How to Overcome the Mid-Semester Slump
1. Admit that it’s okay to feel down.
No one likes to admit it, but being abroad won’t feel like the best months of your life 100% of the time. The pressure to feel like you’re enjoying every moment makes it hard to take a step back and let yourself admit that sometimes you miss home. I have never been a homesick person and I have been fortunate enough to have plenty of travel experience, so I didn’t expect to ever want to return. But my reality check came about two months into the program when my best friend’s mom got very sick and passed away. Suddenly, I just wanted to be home with my friends and family. I was missing everything about my normal life, and all of the new and exciting things from before were suddenly grating on me. However, I knew that I would kick myself if I spent the next few months moping, so I came up with some techniques to get through my personal rough patch. First I had to accept my feelings and let myself spend time alone to recharge and be lazy when I was feeling overworked or anxious.
2. Remind yourself why you came in the first place.
Reevaluating your initial goals can help you stay focused on what’s important. I wanted to improve my academic Spanish and get to know local people, so I started to make an effort to engage in more conversations with my host family: I let them know why I was spending so many hours on FaceTime with my people back home. Revisiting my original expectations for the program helped me to reflect on how much I’d grown personally since my arrival and kept me motivated to continue improving.
3. Try a new (or familiar) activity.
For me, this step meant lacing up my running shoes and getting outside. I hadn’t realized how much exercise-induced endorphins improve my mood until I took a break from being active. But if exercise isn’t your thing, maybe there’s another activity from home that usually helps calm you, like cooking, reading, or even watching Netflix. Taking up a new hobby can be helpful, too. I started going with some of my IFSA friends to a Spanish-English language exchange once a week to chat with local people and travelers. No matter what activity you choose, filling up your schedule can help to ease some of the homesickness (or even loneliness) that you might feel while abroad.
4. Get out of your house and make plans with friends.
First, let your friends know how you’re feeling. Chances are, many others from the program feel the same way. Together, you can combat the slump. Now when I get bored, instead of following my instincts and watching Netflix in bed, I text some friends and ask if anyone wants to meet up for drinks or go for a walk. I also check out the local free or cheap events and plan an outing.
5. Make a plan for the rest of the semester.
Sometimes when all you want to do is go home, thinking realistically about how much time you have left and how best to spend it will help you stay inspired to enjoy the next few months. If you’re not careful, you can waste weeks stuck in the slump, and when you look back on that time, you’ll really regret not making the best of it. Look at your calendar and count the weeks until your return, then fill those weeks with amazing experiences. If there’s a nearby destination that you’ve been meaning to visit, make plans to go there. If you’ve always wanted to do that stupid touristy thing in your city, round up a group of friends and check it out. Having concrete events to look forward to can help you work through those moments when you’re most missing home.
Emma Houston is an English literature and Spanish major at DePauw University who studied abroad with IFSA in Argentina in Fall 2018. She served as an IFSA International Correspondent through the IFSA Work-to-Study Program.