Student Perspective: 5 Tips for Dealing with Homesickness when Studying Abroad
Students travel abroad for higher education for many reasons. Maybe you want to attend a top institution for your program of choice. Or, you received a scholarship that’s just too good to pass up. Maybe you and your family see great benefits in you receiving global exposure, beyond the bubble of your home country.
In my case, it was a mixture of all these things that pushed me to pursue studies far away from my family and closest friends. I am from a small archipelagic country in the Caribbean called The Bahamas. I grew up on the island of New Providence which is the country’s capital and is the most populated. I paid close attention to the features of my home country’s food system from an early age – high food prices, high proportion of imported food, food and nutrition insecurity. These observations pushed me toward studying food, agricultural and resource economics at the University of Guelph. Whatever the case may be for you, moving away from home for post-secondary education is an amazing opportunity. One in which you will gain life-altering experiences.
Even though you may enjoy the company of new friends and your new-found independence, one of the biggest downsides of moving away for school is homesickness. Personally, I think missing home can sometimes feel like it’s sucking the life out of you! When I first moved to Guelph, I remember feeling overwhelming emotional exhaustion. It was as though missing my friends and family was an extreme mental sport that my mind engaged in every day. I missed the convenience of closeness to loved ones, the routine of homelife and simply the reassurance of having those I care about most near me.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” - Winnie the Pooh
Whether you or someone you know is experiencing these feelings, it is important to find healthy ways to cope with homesickness. Here are some ways you can ease the feelings of homesickness and stay in touch with family and friends when you are a busy academic living away from home.
1. Bring items that remind you of home
Bring items from home that make you feel surrounded by love. Whether it’s a childhood teddy bear, or an old blanket, these small items bring physical comforts of home into your new space. They also help keep fond memories of our loved ones alive in our minds. It’s also a good idea to bring some native spices or dry ingredients with you, so you can make your favourite cultural dish when you’re craving a home cooked meal. But be sure to comply with food import restrictions! I chose to bring a few bottles of Bahamian guava jam and a bag of grits, a food item we traditionally eat for breakfast. Also, bring something from home that represents your ‘why’. Why was it important for you to study abroad and succeed? Why did you uproot your life and move away to an unfamiliar place? I chose to bring a flag from my home country and a ring from my late grandmother. The flag represents my pride and commitment to my country, and a pledge to use my education in a way that fosters its development. The ring symbolizes my respect and adoration for my grandmother, who only had the opportunity to obtain a 3rd grade level of education. My goal is to make her proud by using the path she paved for me to learn, grow and experience more than she did in her lifetime.
2. Nurture a positive mindset
This is generally easier said than done, but the conscious effort you put into your mindset can help to reduce your internal stress and anxiety about being away from family. I made the huge mistake in thinking about all the negative aspects of my new life once I left my family. I thought things like: “I know this is going to be a scary experience”, “I won’t make friends”, “I’ll just count down the days until it’s time to go back home for a visit”. Telling myself things like this completely closed my mind to wanting to make the best out of the experience and to meeting new people before I even got here. It’s because of that that I deterred myself from experiencing more places in Guelph. I often cancelled plans with friends and even turned down amazing opportunities to go to places like Niagra Falls, Canada’s Wonderland or the CN Tower (none of which I have visited to this day). It is an emotionally lethal mindset that encouraged me to find fault in my new environment and I was by default miserable whenever I tried to socialize. Overcoming this mindset was not easy. Shortly after I recognized the bitterness in myself, I started attending clubs that appealed to me such as the Caribbean Cultural Club and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. I also signed up to be a mentee for the Chroma Project. By exposing myself to these positive spaces and meeting new people, I slowly regained a positive outlook and was hopeful about my new environment.
3. Keep a communication routine
Establish a routine for communicating with your friends and family. For those with a large family it could be good to set aside a few minutes out of the week to check in with everyone. You can use WhatsApp, Skype, Facetime, Facebook and a variety of other platforms depending on who you’re reaching out to. However, it is important not spend every moment during your free time talking to your distant loved ones. It’s easy to miss out on so much if you are always locked away in your room communicating with old friends. Use the energy and confidence you gain from connecting with friends and family at home to help you go out and meet new people in your new community.
4. Document your experiences
I cannot stress how important this is. It is one of my biggest regrets from my first and second year of university. Documenting the experiences you have is such an amazing way to bring home stories to your family during your next visit. Documenting can take many forms – journal entries, photos, videos, sketches and so much more. It’s also a way to reflect on your own personal growth. You can one day look back and remember that although you were hesitant, anxious or scared at first you experienced so much.
5. Access on campus support
If your levels of homesickness induced stress and anxiety are increasing to the point where your health and academic performance are declining, talk to someone. Talk to a trusted friend, professor or program counsellor. Good2Talk, the University of Guelph Student Wellness website, the LINK Program, the Chroma Project and the Multi-Faith Resource Team at the Raithby House on campus are also good resources. I was a part of the Chroma Project during my first year. Because I was struggling to adjust to my new environment away from family, I was falling behind in a few classes. I opted to be paired up with a professor so that I can get extra one-on-one academic help while having someone to listen to my personal concerns about homesickness. If you are uncomfortable talking to outsiders about the situation, I have found that another trusted resource can also be speaking to our own selves. I can be my own biggest supporter or my own biggest adversary. Have an encouraging heart-to-heart with yourself. Keep a journal, tell yourself reassuring things and remember to not compare your university experience to others’. Speak to and support yourself like you would your best friend.
Saying goodbye to a way of life you know and are comfortable with can be tough, but it is something you definitely can and will get through. Remembering your ‘why’, keeping a positive attitude, communicating regularly with distant loved ones, documenting your experiences and recognizing when it’s time to seek help have all been key to my transition to my new life abroad. And I hope they will help you too.
“Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
In this series of blog posts, OAC students take us through some of the ups and downs of their journeys at the University of Guelph.