Home Sweet Homesick

Homesick?

There are quite a lot of people who experience homesickness, but just because you may not think you are, remember that it can come in many forms. I personally experience little to no traditional homesickness. Summers spent across the country at camp for months at a time cured me from this normal feeling. When I moved across the country to go to college I never had the achy sadness of missing the past, and it is not to say from time to time I didn’t think about friends and family or even my puppy! However, I never went through traditional homesickness. Going abroad has not been very different. Of course I was nervous and anxious about quite a lot of new things, but I have been easily caught up in the excitement of the new environment and different experiences. Homesickness is, by no means, a bad thing! It is natural! But like most things, it is about moderation, putting your privilege in check, and being in a mindset of taking advantage of the new experiences in front of you. Remember that you can simply survive abroad, or you can LIVE while you’re abroad, and that is much more fun!

Belfast at dusk, a beautiful time in the city
Belfast at dusk, a beautiful time in the city, but evenings often yield themselves to homesickness

-Moderation-

Missing people or things from home is natural. In the inconsistency that is the Abroad Experience, it is normal to miss some of the things that are staples in home life. The problem with giving in to homesickness is letting it consume you. If missing home becomes the main focus of your trip, this could become detrimental to the experience as well as harmful to your wellbeing. To keep yourself in moderation, I recommend:

  • Talking to family and friends once or twice a week. Don’t spend your entire trip on Skype!
  • Try joining the gym. If it is something you consistently do at home, it might help you feel more stability. (This has been a great decision for me! I love being able to work out to handle stress).
  • Make your favorite meal! Share it with the people you’ve met as a way to positively talk about and share memories of home. You could also watch a tv show or movie with people. For Halloween I organized a movie night in my house to watch Hocus Pocus, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Corpse Bride, which helped me feel better about not being home.
Sharing Halloween Traditions
Sharing Halloween Traditions

-Check your Privilege-

This “p” word tends to turn people off, but I think abroad is a time to reflect on where you come from. This reflection can bring up bouts of homesickness, but it is important to map your growth. Think about what things you are missing and consider if they are really necessities worth whining over. Also, recognize that people you meet are going to have distinctive experiences, come from diverse places, and potentially have very different outlooks than you. If you feel out of place because of this, don’t worry! This is also ordinary. Here are a few ways to handle this:

  • Take a moment to recognize that it is OKAY for people to be different than you, it makes the world more interesting. Living with 15 people from all over the world in my house, view points can be very different! But take advantage of this. I have learned so much about the politics of the EU, European immigration, and even capitalist theory, topics I would probably never read about or take courses on, but have now explored in a bit of depth.
  • Don’t make other people feel stupid for not having the same experiences as you. If there is something you think most people know, even silly things like chocolate chip cookies or Dr. Seuss, don’t belittle someone for not having knowledge about them. (I have seen Americans do this and it just makes you look more foolish)
  • Keep a journal. Even something basic, where every day you write down one thing that you learned to think about differently or something someone said that challenged a belief. I have personally started this, and it is a great way to remain open to new ideas, as you can search for things to write in your journal!

*Also remember that many people who would like to go abroad don’t have that opportunity, so you are privileged in going and should not take that for granted* 🙂

-Take Advantage of the New-

Abroad is not about doing things the way you have always done them. This is the most important thing to remember when mentally preparing for your trip. Things are going to be different! Sights, sounds, foods, people, will all present chances to get out of your comfort zone. But don’t mope about what your new local doesn’t have, instead delight in the new!

  • Try cooking new meals, buying different things from the grocery store or market, or just eating different food in general. It is not the time to be picky! Food is a bonding time for many cultures and it can offer you insight into greater pieces of the new world you’re in if you eat the food.
  • Words, words, words. I am in a country which speaks English, but the accent can sometimes be a challenge. Try to be comfortable with the new language or accent around you! When you get back to the states it will sound so plain, this is the time to love the different sounds.
  • Moping or complaining about the differences gets you nowhere. Try to have a mindset that allows you to enjoy the differences, rather than constantly contrasting them.
  • Get involved! Attend campus events you may not  go to at DU or join a new club. Belfast is filled with active school groups and they offer open activities to the whole campus!
Attending an open stage night hosted by Queen's Players was new, but I loved it!
Attending an open stage night hosted by Queen’s Players was new, but I loved it! Belfast really supports its local arts!

– Jessie GG, DUSA Blogger

 

A Mouthful of Rocciata Helps the Homesickness Go Down

Apparently, studying abroad is an amusement park.

According to the Office of Internationalization and just about any published resource on the topic, the emotions associated with study abroad is most like the Boomerang ride. You know, that U-shaped ride at amusement parks that straps you in, pulls you up to the highest point on the track, hands you and your queasy stomach over the cruel hands of gravity, and eventually cascades you back up to the other incline of the U. They call this the “Cultural Adaptation Curve.” But I like my rollercoaster analogy better.

PLEASE NOTE: I am fully aware that cultural adaptation and homesickness are technically two different things, but they also very intertwined in my mind.

For you math-minded folks.

Let’s hope this is wrong, considering a semester abroad is only about 3.5 months long, which would mean we would all be blissfully ignorant for half the time, then come home in the gutter of hostility.

