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A Guide on How to Deal with Homesickness Abroad

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Dec 17, 2022Date Published
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UniSearch - A Guide on How to Deal with Homesickness Abroad

Moving to a different country brings about a boatload of feelings. But the loudest and most obvious side effect of moving is homesickness. A day, a month, or even a year in, homesickness may refuse to leave you alone. Honestly, homesickness never truly goes away but it does subside over time. You’ve left behind the only place you called home for 18 or so years. You might not understand what to call this wave of emotions and we don’t blame you. But we’re here to put a name to it and tell you how to deal with homesickness abroad.


Homesickness and How To Cope with It

What is Homesickness?

Your family, your friends, your annoying siblings, your bedroom, and your bed, i.e. everything you’ve ever known. You’ve left all of it behind to move thousands of miles away for your education. You’re supposed to build a life here but nothing feels like home. Yes, you’re in your apartment and technically, it is your home but it also feels like it isn’t. Is it home if you don’t wake up in your bed and see your favourite movie posters on the wall? Is it home if your sister doesn’t come barging into your room for no reason? And is it really home if you aren’t surrounded by your loved ones sitting around the dining table and eating your comfort food? You’re happy where you are and life is good but you’re also feeling waves of sadness and melancholy.

This constant feeling of missing home that you can’t seem to shake - yeah, that’s homesickness. Trust us when we say that you’re not the only one feeling this way. Dealing with homesickness is pretty much a rite of passage for most people who move overseas and one of the prevalent problems you’ll face while studying abroad.


Signs of Homesickness

Like everything else in this world, homesickness is not one-size-fits-all. Almost everyone experiences it to some extent but it looks slightly different for each person. Depending on the severity, homesickness may take a lot of different forms. Homesickness in young adults and children is just as common as it is in older adults. But no matter who it is, some symptoms consistently keep cropping up across the board.

Common emotional aspects of homesickness:

  • Sadness or depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Not wanting to do anything
  • Lack of confidence
  • Constantly missing home
  • Being low on motivation

Prevalent physical symptoms of homesickness:

  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Sleeping too much
  • Loss or increase of appetite
  • Stomach problems
  • Body aches
  • Headaches


Coping with Homesickness

If you’ve ticked most of the boxes from the symptoms mentioned above, you may be homesick. But I’m guessing you already knew that. That’s why you were googling “How to cure homesickness in adults?” or “How to overcome homesickness in hostels?”. Unfortunately, you can’t just “cure” or “overcome” homesickness. It usually stays.

On some days, it won’t bother you all that much. On other days, you’ll cry your heart out because you miss home way too much. It comes in phases and fades in and out and you can’t exactly book a flight back home every time. While there isn’t a magic cure for it, you can learn how to deal with the homesickness you’re feeling and build a coping mechanism. Who knows? Maybe someday, the pangs of homesickness can fade into warm nostalgia, instead.


Here are 8 tips on Dealing with Homesickness


1. Marinate in the Homesickness

You don’t have to check whether you’re still reading an article on how to deal with homesickness abroad. You’re still at the right place. We know you’re scratching your head but hear us out at first. The best way to stop feeling something all the time? To let yourself feel it to its full extent, of course. What do you do after a breakup? You wallow in self-pity with a tub of ice cream and then move on. What do you do after a bad presentation? Mhm, that’s right. You think about everything that went wrong, pick yourself up, and eventually forget about it.

Let’s face it: life is mean. The more you try to push something away, the more life will push it towards you. That is why you should throw yourself in headfirst and feel all the emotions on full blast at the very beginning. Getting everything out of your system like this is cathartic. This way, you’ll be over the hard part and the rest will seem like a piece of cake to you. Granted, it’s not a good cake but you’ll be able to eat it without feeling nauseous.


2. Find Outlets for Normal Feelings

Speaking of emotions, you’ll feel a lot of them in the first few days. Depression, anxiety, anger, sadness, worry, irritation - the list is quite long. These are all very common side effects of homesickness. It’s important to acknowledge that these emotions are just some things that will consistently come up in your life and they are very normal. But acknowledging them isn’t enough. You need to find positive and healthy outlets for them.

If you’re angry, take up boxing instead of getting mad at the people around you. Is sadness your default reaction to missing home? Blast “Coming Home” with the speakers on and cry your heart out. Are you worried? Just call your mom and ask how she’s doing. Letting yourself feel these emotions in a healthy way is better than letting them build inside you. The upside to being new to a place is that you have lots of new and exciting things to do that can easily become an outlet for your feelings. You can rework the high levels of emotion you’re experiencing into other avenues. Orientations, getting your student access details, figuring out accommodation, checking out the new sights, sounds, and smells - all of these have their own brand of excitement to them, even when the newness can be intimidating.

