So you’ve done it—you’ve packed up your things, gotten your documents squared away, boarded a plane, and flown thousands of miles from home. And now, sometimes after ending a Facetime session with your family back home, you feel your emotions brewing into a storm, you panic as the dark clouds of isolation and separation consume your memories of a childhood home full of laughter and mangoes, and just as you feel yourself slipping into a spiral of doubt and loneliness, you grab your phone, open your favorite app and begin “doom-scrolling.” That’s better, you tell yourself, hiding back tears as a teenage cousin dances on Tik-Tok. But is it better? Or is that freshman flossing to funk just making you miss your hometown even more?
It's not easy leaving home and its menagerie of comforts and memories behind, but it’s an essential and liberating step for personal development. In fact, we have an expression for his giant leap in independence—“leaving the nest”— as it represents the necessary moment when baby birds must venture beyond their cozy home in order to forge a life of their own. The metaphor is fitting for those on both sides of the occasion: the bird and the parents. It’s not only the young bird who struggles and cries throughout the first rainstorm, but also the parents. In fact, the resulting parental loneliness and lack of structure and responsibilities are known as “empty nest syndrome” and usually results in parents traveling the world themselves (following whimsy or offspring) or enterprising endless home renovations to name a couple. This phenomenon is universal, and while homesickness affects individuals differently, it’s pretty much inescapable, but that’s not to say there’s no solution.
As someone who started spending time away from the nest as soon as I got my first passport, I’ve found that homesickness seems cyclical, and while not entirely unavoidable, it is certainly manageable. Like with anything, creating a schedule, setting goals, and keeping an open mind are essential to handling even the darkest lows of homesickness.
Decrease frequency of family FaceTime at least slightly. Daily chats are exhausting for both parties and prevent the desired effects of autonomy, independence, and opportunities to make new connections. How can you really embrace and enjoy your adventure abroad if you’re always hearing about and seeing your home? So, try reaching out to people around you. Making new friends from other cultures is a wonderful and enriching distraction which is exactly what you need in your time of loneliness abroad, plus you might be a conversation away from acquiring a life-long friend or a chill travel buddy.
As a student with homesickness, one of the best ways to manage the experience is by (sorry, but I’m not sorry) studying! Busying yourself with studies is literally the best possible use of your time. After all, it’s why you left the nest, and it can only truly and authentically be done in your new environment. Obviously, take plenty of breaks, and use these breaks to take up a hobby unique to the culture around you or one which uses and requires the language. (Take up skiing or join a book club for example.) Go ahead and visit trivia night at the local bar and soak in the culture and language (and some Harpoon, I mean, why not?) You’ll go home with your head swimming with culture, language, and new Netflix recommendations—take that, homesickness!
It's not a good feeling, but it’s not unique to you. Everyone experiences bouts of loneliness, but just remember, there is so much around us to provide healthy, enriching distractions. Also, keep in mind that loneliness can strike anywhere, even back in the nest. So don’t panic and book flights home before you try to embrace the experience and busy yourself with the tasks at hand the adventure waiting outside your door.
Also, in general, having a routine can help one to cope with loss, loneliness, and stress. Get your space organized, and start scheduling some interesting activities so that you stay motivated to learn and experience new things. For example, every other weekend, explore a nearby town, go to the local dive for Wing Wednesday (this is how ex-pat communities thrive overseas, trust me), or simply meet a fellow student or friendly neighbor at least once a week for anything from study group to board game night to a modest home-cooked potluck. Any way you approach a new routine will surely distract you from the same-old-same-old nest that you left behind.