Living abroad can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of your life: you are constantly discovering new things about the culture and location surrounding you, and your everyday routine becomes that of a self-discovery, motivational movie. That said, it is not the holiday that friends and family from home often imagine it to be. More than likely, you are working a full time job to pay for your stay, getting hopelessly lost when you do find time to travel (and with no phone data to save you!), and then struggling to communicate in a foreign language to get directions back to the station. When you finally do collapse on the train that you’re pretty sure will take you where you need to be, it is completely normal for a few pangs of homesickness to hit you – where was your best friend to laugh at you tripping up the platform stairs, or your mum to insist on taking a bottle of water for your now dehydrated self? Those few moments of pause between the general excitement will leave you craving all the simplicities of home life, wherever that may be.
Though it can be tempting to stay in a WiFi zone messaging your loved ones about just how much you miss them, this will rarely make you feel better, and often make you miss all the opportunities that your foreign life gives you. Instead, try these five tips when homesickness hits:
1. Find somewhere that reminds you of home. For me, this was an Irish pub in the nearest town. Sure, I may not be Irish, but they speak English there, serve beer and cider, and have a welcoming, traditional pub atmosphere. Yours may not be a pub, but in this international world there is sure to be something for you which has remnants of home life to fill that empty spot.
2. Find people who speak your language – literally and figuratively! I cannot encourage enough learning the local language, however there will always be those times when you are simply too tired to mentally translate, and need to relax by speaking naturally. I was lucky enough to find a group of Americans who live nearby (and even better frequent said pub). Look out for any opportunities to meet up with people of your native language. Try meetup.com and couchsurfing.com, where people will often create events in certain languages – though it is generally for people to practise a second language, there’s almost always a couple of people who are mother tongues and can give you contacts. I highlighted literally and figuratively, because even if you are fluent in another language, there is often a humour and personality that simply cannot translate between cultures. Speaking in your own language with people from your homeland allows you to be your natural self, sarcasm and all.
3. Keep yourself busy. Not only to make the most of your time abroad, but also to give yourself less moments to think about home life. Fill up your timetable as much as possible, and say yes to every invite: the added motivation is that you will never receive the majority of these invites again. Every occasion is a once in a lifetime, so take advantage. And the busier you are, the less those pangs of homesickness will creep in.
4. Get involved in the community and culture. You will likely be the stranger of your community when you first arrive, sticking out like a sore thumb with your national traits (pale and blonde is something not generally found in Italy). In some cases you may even encounter some prejudice, but try not to take offence – instead, get to know the community a little better, and show them who you really are. Say hi to the neighbours, go to local events, and make your face a known one. The prejudice will lessen, and you will feel a little less like a stranger, and more at home (even if it is a different one).
5. If all else fails, take those cheap flights home for a few days. This obviously depends how far you have travelled, but if you are still in Europe you should be able to find flights as cheap as train tickets (thank you Ryanair). Treat yourself to three or four days at home, hug your mum, go for a drink with your best friends, and take in all that you’ve missed. When your time is up, those homesickness pangs will be for your place abroad.