Home Sweet Home: How to prevent homesickness on a year abroad
The year abroad is described by many as “the best year of their lives”. That said, it won’t always be a rollercoaster that only goes up; there are moments when your year abroad may not feel as fantastic as everyone back home assumes it to be. The notion that a year abroad will be the best year of your life is at times the biggest source of stress: the second you feel you’re not having a fantastic time, you can easily become demoralised about the whole situation. It’s important to remember that almost everyone feels like this at one point or another during their time abroad, and you’re not alone. Here is some advice to help you through the blues…
Try to avoid comparing your year abroad to someone else’s
With the omnipresence of social media, this can be a huge feat in itself. Facebook newsfeeds are filled with seemingly endless photos of people having a great time, accompanied by hashtags along the lines of “year abroad”, “time of my life” and “such good memories”. Add Instagram and Snapchat into the mix, and it’s easy to see why people can become easily disheartened; social media often presents a somewhat distorted image of the year abroad. There is nothing to be gained from comparing your year abroad to someone else’s; it is much better to make the most of your own situation and try to get as much out of it as you can.
Skype your boyfriend/girlfriend/family/friends
Use this advice with caution; sometimes, skyping home will only make you miss it more and this can therefore be counterproductive. That said, skype is an invaluable resource for the year-abroader. Often it can be helpful to share your problems; after all, a problem shared is a problem halved. Family and friends may be able to offer you useful words of advice and encouragement.
Explore your local area
Sometimes, if you’re feeling a bit stuck in a rut a change of scene can help. Find a friend and go and explore that nearby city or town you’ve been meaning to go to. Alternatively, head into your own village/town/city and find a cup of coffee/tea/hot chocolate. In France, websites such as On va partir! enable you to sign up for outings or meet-ups with local, native speakers. See if there are any local events going on – usually your local tourist office will have lots of information – these are a great opportunity to do something a bit different.
Look after yourself
The delightful French idiom faire la grosse matinée (literally: to have a fat morning) could not be a more apt thing to do in times of stress. Make sure you get enough rest and have a lie-in if you need to; a lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems, and whilst on a year abroad no-one wants to feel constantly burnt out. Similarly, make sure you are eating properly; generally speaking, eating healthily equals better energy levels and better moods. Take the time to do some exercise; you might not want to, but you’ll feel better for it.
Do something that makes you happy
Watch an episode of your favourite TV series or your favourite film; it doesn’t need to be in the language you are learning. It is perfectly acceptable to continue watching English TV series/films – although obviously if you’re up for it, foreign language films are a great way to help improve your language skills. If you enjoy baking, make some brownies or biscuits. If you prefer spending time in the outdoors, head to your nearest park and go for a walk.
Try not to spend too much time alone
There is definitely something to be said for spending some time alone; it gives you space and time to clear your head and get a new outlook on things. However, you should avoid spending too much time alone as this can lead to a prolonged sense of loneliness. As a language assistant, I have a lot of free time on my hands. That, combined with the fact I live by myself, means that loneliness is, at times, inescapable. It is therefore important to make an effort to meet up with others and do things which immerse you in the local culture.
Accept the cultural differences
At first, there was nothing more infuriating than the fact that the whole of France simply appears to shut down on a Sunday. Over time, I have adapted to this way of living and although it can be inconvenient at times it is important to adjust to your new culture. It will take time to adapt, but try to see the positive side of each cultural difference you are exposed to. Don’t try to replicate the lifestyle you led at home in your new country; instead, recognise that you will need to adjust it in order to gain the most from your experience abroad. On a similar thread, if at all possible, avoid going home: unless absolutely necessary, this may only increase your sense of homesickness when you have to return to your foreign abode.
Make a memory jar
Get a jar and some pieces of paper. On each one, write a happy memory that you have from your year abroad – be it understanding a whole foreign film without subtitles for the first time, or climbing a mountain with some friends. Then, next time you experience the blues you can turn to your jar and look at the positive memories and experiences that you have had so far. Add to it throughout the year; for anyone who can’t be bothered with the effort of making a scrapbook this is a great way to remember everything you did during your time abroad.
On a final note, I have found that reading others’ year abroad blogs can really help: they are going through the same experience as you and can offer some reassurance. Above all, remember that eventually these feelings will pass. With support from friends, and the right approach to tackling problems you will get through the harder times. The year abroad is a challenging year, but thousands of people have got through it and you can too!