Keeping Connected Across the Pond
One of the most difficult aspects of studying abroad is the distance between you and your loved ones. On a typical semester at my home university I was usually able to visit home at least once every month or so. My family is a very important part of my life, so not being able to spend time together on my study abroad has been difficult for all of us, but I have found ways to overcome homesickness and stay connected with my friends and family back home.
Saying goodbye to my family is never easy, especially after spending so much time together during the pandemic due to lockdowns and studying and/or working from home. Accordingly, we decided to make the most of my last few weeks in the U.S. In the last few days before my flight across the pond, I spent quality time with my family, doing activities together, visiting other relatives, and finally on the way to the airport, we stopped at my favorite restaurant for our final meal together. These days were a time of very mixed emotions. On one hand, I couldn’t wait to leave. My study abroad experience had been months in the making and I couldn’t have been more excited for it to begin. On the other hand, I was scared and sad to leave the place I had called home for the past 22 years. It really is the people that make a place a home, so I was extremely sad to say farewell to the friends and family that made it my home.
5,264 Miles Away
5,264 miles was the distance between my original home in the U.S. and my new home in the U.K. In the first few weeks of my study abroad experience, I was constantly reminded of this distance as I had no one from home to help me make the adjustment. I was also reminded of this distance when other study abroad students from mainland Europe seemed to have visitors from home every other week. The flight to London from most of Western Europe is about 1 hour, so having visitors is quite easy. Once again, this was a time of mixed emotions. Some days, I was so busy exploring my new home and making new friends that I didn’t even think about my family. Other days I wanted nothing more than be with my family, sleep in my own bed, and enjoy my mother’s cooking. Unlike my European friends, the only way I could stay connected with my family in the U.S. was through phone and video calls. At first, I called home every day, but as I eventually began to settle into my new home, and became comfortable with my new living arrangements and new friends, the calls became less frequent and the homesickness began to fade.
In today’s globalized world, staying connected has never been easier, making the physical distance almost irrelevant. There was a variety of ways that I stayed connected with my family back home, and it was this connection to my home that allowed me to fully enjoy my study abroad experience. The easiest and most frequent method of communication was through apps like WhatsApp or Zoom. Simply sending or receiving little things with my family through text made a big difference. I would often receive texts from my family about local news events, family updates, or even pictures of the Halloween decorations they put up. It was these little reminders of home that kept me from missing them too much. In addition to texting, using the facetime feature on these apps was also a great way to “see” each other and stay connected. While I enjoyed being updated on things going on at home, it was also important for my family to keep up with everything I was doing. My mom created a shared photo album in Shutterfly where I could upload photos from my experience, allowing my family to see everything I was doing, and enjoy those same experiences vicariously. Beyond photos, my family also sent me a “care package” in the mail. It included things that reminded me of home: some of my favorite foods and snacks, some U.S. magazines, and some physical photos I could keep on my desk.
Thankfully, despite the long and expensive flight, my aunt and sister were able to come to London and visit me. The week of their visit could not have been timed better: Thanksgiving week. Thanksgiving can be an especially difficult time for study abroad students from the U.S., as it is not celebrated in much of the world. However, we were lucky enough to find a restaurant in London which served a traditional American Thanksgiving meal. I was also able to show them some of my favorite spots around London. Spending this time with my aunt and sister made me appreciate everything I have back home, as well as all of the new things I have been able to enjoy throughout this study abroad experience. I have made some new very close friends in London, but no one has your back like family, so maintaining that relationship with them is essential during a study abroad. Spending this time away from my family has made me love and appreciate them even more.
Shane Crawford is a Finance major at Babson College and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Westminster in the UK in Fall 2021. He is a recipient of the IFSA First Generation College Student Scholarship