Ways to Combat Homesickness

Moving away can be hard, no matter what stage of life you are in. Homesickness can hit you at any point, whether you have crossed an ocean or you are a 12-hour drive away from home. I have decided to treat my time in North Carolina like my year in Europe. Because I know I will only be here for a year, I want to see as much as I can and take part in local, everyday life as much as possible before packing up and leaving. Homesickness is inevitable, but having this mindset has really helped me combat negative feelings.

Although I do not use pinterest much, I would recommend looking for things to do in the area where you are staying or visiting. I had written this in a previous post of mine, but I suggested it under a different context. It’s as simple as doing a quick search: “Things to do in X”. You never know what you may find, or what others have already found.

Once I read enough articles or blog posts online and learn a little bit more about the area, I take that information and compile a list of things to do. I have a list of coffee shops, local events, and tourist attractions that I really want to visit during my year away from home. In just one month of being away, I have already gone to several festivals and events at school and around town. I tend to keep an eye out for posters advertising free events both on campus and in town, on my way to class.

People like to poke fun at me for this one because of how ridiculous this might sound, but I always try to plan something fun at least once a week. Whether you are a student or working full-time, it can be extremely difficult to find time for anything. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in staying on top of work, and even trying to get ahead, to the point that I feel like I am running on a treadmill; I do a lot of work, but in the end, there’s always more. At the end of the day, what I want to remember about Winston-Salem is not all the nights I spent in my room, stressing out over homework, but rather the times I had getting to know my classmates and hanging out with friends. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to be very spontaneous, planning activities ahead of time can help you always have something good to look forward to, instead of another long day.

My last piece of advice is what has helped me the most since moving away. It is super important to get involved in some kind of community. Get involved with a group that is near and dear to you. For you, that may be a volunteer group, a fraternity or sorority, a club, or a fitness class. For me, something I knew that I absolutely had to do was get involved in a church group. If you aren’t going to school and are finding it challenging to meet new people, I would highly suggest doing this. Even if you only see these people for an hour at first, it can turn into more time together as you form friendships with those around you.

Homesickness isn’t always a bad thing. However, dealing with it isn’t easy, and it may never completely go away. In the end, you may not be able to control when a wave of it comes crashing down on you, but it’s up to you to decide what you do with those feelings. Will you make the most of your time away and turn it into a great memory or will you count the days until you go home again?

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Savor the Small Things

Have you ever stopped what you were doing and looked at everyone around you? When traveling to huge tourist destinations, you can see just how many people are snapping photos of what is around them. When you observe your surroundings, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that many of the people you see have a camera of some sort, whether it be an actual camera, or a good quality phone camera. With such easy access to a good quality camera, anyone can become a photographer, just like how websites like WordPress allow anyone to become a blogger.

I didn’t get into photography until I went abroad. Even then, I took pictures of all the obvious scenery and attractions around me. It wasn’t until my dad gave me some advice that I started really paying attention to what mattered and shaped my experience. I still don’t consider myself a photographer; I prefer to appreciate others’ photography.

I recently went on a trip to Maine and took many pictures during walks on various trails with my family. As I showed my family the pictures that I had taken on our walks, they remarked that I had a tendency to take pictures of everyday creatures or objects in nature that they had not even noticed during our hikes. Minute details go unnoticed by most, but really come in handy later on, whether it’s in a photograph or when you are traveling.

I love free things! I also love hotels. I especially like going into hotels and taking the free shampoo, conditioner, soap, and lotion. Many people take these little gifts for granted, just leaving them where they originally were, untouched. However, I would suggest taking them along with you, especially if you don’t end up using them during your stay.

When I was in Europe, it was hard for me to find travel-sized shampoo and conditioner to use for short-term trips. I wasn’t familiar with stores in the area to know where to find any of the toiletries I needed, and I wasn’t even sure that they existed. Despite that setback, I ended up having and using some of the little complimentary items from the hotel during my travels. I had primarily stayed in hostels and AirBnBs, so I would not have received anything. The toiletries I saved from my stays in different hotels were perfect for my weekend trips, especially when it came to saving space in my carry-on! Something so small played an important role in my daily life.

Look around you and be resourceful, you never know what may come in handy for your future travels.

Living in a Tourist Town

We are always on the move. After doing some research, I found that it is estimated that Americans will move about 10-11 times during their lifetime. Although I have not moved around much and have plenty of time to do so, I spoke with others who have. My parents have experienced living in many different kinds of places, from a small town in Pennsylvania, to huge well-known cities. Some of the places where they have lived for an extended period of time were tourist destinations such as New York City and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The cool thing about living in a tourist town is that you get to experience life as a local. When I went to school in Gettysburg, students divided everyone into three groups: college students, tourists, and “townies.” It didn’t take much time to figure out who was who when living there. Being there for a long time, students could see what Gettysburg had to offer, not just as a tourist destination but also locally. Had I only been a tourist in Gettysburg, I would have not known that there was a Hispanic community there that I could get involved with. I got to experience going to mass in Spanish, volunteer at a bilingual school, and go to a yearly event called “Salsa on the Square.”

