Prior to coming abroad I was warned that I may experience some intense homesickness. It's part of the natural course of emotions while abroad. Shaped kind of like a W, your highs are super high and your lows are super low. For the last week of March and early April, I was in an extreme low. I couldn't tell you why, but I was. But with that in mind, I wasn't necessarily homesick. I missed my Dad A LOT because I had become so adjusted to living with him. I missed my feline companions, being able to wake up and have them there or to come home after a long day and just relax with some cuddles. I missed the comforts of home, and I missed New York City, but I didn't miss New Jersey at all. I was experiencing travel depression--something I didn't really think existed until I found myself in it.
Now, that's not to say I am not grateful for this opportunity. Words cannot describe how thankful I am to be here, to be going on all these adventures that may not be once in a lifetime, but are sure as heck hard to come by. But negative emotions are still a plague here, trips and all, kind of lurking in the background and sometimes rearing their ugly heads.
It happens to me most when I find myself upset by something or someone, which has thankfully only happened once this entire trip. If you've read my posts, you know I am referring to an incident in Paris. Otherwise, the moods hit me randomly. I could be making dinner and think, "wow, my mom would really like this" or I could be watching a show on Netflix at night where an inside joke with my best friend pops up and I immediately have to text him. It's the little things. It's your desire for the familiar in a world where everything is still an adjustment, even 3 months later. It's your need for your support system who are still there, but are hours behind so it's a new journey to figure out how to keep in touch and keep going while fashioning a new support system here that you hope will hold up. And, you know, when a member of that support system isn't being supporting like you thought they'd be, the negative emotions overpower once again. It's not fun to deal with this.
But I've realized that there are certain ways I am coping with this, and I thought I'd share them for future long-term travelers and study abroaders like myself. One thing to note is this is how I am dealing with homesickness, but it is different for everyone.
1. Carve out a routine as quickly as possible.
I found solace in my class schedule because it meant that at certain times of certain days, I was always busy. It was nice. On days where I woke up and I had no plans, I had no idea what to do with myself. It made the beginning of my time here a little hard. A routine means normalcy, and it's something nice to rely on in the moment. Learn about your area so you don't rely on maps, find your little cafes for homework, and your favorite spots to grab a bite that are your little secret. Build a life here and things can be so much easier. Find your small core group and stick with them. That's all you need.
2. Establish contact with people at home, but don't rely on it.
I have found on this trip that I have grown closer to my family, which I love, but I am not relying on them. Sure, I need my phone calls with them every now and then and I often text them just because we are talking about a show we both love or something, but I can put my phone away and just live in the moment too. I've had moments where I've sat down at night and texted them and they were thinking, "wow, I haven't heard from Lil in a while." I make sure that every trip I take, they're the last people I tell I am taking off and the first people I tell I land, and then I tend not to reach out again until I am home for the night unless I manage wifi during lunch breaks and see I have texts I missed from them. Relying on your support network at home can be distracting. You're going home eventually and can spend all your time with them.
3. Do not feel guilty if you are not enjoying yourself.
The worst thing that can ever happen is you feeling guilty for not enjoying yourself. At times, you build things up in your mind and they're just not what you want them to be--like the Mona Lisa. It's such a big deal, but it's underwhelming when you get there. If you are having Mona Lisa-esque feelings on a trip while abroad or wherever you are calling your temporary home, don't feel guilty about it. It's natural. You can't love everything. Feeling guilty makes things harder for you because it spirals you into other negative emotions. When you're at home, do you love every meal you eat? Do you love every show you see? Do you make all perfect decisions? The answer is no. So that doesn't need to happen while you are abroad either, even if it feels like it does.
4. Do not compare yourself with others.
In the age of social media, we are all constantly updating people with our lives. I am for sure guilty of this. I am making it a point to post at least one photo to Instagram every day here, after all, because I want to document my adventures. But the thing is, a photo doesn't show everything. It's a snapshot in time, sometimes posed and not as candid as it may seem, that we think depicts our trip. However, it's so easy to smile to a camera, and then go back to scowling the second after the flash goes off. These photos aren't a reality, and you shouldn't compare yourself to others with this in mind. Sure, that trip looks gorgeous, but there will be a chance in the future for you to go. Comparing yourself to others typically means you're only hurting yourself...you interpret photos as "better" or trips as "something I wish I could do" instead of just living in the moment. Everyone else looks back on their study abroad experiences mostly with nothing but positive feelings, forgetting that at times they were homesick too. It's just the way things are.
5. Go out of your comfort zone.
I did a solo trip to Germany for four days which was way out of my comfort zone, but a solo trip was something I promised myself I would do before leaving. I learned so much about myself it was ridiculous, and to date, this has been my favorite adventure. I will definitely go back to Germany one day because of this. But I wouldn't have experienced this if I didn't go out of my comfort zone. The other way I've pushed myself is by being extremely social. I am am ambivert, which means I take energy from those around me during the day, but at night I crash and just want to be alone to recover, like an introvert. I would say I am an extroverted introvert, really. But here I am constantly being social. Making friends in the beginning that fall apart a few weeks in just like at college, but coming out stronger with those few people who you know you can't live without. That's my life here. And it is exhausting. But I am cherishing every minute with these people who won't be easy to see again.
6. It is okay to have down days.
In the beginning, I felt like I constantly had to fill every day with some kind of adventure. I was driving myself into a deep exhaustion. It is okay to have down days where all you do is sit in the library and write that paper, or do laundry and watch Netflix. You need these for your mental health. There are times where people simply need to be alone, and you need to give yourself that time without feeling guilty about it. Sure, you have a limited amount of time here, but if you're driving yourself so extremely that you get sick and end up not being able to enjoy your time here for a week, doesn't that make things worse? Take care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally.
7. Talk about your feelings.
It is so easy to feel alone, but the best thing is to just talk about your feelings with people, even if you have to cry it all out. Do what is best for you. Holding it in is just going to make them fester. Sure, some of my friends here don't understand what it is to be homesick, but they understand why I am homesick and let me get it all out. And they know I am here for them if they need me to be as well. Sometimes you need a good rant or vent session, maybe even a good cry here or there. It helps. Just give yourself that.
8. If you're feeling down, don't try to drink away your problems.
A lot of people study abroad because they can't legally drink in the United States. Europe is known for some really intense party destinations and that factors into decisions for sure. I chose to study abroad for the self-discovery and travel aspects, but everyone is different. And, to be honest, as someone who is of legal drinking age in the United States, drinking here where it is ridiculously expensive isn't that appealing to me. But the worst thing you can do is try to drink away your problems. Alcohol is a depressant, and if you're already feeling negative about your time here, it'll just get worse. Don't do that to yourself.
Have you ever felt homesick? If so, how did you cope with it? Are any of the above tips helpful or did you have different experiences? Share your thoughts below!