Homesickness is the number one reason why exchange students choose to end their exchanges and go home early.
Nobody who’s experienced homesickness forgets what it’s like. Being separated from your home and your loved ones can hurt like crazy. The days drag. You want to go to bed early and wake up late. Difficult things – like speaking a foreign language, finding your way around a new city or interacting with strangers all day – start to seem impossible.
The good news is that there are things that everyone can do about being homesick. In fact, you only have to do a handful of key things to feel more positive, start to get rid of your homesickness for good, and begin loving life overseas.
In this article, I’ll show you how to beat homesickness. Here’s what to do:
Step 1: Don’t panic
Why do you feel homesick?
It’s simple. Homesickness occurs because you’ve left one situation – living at home – and moved to another, new and unfamiliar situation – living overseas. Being in the new situation makes you unhappy.
This is a totally normal human emotion. Almost everyone who leaves Situation A and goes to Situation B misses Situation A for a while.
Think about it. Someone who starts a new job will often feel nostalgic about his previous job for a little while. People who move houses usually don’t enjoy living in their new houses for the first few weeks, and miss their old homes. Kids who change schools usually miss their old schools for a month or two. But after a while, everybody adjusts to their new situations and begins to enjoy things.
You’ll adjust and start enjoying living overseas soon, too. Your homesickness is only temporary. It will most likely pass in a matter of weeks.
Remember this, stay cool, and don’t panic.
Step 2: Cut the cord
If you want to settle in overseas and stop missing home so much, you must cut yourself off from home and start standing on your own two feet.
Don’t talk to your Mom every night. Stop DMing everybody at home so much and replying to their DMs. Avoid obsessively checking your phone. Every time you do these things, you are making things hard for yourself. You are strengthening the bond to your home country, and weakening the bond to your host country.
Goal 1 of being on exchange is to live like a local. Goal 2 is to learn self-sufficiency. You can’t do either of those things until you get some independence from your home and the people you left behind. So cut them off, as politely and quickly as possible.
Step 3: Turn off the push notifications
Further to step 2: if your iPhone is pinging every five minutes, you’ll never stop picking it up. So turn off the push notifications. Instagram – off. Facebook – off. TikTok – off. Just turn them off and focus on living life.
Step 4: Attack the two things that make homesickness worse
The two biggest sources of unhappiness for people who move overseas are culture shock and the language barrier. You must focus relentlessly on beating these.
The cure for culture shock is to consume more of the local culture in your new country.
Watch more local TV, listen to more local music, eat more local food, do more local sightseeing, go to more local events. Your new home country will be full of incredible sights, culture, food and experiences. The more you get out and start experiencing these things, the more you’ll find to enjoy.
Also, pay close attention to the people in your new country. How do they dress? How do they conduct themselves? Are there any social norms or habits that you need to pick up? Then, adapt your behaviour so that you behave more like a local. If you want to feel less like a fish out of water, you need to start jumping into the water.
The remedy for the language barrier is just as simple, if less enjoyable. You need to work your ass off.
The only way to conquer a language is to spend as much time as possible learning it. Purchase a grammar book and do the exercises every day until you can’t stand it any more. Rote-learn vocabulary. Practise speaking the language, no matter how foolish you feel at first.
You need to become completely preoccupied with speaking the language of your host country as perfectly as you can. This will have two main benefits:
1. You’ll feel more confident, less inhibited, and happier, and
2. You’ll be able to converse with more people, and start connecting and making friends as a result.
Step 5: Work on improving your new life
Small victories and improvements add up. If you make a positive change every day which improves your life by just one per cent, your life will be 37 times better after a year.
One of the best ways to overcome homesickness is to make your life overseas even better than the life you had at home.
There were probably a few things about your life at home that you weren’t happy with. Bad sleeping habits, poor eating, too little exercise, bad relationships, and more.
All that stuff has gotta stop some time. Why not now? Moving overseas is a massively disruptive event. While you’re going through all that change, take the opportunity to get rid of some baggage, too.
You know that morning people are usually happier and more productive, right? So stop going to bed late. Turn in early every night so that you can get going earlier.
Do you drink a lot of alcohol? Stop it. You’ll feel much healthier and more positive living abroad if you never wake up hung-over.
Within a few days of arriving overseas, make a list of bad habits you’ve fallen into and other things that you want to change. Then, promise yourself that you’ll work on changing all of those things. Start right away. The more you change, the more you’ll enjoy your new life overseas, and the less homesick you will be. Try it.
Step 6: Learn to forgive yourself
Ask yourself honestly: do you have a big ego? Are you a proud person?
If so, you’ll soon encounter a problem. Exchange students and others who move overseas are constantly making mistakes, screwing things up, and looking foolish – especially at the start.
If you let them, all of these little mistakes will start to eat you up. They’ll make you feel miserable and homesick.
So, get into the habit of forgiving yourself when you make a mistake. Remember that living overseas is hard. Nobody is thinking less of you because you’re making mistakes. Let it go, and move on.
Step 7: Stay busy
Being in a foreign country and having too much time on your hands is a recipe for homesickness. The more free time you have, the more of it you’ll spend thinking about home.
So, fill that free time with as much activity as you can. Doing things with your host family, exercising, language learning, and so on. Even tidying your room or house is less likely to make you homesick than just sitting there doing nothing.
Homesickness is a huge problem for some exchange students. But it doesn’t need to be a problem at all for you. Take the steps outlined above, work hard, trust that things will get better, and they eventually will. You can do it!
Good luck, Matt