This can’t happen to you. Or could it? An exchange-student friend tells you about how homesick (the anxiety or sadness caused by being separated from home) she got when she stayed for a couple of months in her “adopted” country. But how could that be? She, like you, is not a child. This was not her first time away from home. She looked forward to the trip and to stay in another country with great excitement; there were no doubts. And she knew the stay was temporary.
The thing that unites all people who experience homesickness is that they leave something familiar; their town, their family, their pets, their friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, their room or house, even the food they regularly eat. If you become an exchange student, chances are that you will probably experience homesickness to some degree. It may not feel good, but It’s perfectly normal and only time can “cure” it—or returning to your country.
But, there are some things you can do to lessen the intensity of homesickness.
Signs of Homesickness:
Besides having the general feeling of “I want to go home,” symptoms of homesickness can be sadness, crying, and lack of appetite, or a general feeling of weariness,” writes Rebecca Uhlich.” The reason is simply the loss of familiarity. It’s much easier to handle things you are used to.” Another sign of homesickness is comparing everything to your home country (the people, the food, for example, and finding it distasteful. This is akin (like, similar to) a phase of culture shock when an individual moves to another country.
Homesickness can be hard on a family, too. While the homesickness lasts, family members may feel guilty for encouraging their child to go to another country. They may not wait for the homesickness to pass and tell their child prematurely to return home. (This makes it much harder for the student to leave home again).
I remember dropping off my six-year-old daughter at a kid’s camp and hearing her wail as I drove away. I parked my car near the camp and waited to hear how long she cried. It was a long time. After several days, I brought my daughter home from camp because I couldn’t stand her crying when I left her off. The director said I was doing the wrong thing.
Later, when the the same daughter, (about 10 years old) went to a sleep-away camp (a camp in which children stay overnight for several weeks) with her older sister, she again suffered from terrible homesickness. It seemed to happen only at dinnertime at the camp. This time we resisted bringing her home and she ended up enjoying the camp.
Here are some tips to try to combat homesickness as an exchange student:
1. Admit you are homesick
Now that you know the signs of homesickness, recognize that it’s normal for most exchange students to experience it. So if someone asks if you are homesick, say yes, and see what the other person says. Chances are that if the other person asks you, it means that he/she has experienced homesickness at some time. Don’t worry about offending your host family if someone from your host family asks you. Here’s what a typical conversation might be like:
Host Family Member: “It seems like you’re a little homesick because you look sad. Don’t worry; it’s OK.”
You: “As a matter of fact, I am a little homesick.”
Host Family Member: “It happens to almost everyone. I remember when I was an exchange student, I was pretty homesick.”
You: “Really? How long did it last?”
Host Family Member: It was on and off for a couple of weeks. Then it stopped.”
You: “What did you do to stop it?”
Host Family Member: “I kept busy, worked on improving my language skills, things like that.”
You: “Thanks for telling me. I think I feel better already.”
2. Expect chaos
“As much as you plan, nothing will be the way you think it should be,” posts Katie Sullivan on EF Foundations Blog. “Remember, you are packing up and moving away from what you know.” Luggage can get lost, you may not like your host family the first time you meet them, or you may feel like you just don’t know what to do with yourself when you enter your host family’s house.
3. Don’t call home every day
It’s very tempting to call a family member or friend a lot when you start out in your “new home.” But don’t. It will only prolong the sadness. Instead, agree on taking one or two days a week to talk or SKYPE. If you post a photo of some enjoyable event or place on Facebook or other social media, your family will feel like you’re having a good time--and so will you!
4. Venture out from your host family
Every family has it’s rules and routine, and soon enough, you’ll adjust to those of your host family. I’m pretty sure that your host family doesn’t expect you to hang out with them (informally spend time with one or more people). So, when the time is right, explore a bit on your own of the new city you’re visiting. Meet some other exchange students. Join a club with other people learning your new language or for those who come from your own country. Just make sure that at all times you tell your host family where you’re going, when you expect to be back, and have your mobile phone with you. Your host family is responsible for your well being and by cooperating with them, they will feel more comfortable about you venturing out on your own.
5. Bring a little bit of home with you
We’re not talking about your old teddy bear. Here is something that will be meaningful to you and to your host family: cook a typical meal from your native country. You’ll be so busy figuring out what to make and hunting down the ingredients that you’ll forget about your homesickness. And this meal will be a bonding experience with your host family or new friends.
6. Remember: you’re not the only one
If homesickness strikes when you’re an exchange student, remind yourself that many other foreign students are experiencing the same thing as you--right now somewhere. Tell yourself it will pass and it’s only temporary. And when you arrive back home, you may be surprised that you’re homesick for your host family!
Ilene Springer is a long-time italki tutor in English. She teaches intermediate, upper-intermediate and upper-level students, including advanced and proficient. She has been a writer for national magazines, such as Cosmopolitan and author of The Diary of an American Expatriate. Please visit her website at Chocolate.English.eu
Hero image by Jake Melara on Unsplash