9 Tips to deal with homesickness
Welcome to Independent…Mostly! As you may already have read in my About Me or My Story posts, this blog is dedicated to helping 20-year-olds navigate their 20’s. That is why I have to decided to write my very first post about Homesickness. Homesickness is one of the first things any person experiences when they leave their home. Whether you just moved off to college, to a new city or have been away from home for a long time, homesickness is something we all have to deal with. It happens to the best of us, but never at the best of times. It takes effort to motivate yourself to break out into your new environment, but it is almost always worth it. I hope these 9 Tips to Deal with Homesickness will help you as much as they’ve helped me.
When I moved to Germany, I was only 17 years old. I knew a total of 3 people from Bargfeld-Stegen and that was it. I spent a lot of time worrying about whether I had made the right decision or not. After all, the American way is to go straight to college after high school, not to northern Germany. I missed my family (and my dog). I would Skype with them every week and my mom would send me care packages with all my favorite snacks. However, the homesickness didn’t go away. Of course, I was having fun on this new adventure, but I wished my family was here to experience the fun with me.
After a couple of weeks had passed, I realized something had to change if I was going to enjoy this wonderful opportunity that had been presented to me. So I started doing the steps I’ve listed below. Some were completed unconsciously and some were planned and strategized. But the point is that all of them helped in some way or another. Although these fixes may have only been temporary, doing them continually helped not only with the homesickness, but also to feel more at home in my new environment.
1. Create a routine
Moving to a new place can be very scary. It can be very tempting to just hide away from your new world. However, whether you’re moving to a new country, city or just going off to college, it is very important to create a solid routine. This can look something like:
Or it could look a little something like this:
Both relaxed and strict plans work, but it can sometimes be overkill if you write down every hour of your day when you really only need to write down a to-do list. Building a routine helps you feel in control of your situation and helps you adjust to your new home much quicker.
When I first came to Germany, I rarely left the house. I spent way too much time in bed, watching Netflix, and not doing what I was supposed to be doing (mainly learning the language). However, as soon as I put myself on a routine, I started feeling more in control and less worried that moving to Germany had been a terrible mistake. I went for a run or did yoga every morning, and made myself work on German for 3 hours a day. This forced me to not only learn the language; it gave me a plan of action that made me feel comfortable.
Obviously, those of you who are in or going to be in college soon will have classes to help schedule your weeks. However, during the first couple of weeks in any new place, do your best to fill up as much free time as you can.
2. Take lots of photos
One thing that helped me feel better was taking lots of photos. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking them with a $1,000 camera, a simple point-and-shoot, or even your smartphone. Going out and taking photos is a great way to immerse yourself in your new home. My first couple of months here, my Nikon went everywhere with me, whether I went to a lake, to Hamburg or even to Poland, it was always there right next to me documenting my experiences.
Taking photos helps keep your mind active during the day and gives you something to send home to show everyone. I loved sending my photos home to show my friends and family all of my cool adventures. It made (and still makes) me feel like I experienced something extra special. It’s also a great idea for those of you who might be a little more shy or anxious. Behind a camera, you can hide your face a little bit and allow yourself to be alone with the scenery without much conversation or interaction.
Bonus Point!!! Years to come when you’re looking back at your experiences, you will have all of these photos to remind you of the cool hangout spots you found, the interesting food you ate, and the amazing times you had.
3. Overexposure (Go out and adventure)
This is possibly one of the most important tips I can and will recommend. By “overexposure” I mean going out as much and talking to as many new people as possible. It can be very scary to go out into your new world, but if you stay at home all day you’ll never be able to embrace your new surroundings as your home.
I tried to force myself to go out and do one “scary” thing a day. That “scary” thing could have been going to the nearby Café by myself, saying hello to a stranger, or joining a new club. But I did my best to get out of my comfort zone.
Everyone’s “scary” thing is different. One person’s could be leaving the house, while another person’s is joining the French Club. Whatever it is, it’s best to face it head-on. Forcing yourself to become overexposed in your new home will help you find your new favorite place to go, your favorite tree to read under, or even introduce you to some wonderful people.
4. Cook comfort food
One of the things I missed the most (and still miss from time to time) was the food I ate in Boulder. Burritos, my mom’s Mac and Cheese, and Grandma’s pie were some of the things I craved the most.