In my humble opinion, homesickness is more like a daily ride on the Six Flags’ Tower of Doom. This ride straps you into a 250 foot tall totem pole-looking tower and, once again, lets gravity toy with your stomach and self-respect for a never-ending amount of time. Disneyland has it’s own version of this, called the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, if you’re more familiar with that. If you can’t tell from my description, this is consequentially my least favorite ride of them all.

I am about to hit the one-month mark of my arrival in Rome and homesickness tends to be a daily experience on the Tower of Doom for me, and it has been this way since the day I arrived. Thankfully, it only comes in small doses and I only feel these low, gut-wrenching emotions when I’m sitting around the apartment, doing nothing in particular, or when I’m at school without my friends.

I tend to struggle when it comes to making friends since I’m somewhat introverted. Thankfully, the housing director for ISA did an impeccable job in my apartment’s housing assignments as all of my roommates have become my best friends here, making my job of finding a niche much easier. However, when I’m left to fend for myself at school, I long for the days at DU where I can always greet someone I know as I walk through campus.

As for homesickness settling in when I’m doing nothing in my apartment, I realize I’m being rather hypocritical. In my last post, Il Dolce Far Niente, I described how I was “homesick for being lazy.” I take that back. I’ve reverted to my old ways where I need to be doing something productive in order to stay happy. Sitting around doing nothing in my apartment does terrible things for my psyche. My roommate, Julie and I discussed this yesterday and we seem to be in agreement that sitting on our laptops, refreshing our Facebook newsfeeds for hours does keep us feeling connected to home, but it also tends to be a waste of our time in a new country.

Therefore, I am left in a bit of a pickle. If I can’t be busy with extracurriculars all the time, in my attempt to learn how to relax, but must also find a way to keep myself from drowning in a sea of homesick blues, what’s a girl to do?

Here are my tips on combatting homesickness. I title them thus:

“An Overachiever’s Guide to Overcoming Homesickness”

1. Accept and embrace. I have a tendency to try to distract myself from my problems rather than facing them like a real woman. But inspiration against this came from “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert (my bible) in one of my favorite literary passages:

“When I get lonely these days, I think: So be lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience.”

Distraction tends to lead to bottling, which leads to taking that pressure and frustration out on others who probably don’t deserve it. I would have to say that this one is particularly important if you are attempting a long-distance relationship such as I am. My boyfriend and I are much happier when we are being honest with each other about how much we miss each other and how miserable we are without each other, rather than stifling those emotions with the intention of not throwing more baggage on the other person. As I said, this only leads to bottling and inadvertent confusion.

2. You aren’t alone. Once you’ve managed to admit your homesickness to yourself, try admitting it to someone else. I guarantee you they are feeling the same thing or have felt it at one point in their life. When Julie asked me yesterday if I’m feeling homesick it was like a huge weight off my shoulders to know that she was feeling the exact same thing. We even made a vow to take each other out exploring in the future.

If you’re lonely, start being lonely with someone else. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll come to the realization…that you’re not actually lonely. *gasp*

2. Find a hobby. Mine? Taking pictures and eating. Not to be confused with eating out of boredom, I am on a determined hunt for the best and most affordable food in Italy. At home in Denver, my hobby tends to be filling up my schedule as much as humanly possible. As much as I’ve always loved photography and food, I haven’t had hardly any time to do these things in college. Now seems like the perfect time to dabble and revel in these two old loves of mine.

3. Go outside. Insert some scientific fact about how much sunlight improves your mood. On top of sunshine, exploring and observing also allows you to learn your way around your new city. Trust me, when you learn the lay of the land and how to get to things on your own, it will stop feeling “new” and start feeling like “home.”

4. Enjoy the little things. It’s very easy while living in another country to get bogged down by the seemingly negative differences between your host country and the place from whence you came. The best way to get past these moments is to turn it around and find the silver lining.

For example, I can’t express to you in words how much my roommates and I miss Target–one mega store where you can conveniently buy absolutely anything you could ever possibly need. Italy runs on many small specialty stores: frutterias (fruits and vegetables), formaggerias (dairy and cheeses), farmacias (pharmacy/personal hygiene), electronics stores, clothing stores, underwear stores, sunglasses stores, home decoration stores…I could go on forever. In one mindset, this is horribly inconvenient. But on the flip side, fruterias have the freshest and cheapest produce because they can afford to do so. If you’re into the whole anti-monopolizing corporations, they’re pretty much nonexistent under this business model as all of these little shops are family owned by the most friendly people. There’s ample good qualities if you look for them.

My favorite way of enjoying the little things is, of course, my focus on food during this trip. Every successful meal is a win in my book. I will shamelessly admit that a good meal or snack automatically makes any day better. Case in point: I started writing a blog post earlier this week about the less than successful trip to Assisi we took last weekend. Many things went wrong on that day but you know what didn’t?

This:

The word “rocciata” roughly translates to “therapy” in English.

This is rocciata (roh-CHA-tah)–essentially, Italian apple strudel. Flaky, gooey, nutty, sugary, awesome-y rocciata. Perhaps instead of remembering the negative things, that day can live on the memory of this little piece confectionary heaven. It’s the little things that count.

“Chow” for now,

– Cheyenne Michaels, DUSA Blogger –