However, life and work creeps up on us, consuming our time so much that we sometimes forget to do the touristy activities before it’s time to pack up and move again. One piece of advice my parents have given me, as well as others, was to do everything while you can. In the case of when I studied in Madrid, I knew my time was limited to three months, so I knew how much time I had to visit every museum and sight I wanted to go to. Most of the time, when people move, they don’t know how long they will be staying in a given place. It can vary depending on the type of job and of course, life being unpredictable.

I never did get to go on any ghost tours when I was in Gettysburg, but I did get to see the battlefields and had two very knowledgeable friends give me a tour. I got to know which ice cream places were popular with locals and which ones were tourist traps. I got to know some of the locals through frequenting restaurants in different places where I have studied. I had four years to see and do everything that I wanted to, so I could spread things out. However, I wish that I would have done and discovered some things earlier, because I would have done them more often, such as riding around the battlefield in a scoot coupe with my roommates.

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If you are thinking about or already living in a tourist town, take advantage of the things to do. Maybe you already have, and that’s great! Maybe you haven’t yet because you don’t want to be associated with tourists or you just haven’t found the time yet. Take advantage before it’s too late! Explore, discover, and share with others! You never know what you may find.

Balancing School and Travel

Every college student is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There’s the side that likes to binge-watch Netflix or funny videos on YouTube. They seem carefree and you almost wonder how they pass class, because you never see them doing their work. That’s when you see the other side: the student that stays up from anywhere between 2-4 in the morning, scrambling to finish their assignment, paper, etc. This is a stressful way to live, and pretty unhealthy if you aren’t getting enough sleep or eating the right things. With this lifestyle, it makes it a lot harder to travel.

This past weekend, I traveled to a city two hours away to give a talk at a conference. I had almost no time to do any work because I had been going to sessions almost every half hour. However, I knew that I wouldn’t want to do my work the day I got back from the trip, because I would be tired from traveling and hearing more talks. To spare myself lots of stress, I planned ahead and did what assignments I could during the previous week. This technique has always helped me when traveling.

When I was in Madrid, I traveled literally every weekend. I would leave on Thursday and get back Sunday. Sometimes I would just do a day trip, but I was still traveling. I would always get my homework done before leaving. Some of my classmates would bring their homework with them on trips, but I know that I would never be able to get it done on a trip, nor would I enjoy my trip if I spent it doing homework. If you are busy during the week, I would suggest doing the little, easier, quicker assignments first. Whenever you are already in homework mode, doing your other homework, get a little bit ahead by doing an assignment that is due when you come back from your trip. If you keep doing a little bit at a time, you may be surprised at how much you get done. If you decide to do all of your homework at once, that can be draining but then you won’t have to worry about any homework.

What kind of student are you? Do you ever work ahead? Share your homework tips below!

Meeting People Abroad

When looking at websites that offered study abroad advice, I noticed that students who had studied overseas were presented with the question: What do you wish you had done that you didn’t do? The answers I read were surprisingly very similar and not at all what I had expected. Students didn’t say that they wished that they had traveled more, or that they wish they would have bought more souvenirs. The biggest regret I had read about was that many students wished that they would have had the courage to talk to people locally and make friends.

Life presents many opportunities to cross paths with others, sometimes in crazy ways. It’s what you choose to do in that moment that will determine what will become of that encounter. Having gone through this myself, here is my advice on where you can meet people:

First I would suggest looking up language exchanges in the area. If there aren’t any, advertise that you would be interested in doing one! I have met plenty of nice and welcoming people from doing language exchanges. At first, it might have been strange because I did not know anyone, but after meeting up a few times, we became friends.

Consider joining a fitness class. The program I attended let American students sign up for fitness classes at the local university. I met a number of people because of taking hip-hop and Zumba classes. The great thing about doing this is that you already have something in common with everyone in the room, a love for the class you signed up for.

Also consider taking a local university class. It may seem intimidating, especially if you are not confident in your language abilities, but you will meet people who are willing to help you. I will admit that this can be scary at first because everyone seems to already have their own group of friends, but just start with something simple like, “Can I see your notes from the other day?” or, “Can I borrow a pen?”

Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, I would suggest trying to attending a church. Some of the most welcoming people were those that I met from weekly Bible studies and going to church every Sunday. These people were very nice and cared about how my friends and I were doing and how we were adjusting to being away from home. I even met one of my good friends after accidentally locking myself in the bathroom!

