get homesick. I hope this article helps you get through it.
In German, homesickness is “Heimweh” which literally translates to “Home pain”. Every time I looked sad here in Germany, some German would ask me if I had this. The answer was consistently “no” until about January. Homesickness started hit me hard in times when I saw my friends posting photos without me, heard my friends stories about their senior year, or when I saw a cat in my neighborhood and missed having my own. Likely, when you start to get homesick, you will also start to idealize your home country and devalue your host country, thinking that “My life was so great back home! Why did I leave?” and “EVERYTHING about this new country is different and I don’t fit in. Why did I choose to come here?” These feelings are normal and are an important step in the exchange process. Here are ten ways you can deal with them.
- Realize that your emotions won’t last forever and are normal. This helped me a lot to rationalize what I was thinking
- Make a list, mental or physical, of everything you love about your host country/school/family
- Take a walk or bike ride around your town and remember what you felt the first time you saw it. This can help recenter your intentions for your exchange
- Reread your application essays for your exchange program. They are sure to be full of reasons why you wanted to go to your host country in the first place
- Talk to your host family, liaison, or other exchange students about how you feel
- DON’T look through photos from your life in your home country. This makes things a lot worse
- Exercise. Besides the endorphins, this gives you time to think about your emotions
- If you miss home because something in your exchange is a problem for you, IE school, host family, etc. Talk to your organization about changing it
- Make a list of the things you didn’t like about your home country or your life there. Maybe you hated your school, or maybe you were bored of your town, but this might remind you of why you wanted to leave
- Think about all the ways you’ve grown during your exchange and all of the people and places you’ve seen. Thinking back on your accomplishments can remind you that even the bad times in your exchange help you become a better person and global citizen
So, when you hit a low in your exchange and all you want is to go back home, don’t. Just know that these feelings are temporary and pushing through them is what makes you grow the most in your exchange. I wish you the best of luck.
– Abby in Germany
My old home (left) and my new home (right). Both unique, both beautiful, and both a part of my heart.