Beat the Study Abroad Homesickness: 7 Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely
Studying abroad in a new country is awesome, right?
Moving to a foreign country brings a torrent of new experiences and emotions—mostly wonderful and exciting ones.
But with time, this package of new thrills makes room for less joyful feelings. You’re away from your family, friends and home… maybe for the first time ever. You’ll probably feel a little melancholia that we tend to call homesickness.
When I lived in London, my homesickness usually got worse in the winter. At that time of the year, I hankered after the sunshine and fresh food you can only get in warm countries, such as my home country, Brazil.
The long, bleak British winters weren’t easy to cope with, and the early onset of darkness brought down my mood.
Even though I was living an exciting new as I studied abroad, some days just seemed pretty drab.
Homesickness is a struggle we all face. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or shouldn’t have studied abroad. It’s just something we have to work through.
Am I homesick?
It’s inevitable that we miss home after being away for a while, especially if this is the first time being away from your loved ones for months on end. Everything is suddenly unfamiliar, and familiarity makes us feel safe.
Being homesick is a little more intense than simply missing home.
In my experience, it involves a sense of distortion in the way we remember home. We don’t necessarily crave home—we crave belonging.
This can partly be attributed to the fact that our memory tends to be selective. In my case, my memory looks back at home through rose colored glasses.
Luckily, there are ways to cope with homesickness and win this mental and emotional battle. Here are seven tried and true methods.
Beat the Study Abroad Homesickness: 7 Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely
1. Create new routines
One thing that could be contributing to your homesickness is missing old routines.
The best way to get over that craving is to create new routines that you enjoy.
You could visit the same local restaurant for breakfast each week. You could discover fun ways to keep fit, start keeping a diary, establish a new bedtime routine or dedicate a set amount of time daily to studying the local language.
Studying the language is a fantastic activity to incorporate into your daily routine. This hobby will help you interact with locals and understand the culture.
2. Make new friends
Loneliness will increase your chances of feeling homesick.
If you don’t have new friends to share your experiences with, chances are you’ll miss home to the point of homesickness.
When you settle into your new city, make an effort to meet new people from all walks of life. Being in a different city or country means you’re more likely to have access to people of different ethnic, cultural and even religious backgrounds. Make the most of it! Be curious and open-minded.
This is where learning the local language comes in handy. Once you speak the language, you aren’t limited to befriending fellow study abroad students who speak English. You can meet your neighbors or coworkers. You can even go on dates with natives!
As a student, you can join student clubs and groups, invite classmates out for coffee, share meals and grab every opportunity to socialize.
You’ll do more than just prevent loneliness. You’ll also learn a lot from all the new people you’ll meet. That’s the best part of studying abroad.
3. Stay busy
Having plenty of free time is great but, as the saying goes, too much of a good thing can be harmful. You may end up feeling lonely, which typically leads to feeling homesick.
If school isn’t enough to keep you busy, you may want to consider picking up a new hobby or taking a recreational course. (Plus, courses are great places to meet new people!)
Learning a craft feels satisfying, helps you discover new skills and even provides a chance for you to practice a language in a real-life context.
Similarly, participating in sports can help you get through moments of loneliness. Exercise helps your brain release endorphins and, depending on which activity you choose, provides opportunities for social interaction, as well.
Yoga is a great example of socially-oriented fitness. These days, there are yoga classes and groups catering to all types of people. Some groups even go on retreats to explore a gorgeous location together. This will give you the chance to learn a hobby, meet people and discover a different area of your new home!
Finally, depending on which city you find yourself in, exploring the arts scene can be a great way to get busy and beat that nagging homesickness.
Some cities have vibrant galleries, museums and movie venues. It’s also common for art venues to have a cool cafe to hang out in or an art store selling books and one-off decorative or stationery pieces. I always found solace in these places due to their mental and aesthetic stimulation.
4. Keep in touch with your old friends
Most people these days have profiles on social media accounts, which makes keeping in touch with old chums back home easier than ever.
Chatting with or calling those folks is comforting and should be done regularly. They want to hear from you, and you want the familiarity of their relationships. Keeping in touch can comfort you when you feel lonely.
But keep in mind—spending hours and hours chatting with friends or your parents back home on social media isn’t such a good idea. You run the risk of neglecting your new life in favor of virtual communication and missing out on the action where you are.
It’s great to stay in touch, but it’s also good to miss people a bit and to accumulate experiences to share over long-distance communication. Otherwise, you may as well have just stayed back home.
5. Stop comparing your new place to home
Humans tend to compare things. Comparing is how we learn and find out what’s right and wrong, good and bad.
But comparing places can create a minefield because each city has its own history, culture and limitations.
Students who are homesick tend to indulge in comparing their current place with their hometown. Sometimes they don’t even realize they’re doing it.
They’ll tend to only see the positives of their home and view their new place as the worst place ever! They cast an unforgiving look at their new home when they’re homesick.
Avoid this trap! It will only make you miserable and stop you from appreciating all the positives of your new home and school. Trust me, every place has its good and bad points and can be enjoyed for its unique features.
6. Set new goals
It’s nice to wake up every morning and have a goal to work toward. It gives you energy and keeps you going when you’re feeling discouraged.
After moving to a new country to study (an accomplished goal in and of itself), it’s a good idea to set new goals that you can only achieve in this new place.
These goals could be personal or academic. It doesn’t matter! Goals will keep your mind occupied and give meaning to your new life.
How about learning how to cook an authentic local dish? Or traveling to places you couldn’t easily see if you were back home?
Don’t set unrealistic goals, though. Keep them challenging but within the realm of possibility. And don’t punish yourself for not achieving them. The process is much more important than checking things off your to-do list.
7. Do volunteer work
When we’re homesick, we can easily become wrapped up in ourselves and how down we’re feeling. A good way to overcome this struggle is to focus on someone or something else instead. That’s where volunteering comes in.
Do you love animals as much as I do? Why not volunteer at the local shelter or with an animal rescue group that protects wildlife?
Do you have valuable skills that could be shared with local teenagers from low-income families? You could volunteer in community outreach or as a teacher.
Or if you’re passionate about the environment, you could join a beach clean-up group on weekends.
Volunteering is a great way to integrate with the local community, meet people and feel good about yourself. The feeling that you’re making a positive impact in the world is sweet, and you may be even inspire others to contribute, too.
In my experience, giving your time to others is one of the most effective ways to keep homesickness at bay.
Your time studying abroad should be a fun and rich experience. Sure enough, there will be days when you’ll miss the sights, comforts and relationships from home so much that it hurts.
But that feeling shouldn’t stop you from making the most of your new city.
I hope these tips for how to get over homesickness can help fend off loneliness as you study abroad.
Have fun, wherever you are!
Antonio Pasolini is an EFL teacher and translator based in Brazil. He lived in Europe for 13 years, where he developed a taste for traveling he just can’t shake off… and doesn’t want to!