A good way of coping is sharing the new sights and sounds with the people back home, too. It creates a mutual feedback loop of excitement since you can feed off the excitement your friends and family are feeling on your behalf.


3. Get Out of the House 

Staying in your room and hoping it’ll start to feel more like home just won’t work. You need to stop locking yourself up in your room. Spending any more time in the house won’t curb the feelings of homesickness. In fact, constantly seeing your new place might just remind you of your old room even more. The more you do nothing and think about home, the more you’ll want to be there.

So start getting out of the house more and keep yourself as busy as possible. Do fun things that you’ve always wanted to do. Visit local coffee shops and walk around the city. Try to find out what the best food chains are. When the loneliness and melancholy start to set in, grab your running shoes and go on a run. It’s definitely a lot more fun than being sad all day.


4. Bring Along a Piece of Home

As much as you wish you could pack up your entire house and move it to Canada with you, it just isn’t possible. On top of the insane shipping costs, your books just won’t fare well in the mail. But what you can do is take a few things that remind you of home. You can’t exactly take your bed with you but you can always take your blanket. Wrapping yourself up in it will make you feel a little more at home when you wake up in your new bed.

Grab things that remind you of people who feel like home too. Ask your friends to give you keepsakes to remember them by. Maybe put a framed photo of your family on the nightstand. These things may be small but they’ll definitely help you remember the good times and smile in nostalgia instead of getting upset because of your homesickness.


5. Add a Bit of “You” to Your Room

Since we’re on the topic of putting things on your nightstand, decorating your room might be a good start to dealing with homesickness. Waking up to a room with bare walls and a boring bedsheet will only make you miss your posters and funky duvet. Adding personal touches to the room will make it feel more like your own.

A room that reflects your personality makes you feel more at home than a plain room does. You don’t have to go all out and splurge on cool furniture. A trip to Ikea or Home Depot can help you find furniture that speaks to you. Even if your dorm comes fully furnished, small trinkets that hold personal meaning or appeal will do the trick.

6. Avoid Social Media

This is something all your boomer relatives have said to you at some point in your life. In this case, this is probably one of the best things you can do. Refreshing your feed every five seconds when all your friends from back home are hanging out probably isn’t doing what you think it’s doing. You’re not staying up to date with them. You’re just digging a deeper (and much harder to get out of) hole for yourself.

Social media will just remind you of everything you’re missing out on. It’s probably one of the biggest catalysts for homesickness. So it’s probably a good idea to not scroll through social media obsessively until you’re completely ready for it. Once you’ve managed to cope with homesickness to some extent, you can go back to Instagram or Snapchat.


7. Stay in Touch But Not Too Much

This might seem obvious but counterproductive after our strong statement about staying off of social media. We’re asking you to stay in touch with people from back home but to not stay in touch with them too much. Let’s put it this way: smaller doses of home will keep you happy but overdosing on it might make you all the more homesick. You can’t spend every waking second of the day talking to your family or friends over the phone. That will only distract you from feeling how you’re feeling for the time being. In the long run, it’s probably not a healthy habit.

Instead of contacting everyone all the time, reserve an hour or two a day for video and phone calls. Zoom calls on Friday with family, sleepovers on Saturdays with the squad, game nights on Sundays with your homies. Small doses will help you cope with homesickness a lot better than not letting yourself feel homesick at all.


8. Finding Your Tribe

Loneliness and boredom are two big reasons for homesickness snowballing into something unmanageable. Sure, you won’t find people who are exactly like your school friends. But that’s alright. No one said that you can’t have different kinds of friends. You’re in a new town and not knowing anyone will make everything a lot less fun. When you have friends you’re hanging out and exploring the town with, you’ll spend less time worrying about how things are going with your friends from home.

With friends by your side, homesickness feels a lot less sickly. This is probably your best bet if you’re trying to deal with homesickness. Your new friends won’t let you sulk at home. Going to the mall with them on weekends will help you learn more about the country that could be your new home, while also being a welcome distraction. Making friends might seem tough at first and you might not be sure how to make friends in a foreign country. However, put in a little effort and your charming personality will do the rest of the work for you. Plus, they do say birds of a feather flock together!


9. Keeping in Touch with Your Culture

The difference in culture is one of the major causes of homesickness. Things aren’t how they used to be in your home country. Folks here aren't celebrating the same festivals, eating the same food, wearing the same clothes. You’ll start to feel like you’re losing touch with your culture and that will only inflame your homesickness more.