After spending an extended amount of time somewhere, you start to form a routine. My friends and I would frequent restaurants and cafes that we enjoyed. In doing that, we became friends with the owners, and even got to talk to other customers at times.

One last thing I would recommend is to pay attention to your surroundings in general. You never know if you will be handed a flyer for an event that you would be interested in or if you will see a poster for something you would be interested in. You can even look up online what is going on in your area to find out more.

The truth is, you can meet people anywhere. Sometimes you will meet them in the grocery store and sometimes you will meet them in your hostel. It is confidence that you will need to be able to form friendships with others. While I cannot give you that confidence, I can tell you where you are likely to meet people. The suggestions that I mentioned come from my personal experience studying in Europe but there are so many other ways to meet people and make friends. If you have traveled before, where have you met people?

Homesickness is Real

Isn’t it ironic how we are living in a time where we are encouraged to celebrate our differences, but when we share our thoughts with someone that doesn’t agree with us, they get offended? It is so easy to say the wrong thing and take someone on a guilt trip that they did not want to be a part of.

When you go abroad, many people will tell you how fortunate you are that you get this opportunity. They will say how they wish they had that chance. They will tell you to make the most of your time away. As someone who has gone through this myself, I can say that this is true. You will have a fantastic time full of memories that should last you a lifetime. Something those people fail to take into account is that studying abroad is like opening a bag of Skittles. It is a bag full of sweets that you will enjoy, but with that comes some flavors you will not like. You did not ask for them, but they are there and they are part of the experience, and unlike Skittles, you can’t give those bad moments away to other people. This is where homesickness comes in.

I got homesick while I was abroad. I am not sure many people realized it, because I did not tell many people back home. I wanted everyone to know that I was having fun and making the most of my experience in Europe. While it was true, there were times when I would feel very homesick, but I would not tell anyone because I did not want them to think that I was ungrateful for this dream I was living out. It is so easy for people to say that they would make the most of their time abroad until they actually get to the point where they are in that situation. Not everyone realizes how much strength it takes to get up and leave everything they know and love to go away for an extended period of time. In the end, you are left feeling guilty for missing everyone.

It’s okay to feel homesick. Just don’t let it paralyze you.

Homesickness is natural, especially if you are close with your friends and family. The more you have to leave behind, the more you are going to miss those things. It is totally normal to want to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with those you love and wish that they were there with you. That being said, do NOT let this feeling paralyze you. It is okay to acknowledge that it is there, and that some days will be worse than others. I guarantee there are other people in your shoes that feel the exact same way that you can talk to. However, that one semester you spend away will fly by. Time does not wait for anyone. Continue to live your life and make new memories. Live in the moment before you realize that it is too late, or else the only thing you will remember is how homesick you felt the whole time you were gone.

I did not have that experience but I know some people who did and it was such a shame to see their experience go to waste. Has anyone ever made you felt bad for being homesick? What were some things you did to combat homesickness?

Don’t Miss the Moment

So many people are living yesterday or dreaming about tomorrow that they miss the now. They’re thinking about going abroad or when they went abroad. They’re both wonderful things but don’t miss the here and now because what was got you to this moment and what is now will get you to that future moment that you’re dreaming about, so embrace the here and now and live it to its fullest.

Whenever people ask me if I miss being abroad, I tell them that I do, but only a little bit. The joy I receive from spending time with my loved ones and being in a familiar place outweighs that negative feeling of missing the life I lived a year ago. I looked forward to being abroad in anticipation of what was going to be. Now that I’ve done it, I have fantastic memories. However I also have my life at this moment (friends, classes). The life that you live is going on. Remember that the life you’re living now is preparation for what will be. Enjoy the moment, including the painful ones because they are lessons. 

While I was away, I missed home very much. I missed my family, my friends, my school, and especially my significant other. Homesickness is real and I don’t like when people try to make those who feel homesick bad for feeling that way. Despite feeling homesick, I did not let that paralyze me to the point of not having fun and making Skype calls home every day for hours on end. I counted myself as fortunate to be able to travel around Europe and live the dream I had been wanting to live for years. I took advantage of my opportunity. It was worth it and I would never take that experience back. What I normally tell people when they ask me how I feel is, “I was happy in Europe and I am happy at home. I am happy wherever I am.” The last thing I want people to think is that I was unhappy going abroad.

Be happy wherever you are. Live the life you want to live with what you have around you. Count the blessings in your life. If times are tough, remember that they are just lessons for you to learn and without them, you would not be the person you are today. Without the good and bad moments in life, you would not have gotten to this point. Most importantly, do not spend your life wishing away the present moment for something you are excited for in the future. Embrace now. Live now.