I remember the anticipation welling up within me when I received my acceptance letter from my study abroad program in Ireland. A celebratory dance and a few glasses of wine later, I excitedly Googled pictures of the green Irish countryside and the long, winding streets of Dublin. I couldn’t believe my luck – I was going to be spending my summer in the “land of saints and scholars.” Unknowingly, I was already setting unrealistic sights on some sort of mythical fairy tale summer.
In the days before I was leaving, I hurriedly filled my suitcases to the brim with the packing guide’s recommendations of jackets, tennis shoes, t-shirts and scarves. I could talk of nothing else but my plants to take Europe by storm. Looking back on it, I think I was in such a frenzied pace of excitement that I forgot to consider all the people, places and things that I was leaving behind in America.
But as I walked through the security gate at the airport and turned around to wave goodbye to my mother, it hit me like a wave. I was leaving my home, my family, my dog, my friends, my favourite food, and everything that I had grown so accustomed to for the past twenty years.
Sure, I’m only gone for two months, but walking onto that plane sure felt like I was leaving my home for an eternity. I had never even considered that I would feel so panicked as the jet hurled through the sky, carrying me thousands and thousands of miles away from home.
Once I arrived in Dublin, though, the real culture shock began. How do I get money? What are all these coins? Why are these cars driving on the wrong side of the road? All these thoughts echoed incessantly inside my head throughout my first few days here.
From dream to nightmare
Suddenly, my dream summer had taken a turn into a nightmare. And to cope with the seemingly huge space between myself and home, I was constantly Skyping, Face Timing and iMessaging my friends and family back home. I holed myself up in my room, never bothering to go outside and explore the city that I had so desperately wanted to come to in the first place.
Soon enough, my family back home realised they could no longer enable my homesickness. As hard as it was for them, they told me they would only be able to talk over the web twice a week. Soon enough and much to my dismay, my constant barrage of Skype messages were going unnoticed.
Now I was in a really terrible position. I felt completely out of place in this city and yet I had no one to talk to about it. With no other form of social networking to distract me, I forced myself to take a walk along the river to escape the misery of my room.
I walked up and down the bridges, strolled though the pebble streets of Temple Bar, and walked through the impressive gates of Trinity College. Slowly but surely, my homesickness was giving way to a new feeling – one of excitement. Yes, the excitement that had so filled my thoughts before I had left had finally returned! I was in a completely new world, and as cheesy as it sounds, there was something new and exciting to be found around every corner.
In only a little over a week, I feel as though I have been able to change my outlook on my experience here completely. One of the most important pieces of advice my mother gave me was to be thankful for the opportunity to come here. Yes, we’ve all heard that before. But for me, it really worked. I can’t count how many people who told me how lucky I was to be able to travel abroad, and realising that I am fortunate enough to be able to have this experience was a real game changer for me.
But still, everyone reacts to situations differently. Some people can easily handle change and other can’t. It doesn’t make you any lesser of a person if you can’t jump right into your abroad experience. It can take time for many to feel comfortable and adjusted, and that’s completely fine.
Simply put, for some, homesickness will be inevitable. You’re just going to miss home! Don’t be ashamed of that – be proud that you love where you come from so much.
Don't let homesickness ruin your trip
But please don’t let homesickness ruin your time while you are traveling abroad. I promise you can beat it! Learn from my mistakes – explore your new environment, keep yourself busy and don’t constantly keep in contact with your life back home. It is wonderful to be able to talk to your family from time to time, but relying on that too much might prevent you from fully immersing yourself in your new home.
Like me, you may find that coming abroad doesn’t meet all your grand expectations right away. Don’t worry – nothing turns out exactly how we plan for it. But give yourself time and I’m confident you will find the experience you were looking for.
Lastly, remind yourself that you came abroad for a reason. Whether that may be to find yourself, to work at a cool new job, or to meet amazing new people, there is a reason traveling abroad is one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences a person can have.
And always remember, time will heal homesickness. Luckily, time is on your side.