By Nicholas Fong
Everyone is familiar with the pangs of homesickness that they experience the first time they leave home for an extended period of time.
The feeling of absolute emptiness inside of them, the longing for a familiar face or smell, the need for a warm embrace from a loved one.
It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of activity following a move to a new country. A thousand new faces to see, amongst them the few that will stay with you in the years to come. The places that you first wander around cautiously, until you run through them one day, panicked, 15 minutes late for class. The new apartment you move into has an odd smell that you can’t quite place. It’s different from your own house at home. Not in a bad way, but jarring enough that you notice it right away.
And when everything has finally slowed down, enough for you to sit on your bedside one morning, the remains of last night’s gathering scattered around your living room in the form of strewn cards and plastic cups, you realize there’s a numbness inside of you, growing like the small flowers you used to have on your windowsill. The sunshine you get on a daily basis only seems to help it sprout. It grows around your organs, until all you can feel is an all-consuming longing for home.
It’s easy to assume that this homesickness will only be assuaged by your eventual triumphant return home, and to a certain extent, that is true. Homesickness will only ever be cured by that familiar homely warmth, but there are ways to make sure that it won’t hinder your day-to-day life.
It’s easy to constantly be engaged with extracurricular activities and friends, but the key to making peace with your homesickness is to be content when alone. Solitary time is often when you think about home the most, when everything has slowed down and the quiet allows your mind to wander. Keeping busy will only last so long, and constantly keeping yourself occupied will wear you down in the long term. Perhaps take some time to walk around the city alone, and enjoy the vibrant life offered by a foreign country. It’s too easy to get so wrapped up in your various social obligations along with school that you don’t have time for yourself. Some people thrive on social contact, while others need some quiet time to recharge. Being dependent on other people to keep your spirits up, even if you are the sort of person who feels more energetic after meeting friends, isn’t necessarily reliable all the time. Achieving a balance between your responsibilities and yourself helps to lessen drastic mood changes resulting from a sudden change of pace, which can trigger feelings of homesickness.
Having a good support system is also essential in maintaining your mental health. Surround yourself with people who you can comfortably share your problems and inner troubles with. A warm conversation with a good friend may not be the same as one with family, but talking about the worries plaguing you can make them seem less daunting. One the things that often comes coupled with an intense feeling of homesickness is a sense of loneliness. You’re in a foreign country, away from your close family and friends, and it’s normal to feel like there’s no one there to help you face your problems. That’s not the case though – a listening ear can be found in the simplest of places. In fact, sharing your difficulties with a friend may even bring you two closer, and allow you to lean on each other for support. Perhaps don’t jump straight into the skeletons in your closet with the most recent acquaintance from your 9am lecture, but pick out some people who you feel that you can really connect with and understand.
Lastly, homesickness is something that’s perfectly normal and experienced by everyone. Seeking help if it’s affecting your ability to perform is nothing to be ashamed of, and should be encouraged, be it professional help, or confiding in a close friend. What most people don’t say is that the key isn’t always to quash that dull feeling of homesickness within you. It’s to accept it into yourself as a sign of the feelings you have towards your home and to coexist peacefully with it.
There’s enough space inside of you for it to settle calmly, a gentle reminder that perhaps you’re not where you most want to be right now, but that’s okay. You’ll be back one day, and until then, you’re not going to let it stop you from making the most of your time overseas.