To avoid cultural differences adding fuel to your fire, you can find ways to keep in touch with your heritage and traditions. You can form friendships with people from your country. Most universities have groups, clubs, or societies for international students. Finding friends who share the same background as you is one of the many benefits of joining a society at university. You can also look for cultural events and areas that celebrate your country’s culture. Major study abroad destinations tend to be cosmopolitan. There’s a high chance you’ll run into people from back home, or into familiar sights and sounds, when you know what you’re looking for.


10. Comfort Foods

When you have a cold, chicken soup doesn’t make you feel better, despite what your new flatmate swears. You crave pho when you’re wrapped up in your blanket and sniffling. And your parents won’t be able to bring a warm bowl of it to your room. Moments like these are when you feel a little more homesick than usual. To avoid feeling this way, we’d suggest that you learn how to cook pho or whatever your comfort food is before you board your flight. Even if it won't be as good as the stuff you get at home, it'll be enough to make you feel better.

If cooking isn't a skill in your repertoire, you don't have to say goodbye to your comfort food for good. You can find restaurants that serve food from your country. Even the thought of Postmating something that tastes like the food you used to have will be comforting.


11. Exploring the City

We know that you think this city will never feel like home and maybe you're right. But that doesn't mean that it can't be something that resembles home to some extent. You haven't spent your entire life in this city so you don't know it like the back of your hand. But you can try exploring the city and finding places that remind you of home just a tiny bit. Not only will you stop getting lost, but you’ll also find lots of spots and spaces that'll help you feel like a local.

A park down the street, a grocery shop around the corner, a café three blocks away can help you feel less homesick and more at home. Who knows? Maybe you can stop relying on Google Maps to get you around town too. And before you know it, maybe the place will start to feel like a second home - not a replacement for the first, but another place you’re just as attached to.


12. Therapy and Talking

This might seem extreme at first glance but it is something that helps a tremendous amount. You might be keeping your feelings to yourself because you don't want your family and friends to feel bad for you or worry too much. There's only so much they can do from the other side of the world. If you feel like you don't want to talk to your new friends about how you're feeling, a counsellor might be a good option.

For some people, the culture shock and sense of displacement can be much greater than for others. This could be because of the individual's own emotional and mental state, or how vastly different the lifestyles and experiences might be for someone stepping into Europe for the first time after studying in a small-town public school their whole life.

Therapy and professional counselling is explicitly a good recommendation for those people moving abroad who are experiencing a much more intense form of homesickness (which may turn out to be more than just homesickness). If you’re one of those people who are feeling isolated, a complete fish out of water unsure of how to fit in or operate in this new pond, you might want to reach out to someone professional for help.

Counsellors will listen without judgement and trust us, you need to talk.

Voicing how you're feeling will help you understand it better yourself. And a counsellor will try to help you figure out how to deal with homesickness abroad. Universities provide a lot of resources that help you take care of your mental health. Most universities have a student counsellor whom you can set an appointment with completely for free. For some schools with large international student bodies, there are dedicated counselling and support teams or individuals exclusively to work with international student needs.

Homesickness will take you for a ride if you don't address it as soon as possible. When it’s possible, access the resources available to you and make dealing with homesickness a priority in your life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does homesickness only affect your mental health?

Although homesickness is a mental thing, it does not only affect your mental health. Your body takes quite a beating once you start letting homesickness take over your life. So, remember to take care of yourself. Even if you don’t feel like it, stick to regular meals, get some exercise and fresh air, and maintain a regular sleep schedule. All of this can positively impact both your physical and mental health.


What does homesickness look like?

Homesickness can look different on different people. Some common symptoms and signs together point to homesickness. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Sadness or depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Not wanting to do anything
  • Lack of confidence
  • Constantly missing home
  • Being low on motivation
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Sleeping too much
  • Loss or increase of appetite
  • Stomach problems
  • Body aches
  • Headaches


What does it mean when you have homesickness?

Homesickness is the feeling you have when you’re away from what you call home. Whether you’ve moved for your education or your job, you tend to miss what you once knew life to be.

Our Concluding Thoughts

Homesickness can take a lot out of you and make your cup feel empty. It’s important to figure out how to deal with homesickness abroad sooner rather than later. Otherwise, it’ll become a massive obstacle in the way of your goals. Your studies, health, and life will be affected to some extent. Figure out what helps you navigate the big transition that moving to another country is. After you’ve found a coping mechanism that works for you, you’ll find yourself enjoying life as you did at home.


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