By Flavio Spadavecchia, Go Abroad Ambassador spending a semester abroad at the University of Liège
At first, I wasn’t sure whether I should write this post, since I’ve always considered myself to be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t suffer from homesickness. The reality is a lot more complicated than that, since homesickness comes in a lot of different shapes and forms. I want to go over what this means for me, but also the more common symptoms that exchange students from all over the globe might suffer.
I never thought it really affected me, because I didn’t feel the need to talk for hours to my parents or friends back home. Sometimes, homesickness can be sporadic moments when you wish you could have dinner with your family just for an hour; When you feel like your night would be so much better if that specific friend was there with you; When you wish you could just lie down and not have to worry about classes the next day or having to make lunch. Furthermore, in my case, the most nostalgia I feel is with places where I lived, even if they’re not Italy – my supposed ‘home’. There are bits and pieces of my lives abroad; small details that when put together make me miss my life there incredibly, especially when I’m in my bed trying to fall asleep. The main downside of studying abroad is by far the fact that it will all come to an end. I’ve met so many people from all over the world, throughout the years. It’s hard to think that – while I might still see them all again individually, by visiting them – there will never be a time when I’m with all of them at the same time and in the same place. I will probably become ‘homesick’ of Belgium, too, once my exchange semester is over.
I want to reassure you that all of these feelings are quite normal. I believe it’s mostly the fault of the hype we subconsciously give this experience that causes these emotions to arise in the first place. Students tend to idealise and have very high expectations of their semester abroad and we might be inclined to see every small flaw and negative side of the city/country/university/classes as a reason to feel down and miss home. The truth is that every experience will have some downsides, one way or the other, it’s our attitude and adaptability that actually shape our exchange semester/year. So, what to do when you’re missing home or some other country? Let’s go over the best advice I can give you to take your mind off of it.
It really boils down to one key point: find things to do and create a routine. Think about your life back in Aberdeen, chances are your week was fairly structured and your day was overall busy from start to end (including moments to rest, of course!). Finding yourself in a completely new environment can really throw you off and this might result in you doing the bare minimum to keep up with classes, while spending the rest of your afternoon scrolling through Facebook and watching Netflix. You definitely want to avoid extended period of times on social media. Sure, you want to share that nice picture of a sunset over your host city, but make sure you’re not spending too much time on it. This also leads to the infamous Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), which is very common among exchange students. You also don’t want to compare your exchange to other people’s experiences, and, unfortunately, social media is really good at giving others the impression of a perfect life, even though reality might quite differ. There are even apps that allow you to momentarily block certain sites, so you’re not tempted. Namely, Offtime, Moment and BreakFree, just to mention a few.
Think about your hobbies and try to incorporate them into your new life. At the beginning, you will need time to adjust, figure out where the best supermarket is, register for classes and so on; but once you’re all set, you need to think about your goals for the semester and how you can make the most of your time abroad. If you’re feeling homesick, get out there and explore the city! Chances are you still haven’t seen most of it and you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Go sign up to the nearest gym, check out the cinema, try out new foods. Make the flat you live in more homey: Go put up posters, decorations, anything you need to feel more at ease, so you don’t dread coming home after uni. Study can also be a goal, especially if you’re studying the language of the country – now it’s the time to practise!
I will never get tired of saying it: the people you meet are what will determine the outcome of your exchange semester. Humans are social beings, you need friends and the good news is that it’s really easy to find them when you’re on exchange abroad, because you’re all on the same boat. If you’re missing home and are feeling down, a great remedy is to call up the new friends you just met and ask them to hang out. Seriously, the moment you’re with them you will forget about the homesickness and time will fly without you even noticing. What if the people you met don’t get together and hangout as much as you would like to? Then you be the force that binds them together! Sometimes people are just plain lazy and you have to do all the work to plan a night out and get everyone on board, but it will absolutely be worth it. They probably also feel the same emotions as you anyway, so you can always talk to them about it and I’m sure they’ll understand. You want to take your mind off what’s bothering you, and friends are a great way to do it. The more you integrate to the new city, create a group of friends, get into a routine and find classes that you like; the less and less you will miss home. Why? Because you’ll have a second brand new home.
Give in to nostalgia
I put this last because I truly believe that the best long-term way to get over homesickness is to create a new environment that you can call home. With that having been said, of course there is no reason to forget your origins. You will obviously want to be in touch with your family and friends home. Thanks to modern technology, your family is just a click away and you can see them and talk to them for as long as you need. I recommend using Skype and WhatsApp to do it. The videocall function in Facebook Messenger also does the job. Secondly, you might want to create a circle of friends from your home country and go hunting together for the best [insert country] cuisine of the city. Meeting people from Scotland or your home country can really be beneficial and can ease off the symptoms of homesickness. The key, here, is balance. You don’t want all of your friends to be from your home country and you definitely don’t want to be speaking to your friends and family back home all of the time. The more you think about your life in Aberdeen, the harder it will be for you to get into the routine and make the best of your time abroad. So, use this last advice wisely and don’t overdo it.
Whatever feelings you might be going through, remember they are all legitimate. You are not the only person that experiences homesickness and it’s quite a natural part of studying abroad. Know that you will get through it and if you need more advice or just someone to talk to, you can leave a message down here. You are still a University of Aberdeen student, so our Go Abroad Team is there to make your exchange life easier, so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need support. Now go out there and make everyone back home jealous!