I have moved 12 times in my life. 10 of those moves were before I turned fifteen. Colorado to Montana to Idaho back to Colorado and over again, but none of that prepared me for moving abroad to Glasgow, Scotland. I came to Glasgow with my best friend. We did not plan it that way, we just have the same major, and Glasgow was our top choice program. This gave me a sense of stability as I prepared to depart from Colorado. I have never lived away from my family before; I stayed in state for college for that very reason. I knew it would be hard and I was afraid. Maybe that’s why I procrastinated packing until two days before I left. I feared being homesick. Little did I know, you don’t get a choice of being homesick or not.
Everyone came to the airport to send me off. My mom, my mom’s boyfriend, my grandma, and my boyfriend. We fit as many people as possible into Nana’s Toyota Rav 4. I tried not to cry the whole way to the airport but every few minutes a tear would slip out. I rushed through the goodbyes as fast as possible trying and failing to keep it together. I was shaking as I watched their car drive away. I was still sad as my best friend, and I made our way through security, but I didn’t understand why. I remember watching the sunset as I sat at my gate thinking to myself “I had already said my goodbyes so why was I still upset?” The plane ride from Denver to London was 9 hours. We arrived at 11:30am and the first thing I noticed when we flew in was the cars on the highway, they were all driving on the left side of the road. It was something small, but it looked so funny to me. Due to British Airways strikes our flights got switched around a month before we left, and we got stuck with an 8-hour layover at London Heathrow Airport. We got food and took turns sleeping while we waited for the flight. I watched the sunset at the gate again, and I wondered if I was going to feel this sadness every time I watched the sun go down. By the time we arrived in Glasgow, we were exhausted. It was 11:30pm when we got into our flat. The whole building was quiet. We were so tired but due to the 7-hour time change, there was no way we could sleep. We ordered Domino’s pizza (of all things) using a coupon we got in our welcome package and began settling in. I remember going to sleep that night I felt odd. I was safe and I was comfortable, but I was sad. I wondered if I was going to feel homesick the whole time I was in Glasgow.
Being the problem solver I am, my mind immediately went to how I could leave early from the program. During finals weeks there were no classes so maybe I could go home sooner than planned, maybe I could change my flight, maybe I could change my boyfriend’s flight so that he could visit me sooner, maybe I couldn’t do this. These thoughts and emotions lasted over a week. I felt physically sick too. I was dizzy and nauseous all the time. I was tired at every hour of the day even after the jet lag wore off. I had headaches and it seemed like this sickness was not getting better. After the third or fourth day of complaining to my best friend she said it was all in my head. I was so offended. Why would she tell me I was making this stuff up? I really did not feel good. But after thinking about it and doing a quick google search I realized she was right. I was homesick.
I was trying to ignore my feelings because I thought it was so stupid for a 20-year-old college student to be homesick less than 7 days after leaving home but that was the truth. Recognizing my feelings was the cure. I remember the conversation I had with myself. I had to tell myself that I deserved this experience. I have worked hard in school and worked hard to financially afford going abroad. I reminded myself that I can do hard things and I am brave enough for this challenge. Once I accepted my homesickness it became easier to manage. After about two weeks I was so intrigued with exploring Glasgow and the surrounding area that the melancholy had worn off. School started and we began taking trips to places around Scotland and Europe making time fly by. My advice to those worried about being away from home is to accept those emotions before you leave. I fooled myself by thinking that after the goodbyes at DIA, everything would be fine. It takes time and a good pep talk before you feel better. The homesickness doesn’t last forever, and the more accepting you are the easier it will be. This may seem like a sad story but it’s not. I am so grateful that I have something in my life that is hard to say goodbye to and they will be right there waiting for me when I get back. Homesickness is not a bad thing, it’s a reminder to appreciate the blessings of family and friends. Everyone needs to be humbled like that occasionally.
Pieces of advice to prepare for arrival:
- Get a UK phone plan: I can’t speak for people who are studying in places other than the UK but Giff Gaff is a must. Phone plans in the UK range from £10-£20 a month. My best friend and I suspended our Verizon phone plan in The United States for three months (That is the longest you can suspend it) and ordered sim cards from a mobile company called Giff Gaff. My card was £15 which got me 30 GB of Data in the UK and 5 GB of roaming data in European Union countries. This plan also had unlimited texting and calling. Verizon abroad plans are about $300 per month with strict limits on data, texting, and calling so this saved a lot of money. All we had to do was switch out the sim cards at the London airport during our layover and we were good to go. Just don’t lose your US carrier sim card, you’ll need that when you return!
- Pack light: There’s no way you will be able to know everything you are going to need while abroad and checking bags is expensive. You will also buy a lot of things once abroad like medicine, clothes, beauty products, hair products, souvenirs, kitchenware, cleaning supplies, etc. My best advice is to focus on clothes and leave behind the shoes. How many times are you really going to wear those boots? When you arrive don’t get carried away with bathroom products, kitchenware, and cleaning supplies. You can’t bring back all those pots, pans and wine openers so stick to the basics.
- Buy a crockpot: One fantastic investment that my roommate and I made was a small £20 crockpot. It made dinners so easy. There are tons of cheap and easy crockpot recipes that make lots of leftovers. We used our crockpot at least 3-4 times a week which saved us so much money in eating out.
- Don’t ship anything: Due to some harsh procrastination, I did not go to the doctor until three days before I left for Glasgow. When the doctor said I needed new glasses and contacts I was stressed because there was no way I was going to get them ordered and delivered before I left. I didn’t have my UK address yet, so my mom and I planned for her to ship my contacts to me when they were delivered to our apartment. They were just contacts so they can’t be that expensive. We were wrong. For an envelope with a three-month supply of contacts plus shipping insurance, UPS charged nearly $200. This already hurt our wallets but then when they were delivered the courier charged me another $90. So, you may say to yourself while packing “In the worst case we can ship this to me.” This is a big mistake. I could have waited and ordered my contacts when I got to Glasgow, but hindsight is always 20/20.
The Summer leading up to my departure from the United States I would tell people that I was studying abroad for three and a half months, and it seemed like every time they would ask me the same question: “Are you excited?”. And every time I would nod my head yes and say, “I’m so excited, it is going to be so much fun.” But I always felt a little fake every time I gave that response. I actually wanted to say, “I’m excited, but I’m nervous, scared, and anxious too.” I always felt like that was not the right answer. But now I don’t think there is a right answer. It sounds cliché and cheesy but it’s true. I learned that it’s okay to be afraid if it does not confine you. Studying abroad is brave. It may come easier to some people than others but at the end of the day no matter who you are, it is courageous because you are choosing to challenge yourself in every way possible. So, whether your struggle is homesickness, not being able to eat fast food for lunch every day, making new friends, taking classes in a different language, or just not knowing the name of the street you live on, know that all it takes is a little courage. There is always fear, but the response is what matters.