Homesickness Abroad: How To Get Over the First Month Slump
Part One: The Slump
Ask just about anyone who studied abroad and they will all likely tell you the same thing: it was life changing. Ask me? I will without a doubt agree. But if you would have asked me, “How do you like study abroad?” during my first couple weeks in cold, dark Dunedin, my answer would have been far less enthusiastic.
From the moment the IFSA van dropped me off on my flat, I was completely homesick. I cried a lot. I missed my family and friends and would have done just about anything to jump on a plane to send me straight back home. I had left sunny Los Angeles and had landed on the top of steep Queen Street, where skies seemed to be permanently painted grey. Don’t get me wrong, I eagerly looked forward to spending an entire semester in beautiful New Zealand. I fantasized about how great it would be and how much I would love it. Yet, each day I questioned if I had made some sort of mistake.
One of the hardest parts for me was coming to terms with my homesickness. After all, I had already done the ‘leaving home’ for two full years now (my university in Washington DC isn’t exactly a quick car ride away from Los Angeles). I wanted to enjoy myself. While everyone seemed to be on their honeymoon phase, I felt increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t enjoying every waking second. I so desperately wanted to fast forward to the part where study abroad was amazing and fun and a lot less lonely.
Part Two: The Love Story
There isn’t a clear moment when I realized how in love I had fallen with study abroad. It certainly took some time. But with each day and every new adventure, I fell just a little harder.
It happened hiking up some of the most incredible mountains I have ever seen. Between the sweat and laughter and snow at the top, it’s hard to believe there was a time where I wasn’t infatuated by what New Zealand has to offer. I learned to love all the new people I was meeting—between pasta dinners with my flatmates and long road trips with friends from around the world, I became more and more grateful to be surrounded by so many kind faces eager to get to know me. I laughed a lot. I jumped into glacial pools and freezing oceans. I tried things that forced me way out of my comfort zone (I did my first half marathon and overnight hike to name a few!).
By the time August rolled around, I had almost forgotten those first few weeks. Classes were in full swing and adventuring filled my weekends. For the rest of my time abroad, life was on the upswing.
Part Three: Reflection (Advice from an Amateur)
Everyone experiences abroad differently. Homesickness hits hard for some and less so for others. For me, it was about taking it day by day.
1. First and foremost, be kind to yourself.
Just because you are in a new and exciting place doesn’t mean you become any less human. There will be sad days and there will be happy ones. The best piece of advice I could give is to remember that it’s more than okay to feel sad, to get lonely, and to call your mom. IFSA also has some awesome staff on their team who can provide a listening ear, or even recommend you to a local counselor!
2. Put yourself out there.
While some people come with friends from their home universities, a lot of study abroad students come solo. Everyone’s pretty much in the same boat. If there’s ever a time to really reach out to people and make the first move, abroad is the time to do it. Who knows? You may just make some friends along the way. I found it was really helpful to organize home cooked meals with friends or people I thought could be friends! It was a great way to get to know each other (and, of course, try some new recipes).
3. Learn to be your own best friend.
You will probably have a lot more free time than you are used to. Take advantage of that. Pick up some new hobbies: I started running and drawing! I even took to learning new vegetarian recipes after hearing about how much what we eat impacts the environment. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to enjoy the nights in watching Netflix.
4. Stay Active.
Whatever that means for you, find something you like to spend your time doing. Take advantage of being in a foreign place. Go outside. Walk around. Plan to travel and fill up your days with new sites, places, and experiences. Don’t wait for someone else to plan your time abroad. In addition to the trips organized by IFSA, some of my best adventures were in my own backyard! Dunedin has lots of great hikes and beaches to visit, as well as local events like the weekly farmer’s market.
5. Remember that abroad is temporary.
There will come a time where you will go home. It can be daunting in the beginning knowing you may have up to six months in a foreign country away from the comfort of being home. But you will come back. While you’re there, cherish the newness. Make the most of your time. Go out and meet new people. By the time the end of your program comes, I can almost promise you won’t want to go back.
So, ask me how I liked study abroad? My answer is: I loved it. It definitely took some time adjusting, but with each day I learned to love it more. These past few months have been filled with memories of jokes and scenery that I don’t think I’d be able to forget even if I tried.
Studying abroad in New Zealand truly challenged me, but it also reminded me of how amazing an experience can be if you give it a chance. If I could sum up my lessons from abroad it would look something like this: kindness goes a long way, adaptability is incredibly important, and you fully have the power to enjoy yourself even when things don’t go exactly how you planned. Above all else, I learned that going with the flow usually has some pretty awesome outcomes, and I cannot wait to take that lesson home with me.
Maya Silardi is a Sociology and Women’s & Gender Studies student at Georgetown University. She studied abroad in New Zealand at the University of Otago in the Fall of 2019.