Being abroad during the holidays can certainly be tough. Friends and family begin to share their plans: heading to grandma’s for fresh-baked pie and cookies, sharing laughs at the annual holiday party, taking a stroll down Candy Cane Lane. It all looks warm and wonderful, but you are thousands of miles away. You start feeling homesick, and it’s no fun at all.
This is totally normal. The holiday season makes us acutely aware of the distance between ourselves and the people, places, and routines that we’re familiar with. There are several things you can do to help pull yourself out of the funk. Here are five tips that we hope help bring you a little cheer during your holidays away from home.
1. Take a Break From Technology
Technology has made it far too easy to leave home without ever leaving home. You can keep track of what everyone is doing (keep in mind, their posts are only what they want you to see) and stay in touch with the people you love. However, spending two hours checking in on your parents or friends back home could be used to explore and connect with your new environment. When homesickness hits, you may be overtaken by FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), and it becomes second-nature to compulsively check social media to stay in the loop. Be warned-- it is likely making your homesickness worse. Instead of following every movement back home, focus on creating some exciting posts of your own.
Create a bucket list of all the things you want to do or see in your new home. This may be as ambitious as a weekend adventure on the ski slopes, as small as enjoying a quiet cup of coffee in that adorable café, or even having a pleasant conversation with a local in their language. Your list will keep you inspired and focused on the next adventure. Try to find places or groups that can help you enjoy old hobbies, or better yet, discover new ones! Get involved with the local community by volunteering – there is never a shortage around the holidays. The key is to make your time abroad feel purposeful and enjoyable.
Maintaining a favorite activity helps bring balance and routine back to your daily life and can make your new space feel a little more familiar. Join a book club, a sports team, or a yoga studio - if activities like these are an important part of your normal life, don't feel like you have to give them up. You may find a new variation of a something you love, like a new style of dance native to your study abroad destination. Even finding a new favorite market or restaurant can help. You may make new like-minded friends, or at the very least, begin to look forward to seeing a familiar face or two on a regular basis.
Does your family get together to make a special recipe for the holidays? Teach a local friend or your host family how to cook that dish. You may not be able to find all the same ingredients from back home, but it sure is an adventure to try! And even if it doesn’t taste the same, it will bring up fond memories while creating new ones. Be sure to encourage the people you are with to share their local traditions to truly make it a cross-cultural experience, you may find yourself making a Santa from a radish or learning about the history of a creepy character called Krampus.
A healthy amount of being in touch with family and friends back home is important, and sending a gift home is a great way of showing you are thinking of loved ones. Some great gifts from abroad are local food items (nonperishable and travel-friendly, like tea, spices, or candy), local holiday decorations (a handmade card or a non-fragile tree ornament), or self-made photo albums of your adventures. And ask those from home to send some of those home-baked pastries or a handmade scarf. This provides a tangible way for you to share your experience abroad and get a taste of home during the holidays.
The truth is that you're not the first person to feel homesick. You might feel pressure to always stay positive about your experience abroad, especially if you had high expectations when you arrived, or feel the need to put on a happy face when you talk to folks back at home, but there's no shame in being homesick. Confide in others about feelings you may be struggling with, whether it’s with other students studying abroad or your best friend back home.
Remember, the holidays are a time to be joyful, grateful, and giving. So give yourself a present, and stay present in the moment.