Studying abroad will push you out of your comfort zone, but these five suggestions can help you make the most of your time away from home.
In my junior year of college, I made the decision to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa for the semester. When I submitted my application, I could hardly contain my excitement. However, as my flight drew closer, a terrifying thought crept into the back of my mind. What if my experience was a disaster?
I hid my fears, embarrassed to admit that I didn’t want to live away from my friends and family. The night I landed in Cape Town, a few exchange students drove us through the city, excitedly talking about upcoming travel plans. I sat in silence, watching the lights pulse along the highway, paralyzed by culture shock and fear.
Learning to cope with homesickness took time and perseverance some days I refused to leave my apartment, others I debated buying a one-way ticket back home. As time went on, I slowly learned how to make a foreign country feel like home. I realized that studying abroad cannot be perfect all of the time, but a few bad moments cannot diminish a life-changing experience. Throughout the course of my semester abroad, I discovered six effective ways to overcome homesickness.
1. Participate in extracurricular activities at your exchange university
Although you’re only enrolled in the university for a semester, you can still find ways to get involved outside of academic classes. Within the first few weeks, your exchange university will host activities fair to showcase the clubs offered at the campus. Many international colleges, such as the University of Cape Town, permits exchange students to sign up for three extracurricular activities for no cost. Take advantage of these opportunities and participate in an intramural sports team, join a hiking club or volunteer for a student-run organization. Participation will help you meet students with like-minded interests.
2. Don’t focus on what’s happening back home
It’s tempting to look at what your friends are doing at home, but you need to minimize time spent scrolling through social media. If you constantly focus on what you’re missing, you forget to live in the present moment. Limit your phone or Skype conversations to a few times a week with family. This may seem difficult at first, but you need to force yourself away from your computer screen to appreciate everything the area has to offer.
“A lot of people visit the abroad office worrying about homesickness,” explained student travel advisor Mariana Gladstone. “The funny thing is, not once has a returning student told me they regret their choice to study abroad. Eventually, people learn to appreciate the adventure and realize that their friends will still be there once they get back.”
3. Take advantage of travel blogs
You may think you’re the only student experiencing loneliness, but most people report homesickness at some point while abroad. If you feel lost in your new city and don’t know how to distract yourself, check out the thousands of travel blogs available online. During my semester away from home, I frequently looked at the blog, Nomadic Matt. His website provided detailed information on regions around the world. I was able to read advice and discover activities that kept me busy while I traveled.
4. Create an ambitious bucket list to avoid routine
Writing down a list of goals is a great way to motivate yourself to stay active during studying abroad. The bucket list could include embracing a new hobby such as surfing, eating local food, or visiting popular historic sites. Each week, try to cross off at least two goals from your list. The International Programs Office at your home university will help you create goals if you study abroad. The office can provide you with lists of activities that previous students discovered during their semesters abroad.
“After the first month of traveling in Ireland, I felt like I had fallen into a routine,” said Larissa Goldberg, an exchange student at the University of Trinity. “I reached out to my home university’s international office and they sent me a list of things to do that I had never even thought of. I think the key to staying engaged while abroad is to keep pursuing new goals.”
5. Strive to be more than just a tourist
When you first start studying abroad, you’re going to want to visit the popular tourist destinations and document everything you see. However, once the excitement of a new city begins to wear off, try to fully integrate yourself into the culture. Get to know residents, visit museums, and take part in local customs. Even if you are staying in an apartment or dorm, you can still live with a local family for a short period of time. Homestay is a great online resource that will match you with a host family in the area so that you have a local support system.