During my first year here, I lived with a host family who were your typical German carnivores. Being a vegetarian proved harder than I had originally planned. The biggest problem was that nothing I tried tasted like home. In one of my care-packages, my mom had stuffed loads of El Paso Taco Seasoning packets in the box. I was so excited to make some actual burritos that I couldn’t wait to cook. Finally, something that tasted familiar.
Side Note: While Grandma’s Chicken and Dumplings Recipe might not taste the exact same when you cook it, it’ll at least serve as a comforting reminder of home. Also, I am aware that not all of you have kitchens in your dorm rooms. I suggest looking in cafeterias, or local snack depots for snacks that remind you of a fun experience or a family tradition.
5. Take a slight break from Skype
This one is a tough one. During the first few weeks in a new place, it can be tempting to Skype your family and friends every day. However, sitting on Skype for 2+ hours a day will only make you feel more homesick. Personally, I always wanted to be closer than 9,000 miles away to my family and friends after a Skype call. I’m not saying you should totally nix the Skype usage. I’m suggesting planning a certain time and day every week to talk to Grandma and Grandpa. This will help you stay present in your current home, but also let you see your family and friends.
My exchange-student had made a pact with his parents to not talk to them until December, so he could learn the language. That meant he didn’t speak to his parents for 4 months. While I think this may be a little excessive, it helped him to build strong connections with friends and allowed him to feel more present in Boulder.
6. Take up a hobby (new or old)
A great way to deal with homesickness is by doing something you love. Whether you take up a new hobby or start an old one up again, it’s important to get out of the house and do something you enjoy. Moving to a new place allows you to discover a new part of yourself. Have you always wanted to try your hand at photography? Were you an avid runner, and have been dying to get back to it? Well, now’s your chance! Doing something you love keeps your mind occupied, as well as giving you a chance to discover a part of you that you forgot about or didn’t even know existed.
For me personally, this hobby was running. I had always used running as an anti-stress mechanism during finals week. However, I found that I quite enjoyed just running for fun. Most mornings I would go for a run to my favorite area in Bargfeld-Stegen. Of course, as I started working and it started getting colder, going for a run became more of a hassle and less of something that I enjoyed. In the beginning, it gave me the opportunity to start exploring my new surroundings and become more comfortable with them.
7. Join a club
Many of you may not think this step is that important but it does help. On all college campuses, there are all different types of clubs. There are political clubs, debate clubs, theater clubs, religious clubs, social justice clubs, sports clubs and so much more. George Mason University even has a “Feed the Squirrels” club and a “Don’t Feed the Squirrels” Club. The point is, there’s almost always a club for any special interest you might have.
Now for those of you who aren’t in the college club environment, might find it a little harder to find a club. However, where there is a will, there is a way! For instance, if you’re moving overseas you can join InterNations. InterNations is a site for people living in a different country trying to meet other foreigners. Everyone can join and there are tons of clubs to join like “Women’s Club”, “Dancing Club”, or even the “Dinner Club”. The best part is you can join events all around the world. So even if you are traveling, you can see if there’s a hike in Australia, Belgium or Spain next Tuesday around 7:00 pm.
If either of those doesn’t appeal to you, you can always find a hangout spot to fit your needs. Most gyms offer classes you can join, coffee shops might have open-mic nights, or your local theater might be searching for their next lead.
The point is, there is always a way to find a group of people that share your interests. Finding those people will help you immensely with feeling at home as well as helping you make friends.
8. Meet a friend
I know what you may be thinking, “Well, what if I don’t have any friends?” and the reality is you may not have found your new best friend after 3 days. However when you move to a new place you are bound to meet at least one person. If that person seemed nice, why not ask them if they want to go and get a coffee? They might have some insights about cool areas around town to visit. They might even be willing to take you there. You’ll start feeling more comfortable in your new area and having a nice conversation or two will keep your mind preoccupied.
For me, meeting friends not only helped me learn the language but it helped me feel more included in Germany. It can be very lonely going to a new place but just finding that one person to talk to can make a huge difference. It might be hard to take that first step to reach out to someone, but, trust me it’s worth it.
9. Be open
Moving to a new place can be scary. Homesickness is bound to happen. But it’s best to be open to new opportunities. You’ll never feel at home if you shut your blinds and only open the door for the pizza delivery guy. However, if you recognize that you’re feeling this way, and still stay open to the possibility of it getting better, you’ll start feeling at home in no time!