Homesickness is a psychological condition during which you experience feelings of distress because of the unfamiliarity of a new place and people even if you decided to come to the new place of your own volition. These feelings are completely natural but they can interfere with your social and academic life and you can miss out on opportunities to actually enjoy the changes.
Every phase of our life can nourish you and give you opportunity for growth and happiness if you deal with it the right way so don’t worry if you can’t deal with your emotions yet- you can learn some strategies and start battling this sadness slowly.
Common symptoms of homesickness
- Feeling disconnected from the people around you
- Overwhelming insecurity and anxiety
- Headaches and nausea
- Inconsistent sleep schedule
- Feeling on edge- nervous or angry
- Lack of focus
- Loss of appetite
Understanding homesickness and its causes
The quicker you understand and acknowledge your homesickness, the better you would feel in your new environment. It is nothing to be ashamed about or hide so try to admit it before it becomes a bigger mental health issue.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging is an essential aspect of achieving an authentic feeling of fulfilment from your life. When the bonds you had established with family and friends are suddenly not there, it is natural to feel all the physiological symptoms mentioned above. Interpersonal bonds and relationships are required to maintain your sanity so to come out of your isolation, you will need to expose yourself to social situations and find new people you can relate with.
The impact of homesickness on your studies and overall well-being
As homesickness has an effect on your cognitive abilities and you are in a pessimistic headspace about your new environment, it can affect your focus and productivity. Moreover, your body also gets impacted by these thoughts of longing for past connections.
- Academic assignments and writing require research and hardwork. To do all this, you need to be motivated and have a positive outlook on life but homesickness gives you a bleak picture of the future
- Due to the lack of sleep and appetite, you might feel weaker and less attentive during classes which might affect your attendance as well
- Experiencing physical weakness can affect your immunity and expose you to common diseases and infections
- When you are constantly missing the food, environment, and people from back home, the severe sadness and anxiety will give you mental health issues
Strategies for coping with homesickness
The best way to combat this condition is to substitute the old connections with new experiences. When your brain has new data about the environment, it will become a little more open and less insecure and anxious. This way, you can deal with adjustment and culture shock as well. Prioritise your mental health and promise yourself to overcome these negative feelings.
Dealing with homesickness as part of the cultural adaptation process
Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity that you have gained with your effort and abilities but it is not easy to adapt to a new language, culture and academic setup. Instead of isolating yourself, you need to deal with this head-on:
- Language is the biggest barrier to understanding people and feeling confident so you should try to give yourself time and learn it slowly because that would help you mingle effectively
- Keep an open mind and try to be curious about the new culture so it will shift your mindset from fear to intrigue
Maintaining connections with family and friends while abroad
It is good to maintain contact with family and friends back home but talking to them all the time might be counterproductive. When you do talk, opt for a video call as you feel calmer and happier by seeing them rather than just listening or texting.
People at home are also waiting for updates and want to know what you are up to so remember to share what you experience as it will encourage you to do more as well.
Building a social network and finding support in your host country
- Try to talk to and have a courteous relationship with the locals you see every day during your daily activities as it will nurture these feelings of having a new home
- Other international students who are in the same position as yours will find it easier to talk to you so you can share and alleviate each other’s stress
- Attend events and clubs that interest you- it is highly likely to find similar people there
Overcoming language barriers and communication challenges while coping with homesickness
Learning a new language is quite difficult and requires you to stay consistent despite the mistakes you make. Download apps to practise daily and you can even find people online for language exchange to learn regularly.
The best way to learn quickly is to use these phrases when communicating with locals. Conversational skills and gestures are more important than just reading words and phrases.
Engaging in activities and hobbies to cope with homesickness
Feeling homesick can often lead to a loss of identity. Remembering what you like to do- hobbies and activities outside the curriculum that interest you- can bring you some stability during this adjustment period. Moreover, it can help you deal with loneliness by staying busy and stimulating your brain.
These hobbies and activities can be indoors (like arts and crafts, journaling, etc.) or outdoors (like playing a sport or visiting museums and art galleries).
Travelling and exploring your host country to combat homesickness
One of the ways to engage in outdoor activities is to discover the areas around you. These trips can be short and affordable. Start by making a list of places, foods or monuments that you are interested in. Then on your weekend or during your free time, figure out the commute and go visit these places. It will give you the confidence to communicate and use transport on your own too. Ask your roommates or friends in class to tag along too. This will be a much better activity than just watching shows at home.
Seeking professional counselling and mental health support for homesickness
If the feelings of sadness and anxiety are prolonged for more than a few months and interfere with your daily functioning, it is important to seek professional help. Severe symptoms can not be handled by coping strategies but seeking therapy is not an embarrassment- mental health professionals have a clearer idea of what is going on in your mind and can give you a better treatment plan.
Talk to your university’s counsellor, ask your health insurance if they can find help or talk to a doctor nearby for a recommendation in your area. Do not give up. The right kind of help will get you through this phase.
Practising self-care and taking care of your physical and emotional well-being
If you had been living with your family before moving to a new country, there would be a new pressure on you to learn to take care of your needs. Eating regular meals, getting your laundry done on time and cleaning your room are some of these examples. Self care includes everything that you need to do in order to respond to your physical and emotional needs. Here are some self care practices that can include in your routine:
- Keep a journal to record and express your gratitude for this new life that you have
- Exercise, yoga or any physical activity that keeps you active
- Eat healthy foods and stay hydrated
- Have a happy place around your home (like a park or cafe) where you can go to unwind
- Keep a regular sleep schedule
- Engage in something creative
- Stay away from social media if it gives you anxiety or reminds you of home too much
Tips for preventing homesickness before it starts
- Try to talk to current students enrolled at the university when you haven’t departed yet so that you have some connection when you reach
- Explore online the interesting places in the city that you are going to. This will get you excited about your leisure time
- If you can manage, try to find part-time work when you reach so that you can meet more people at work and stay busy
Resources for coping with homesickness while studying abroad
- Meetup: App to find events in your area
- Couchsurfing: Another app to meet locals
- Hello Talk: Language exchange app
- Headspace: Mindfulness app for mental well being
- Better help: Online therapy app
- Nike Training Club: App for free workout plans
Returning home after a study abroad program and coping with reverse homesickness
Reverse homesickness happens when you go back home and find it hard to adjust back into your life. You see certain aspects with a critical eye and can’t apply what you learned from your life abroad to your current scenarios. Here are some ways to cope:
- Stay in touch with old friends from your time in the host country
- Try to keep some things in your routine that you used to have during your time abroad
- Apply the same strategies that you did when you arrived in your host country