During your semester abroad, you are less excited than you anticipated.
Thoughts are racing through your head:
“You’re on the beaches of Costa Rica! Why aren’t you enjoying this more?”
“You just saw the Great Wall of China! What could possibly be making you so upset?”
“Stop overthinking this. You live next to the Eiffel Tower and eat baguettes every day.”
Studying abroad, or traveling for long periods of time, means being away from what is familiar to you, and that can be challenging and even isolating. Although a temporary period of adjustment is expected, sometimes the sadness remains longer than you hoped, and reassurance from friends and family isn’t as readily available when you have the luck to be surrounded by beauty.
Getting through these challenges on your own can become exhilarating and rewarding; it’s in overcoming this struggle that travel addiction often begins. Living and traveling abroad means you are in a completely new environment, and you have to create, from scratch, the routines you once took for granted. You have to figure out where you like to eat, how you can communicate with people back home, how to keep your belongings safe — all while adapting to a new culture, and at times, absorbing a new language. It’s no wonder so many study abroad students feel afraid while they’re away.
No matter how much you mentally prepare before your time abroad, homesickness will strike hard once you are there. Being away for holidays, weddings, birthdays (and maybe even a case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) abroad) may make you doubt why you decided to take this leap in the first place. But spending time in a new country allows you to forge new memories and friendships, and it’ll help you evaluate who and what you care about back home.
Still, nothing can truly replace your familiar comforts. So, what can you do when you’re craving take-out from your favorite place or want to get a haircut you know you won’t hate? Here are some tips to get rid of those study-abroad blues and get back on your feet.
Music that brings back comforting memories can be just what the doctor ordered when you are traveling. Be sure you have the playlist you listen to every morning while you run by the creek, or the one you listened to when you drove cross country, or the one you and your best friend made together — whatever brings back happy thoughts. You can even ask your friends to work together to contribute various songs, write down why they chose each one, and then read this list when you’re feeling down. Even though studying abroad has an all-fun reputation, it’s tough to leave everything you know behind for something new! Take time to process your feelings, and let music accompany you on that journey.
Talk to your friends about how you are feeling and seek comfort from them — that’s what they’re for! Some of them may know exactly what to say … and others may minimize your concerns because you’re “on vacation.” If you’re having trouble finding someone who understands where you are coming from, ask your study abroad advisor to put you in touch with an alum from your program or your school. She’ll know what this experience is like and be able to offer advice for how she got past her homesickness. It can be a painful moment of growth, but study abroad can really put into perspective who your true friends are.
Write down motivational words on post-its that you can stick on your walls. Look up quotes from your favorite books or movies, or write down the exact words you wish someone was telling you. This advice may sound a bit corny, but surrounding yourself with positive thoughts can help you start your day in a brighter way. Look at yourself in the mirror and think of encouraging words and thoughts. If you are having trouble thinking of what to say, imagine you are advising a friend who is going through something similar. What would you say to motivate her?
One of the best ways to get out of a funk is to exercise and live a healthy lifestyle. Try to turn this into a routine. Use the stairs in your apartment building, take the longer path to the store, walk instead of taking the bus or train. You can consider joining a gym or sports team. You may even want to try something new and representative of your location, like capoeira in Brazil or rugby in Australia or New Zealand. There are lots of ways to incorporate exercise into your life, and your body won’t be the only one thanking you — your mind will, too.
If you’re staying with a host family, be open about what you like to eat, or offer to shop for groceries for them. If you are living alone, be sure to buy ingredients you can use to make balanced meals.
Study abroad is full of little triumphs: opening up a bank account, figuring out the correct subway stop, understanding a joke in a foreign language. These successes can build up your confidence. Write down these moments so you can refer back to them when you’re feeling sad. Pat yourself on the back for all the progress you’ve made, and look forward to adding new achievements into your journal.
If none of these suggestions work, then try to remember that what you are experiencing is temporary. Few people have the guts to pick up their lives and watch the sun rise and set in a different country, so appreciate the strength it took you to do so!
_An earlier version of this article, “How to Deal with Depression While Studying Abroad,” written by Carrie Niesen, was first published on Go Overseas._