HOW TO DEAL WITH HOMESICKNESS DURING YOUR GAP SEMESTER
Going abroad for a gap semester is an exciting and life-changing experience, but it can also be challenging, especially in moments when you feel down or discouraged. Homesickness is a feeling of sadness, loneliness, and longing for your home, family, and friends, and no one is totally immune to these feelings.
Being homesick is a natural part of being away from home for an extended period; some people may not feel it often, but for those that do, homesickness can impact their overall well-being and enjoyment of their travels. Remember, though, that even if you are feeling homesick this doesn’t mean you need to pack up and head home—there are a lot of causes for homesickness, but there are also many solutions.
To have the best experience possible, you can better understand homesickness and learn about the tools and resources available to you that help you manage your feelings. In this article, we outline how to deal with homesickness during your gap semester.
Being homesick isn’t anything to be embarrassed about—you may be surprised at just how many people experience it on some level or another. This is because homesickness can come in different forms and different intensities. Knowing what is behind your feelings of homesickness can help you figure out what you should do to remedy the situation.
Causes of Homesickness
Traveling abroad or taking a gap semester is full of new and exciting experiences, which affect an entire spectrum of emotions. Homesickness is a natural response to suddenly living in an unfamiliar place, but it can also be triggered by stress, culture shock, and other factors. You may be:
- Overwhelmed with learning a new language or customs
- Worrying about or missing your family or friends back home
- Nervous about the tasks you need to complete
- Overstimulated by others or unfamiliar settings
- Feeling alone or depressed
- Trying to adjust to a new routine
Even positive changes can still make us feel negative or overwhelming emotions since our brains love what is familiar. Any time you challenge your brain with a new environment, you need to give yourself time to adjust.
Signs of Homesickness
The signs of homesickness can range from mild feelings of sadness to severe depression and anxiety. You may deal with the occasional bout of the blues, or you may find yourself being completely unmotivated to stay and complete your semester. Symptoms you can look for include:
- Isolating yourself from others
- Experiencing a lot of anxiety
- Feeling depressed or like you are grieving
- Not sleeping well
- Dealing with body pains
- Having no appetite or having stomach issues
- Not being able to focus or be productive
- Always feeling upset or triggered by your environment
Notice that some of these signs are physical, like having an upset stomach or poor sleeping patterns, while others are emotionally driven, like being unable to focus or pulling away from others. Everyone is different and may be predisposed to certain feelings or physical responses, so it’s important to know yourself and recognize when you are feeling or behaving differently.
Symptoms of homesickness can last a day, a few weeks, or months. Take the time and effort it requires to be self-aware and notice if these feelings are persisting long-term. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support if you’re feeling severely depressed or anxious.
COPING WITH HOMESICKNESS
Learning how to deal with homesickness on a gap semester as a student can be challenging, especially if you’re feeling trapped or anxious—but the key to overcoming these feelings is to remember that such feelings don’t last forever and that you can do something about it! In most cases it’s better to try and work through your feelings than to simply go home; you may end up being regretful or frustrated with your experience.
Try some of these coping techniques. Here are some tips we recommend to feel like yourself again and set realistic expectations for the rest of your trip.
Embracing Your Experience Abroad
One of the best ways to combat homesickness is to focus on the positive aspects of your experience abroad. When you immerse yourself in this new experience, you are taking full advantage of this opportunity to travel and stretch your boundaries. Instead of seeing everything that isn’t there (like the comforts of your typical life), explore your new surroundings, learn about a new culture, and meet new people.
Staying Connected with Home
It’s okay to miss your home, friends, and family—being separated from your loved ones for a long time will make anyone feel sentimental and even emotional. Reconnect with them when you can to keep that homesickness at bay.
Technology Is Your Friend
We have amazing resources like social media, video chats, and even simple phone calls to help you feel connected to home. Whether you need a weekly video call with a parent or a group chat with friends, you can still be a part of your family or friend group while you are living far away. The only caveat here is that you don’t want to become too entrenched in the lives of others on social media—stay excited about where you are. Post about your own experiences and keep your friends up to date on what you’re doing; their enthusiasm for you may be all you need.
Reminders of Home
You’re going to try some amazing cuisines and go to many new places when you travel, but if you’re feeling homesick, try eating familiar foods or have a night in. You can also send letters home and ask for packages from your loved ones to feel connected. A favorite snack, printed photos, or even a meaningful trinket can offer a lot of comfort. Having a small reminder of home is an easy way to satisfy the longing you may feel before diving back into the incredible lifestyles and cultures around you.
Finding a Support System
Being homesick can stem from feeling removed from the people that love you, so creating a network of people that you can lean on is a great way to combat those feelings.
You may find yourself pulling away from others and isolating yourself when you’re homesick, and while taking some time alone can be helpful, it’s also essential to build a community you can trust and reach out to for support. Again, there are a lot of students who deal with homesickness, so make friends that can help you feel less alone.
With Global Citizen Year programs, you can connect with each other through the virtual component before even arriving at your destination, meaning you have a built-in support system. You also live with your group in co-living houses once you arrive, so not only can you get to know them beforehand, but you also have a system of friends that know exactly what you’re experiencing. You should also try building connections locally, both with folks from the area you are visiting and with your cohort.
Joining a Club or Organization
Sometimes we all struggle with making friends—maybe you aren’t clicking with those immediately around you or you’re really introverted and struggle to approach others. Whatever the case, joining a club is a great way to meet people that you have something in common with. This provides you with opportunities to build organic friendships and engage in activities that interest you.
Seeking Professional Help
Often, the best thing to do is to reach out to a counselor or therapist to discuss the feelings or issues you are having and receive advice tailored to you and your situation. Your anxieties or other negative emotions could be situational or symptoms of long-term issues. Either way, professionals can help you explore your options and help you feel better about your current situation.
Keeping Busy and Engaged
Remember why you are studying or traveling abroad in the first place—your typical life will be there for you when you get back, but a gap semester is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
You may be volunteering to help underserved communities, advocating for social justice issues, or interning with a human rights organization. Getting lost in your work and the passion for that service is a great way to stop missing your home life.
You also are in a new place that you get to explore and learn more about. Great food, breathtaking landmarks, historical sights, and many other cultural experiences are yours to enjoy. You can also pursue your hobbies and interests to continue developing yourself and stay grounded. Try going for a run or walk, baking something, reading a fun book, going to the beach, or anything else that brings you joy.
Your entire trip is one big learning experience where you discover things about yourself and the world around you, and learning is never a linear process. Dealing with homesickness during your gap semester is a normal part of the experience, but like any type of challenge in life, it’s important to take steps to manage it. Leaving your feelings unchecked or ignoring the signs of homesickness can make you want to go home early. Instead of ignoring it, acknowledge that homesickness is real but ultimately doesn’t dictate your experience!
Fostering friendships while you’re abroad and leaning on loved ones back home can make all the difference. As you lean into the new (and yes, sometimes intimidating) aspects of your gap semester, you are going to get so much more from your time away from home.
Embrace the challenges of gap semesters along with the life-changing rewards with Global Citizen Year. We provide you with all the tools and resources you need to enjoy yourself and positively impact the world around you. Not only will you get the chance to experience a new country or culture, but you will also have an intentionally designed support system with like-minded peers and amazing mentors. Apply today to get started!