I have always felt the pain of homesickness when away from my bed for even a night. Though packing pillows and photos of my loved ones helped a little, even one night away left me feeling down when the lights turned off at the end of the day.
Homesickness was not enough motivation to stay home when I heard there was an opportunity to study abroad in China with International Business Seminars – but I wish I would have went with a few rules in place to help me get through it with a little less discomfort. When I went to Southeast Asia with IBS the following semester, I followed a few rules to ease the stress of being away from my apartment and cats. Some rules came from successful practices I started in China, others were rules I chose once I returned and realized that I could have done better.
Rule #5: Don’t spend too much time on social media
While it is tempting to spend hours on Skype and Facebook both sharing your experiences with friends and hearing about what is going on at home, it is smart to set a limit to yourself (for example, maybe 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night… knowing you can always surpass this limitation if you have an exceptionally hard day). While it sounds obvious sitting here in the states, once overseas this became much less obvious to me. I was accustomed to sharing most parts of my day with my mother and partner, and I found myself filled with a deep sense of longing to be with them when I experienced something interesting or wonderful.
Fortunately for me, Facebook and many of the common social media platforms I commonly use in the US were banned in China and it allowed me to focus on “the now” instead of the home I would soon be returning to.
Rule # 4: Search for the Perfect Souvenir/Gift
Something that helped distract me from homesickness was shopping. I know what you are thinking – “Big surprise! The girl likes shopping.” But, it was more than this. Searching for specific items for friends or myself gave me the opportunity to explore shops I may not have otherwise, meet locals who were excited to speak to an American student, and helped me think about my loved ones without keeping me away from the culture I was overseas to experience.
Many of my favorite stories from China and Southeast Asia revolve around me searching for my top gifts: cat items for myself, something “classy” for one friend, and something “silly” for another. Because “mau” is “cat” in mandarin, and “Mao” is the name of the founder of the People’s Republic of China (and because my mandarin is not great), I found myself being presented with items with the beloved Chinese leader more often than pictures of furry whiskered friends upon searching for kitty cat items for myself! This is just one of the silly situations I got myself in during my shopping trips, and I would not exchange those experiences for an hour in my hotel room Skyping or sobbing in a million years!
Rule #3: Be honest with someone about how you are feeling
When I was on my seminar in China, I didn’t admit to anyone I was homesick. I spent each night after my roommate went to bed on Skype with loved ones, admittedly sometimes crying because I felt somewhat “alone” though I was surrounded by 30 of my new best friends all day every day. I hid this emotion from others, because I thought I was special somehow and was feeling something that nobody else was.
On the second to the last day, I broke down and admitted to a new friend that I was so homesick I can hardly make it 24 hours without a tear sneaking out of my eye. He admitted, “Me too!” I was in shock. He seemed so happy, laughing all day and making friends so easily. What I realized is that he was happy, and he was also homesick, and that I was also both things, and even more importantly: I realized we were normal. A sense of relief washed over me as I accepted the normality of my situation, and it took the edge of to bond with my new friend in this way.
Rule #2: Do something you enjoy doing at home
A friend of mine in Southeast Asia took the time to find a couple yoga studios in Thailand that were somewhat famous and apparently mind-blowing. Another friend of mine took a jog through the city and got some awesome shots on their camera every morning before the rest of us woke up. Each of these friends found something they really loved doing in the United States and found a way to tie these hobbies into their new experience abroad – and it helped them with homesickness immensely.
Not to make myself sound like a “typical American girl” again, but I searched out new Starbucks shops in every area we visited and took note of the cultural nuances and differences and this was how I got some comfort out of my time abroad. Sure, the coffee tasted different. Sure, they served frozen green tea dumplings instead of birthday cake pops and sure, I couldn’t read my debit card receipt – but the feeling that the world was not so big after all was welcome in those coffee shops after jumping headfirst into a foreign culture.
Rule #2: “Think Posi!”
When I was a new college student I worked at a little coffee shop for minimum wage. While the job didn’t last long (who can live off minimum wage?) one of the things my coworkers would say every day will last forever in my mind: “Think Posi!” (think positive). This was her response to about everything, and I found it funny at the time.
Once she wasn’t around me anymore, her quirky personality and phrase stuck with me. As cliché as it may sound, keeping positive things on your mind during stressful situations (your goals, the reasons why you are studying abroad, the things you have overcome as a college student) can really make a big difference. Don’t let yourself go into a “death spiral” of negative thoughts! I told myself every day, “I can complain and be sad all I want when I get home. I need to take this week to ‘think posi!’”
Any or all of these rules may be helpful for your trip with International Business Seminars, but make sure at the very least you follow
Rule #1: HAVE FUN!!