On the surface, it might sound weird that while in Dublin freaking Ireland, I would miss life on a 1000-student campus in Essentially Heck-Nowhere, Illinois. But it’s true—I really, really missed Knox College and even my hometown of Champaign, Illinois for most of the first month of my study abroad experience. During orientation, we were reminded of homesickness as a brutal reality with studying abroad, and my naïve self just assumed that it wouldn’t really happen with me, mostly since my summer cabin fever was at an all-time high and I was eager to have a life-changing adventure outside of the U.S. But sure enough, within the first few hours of landing in Dublin, I felt sick to my stomach with an overwhelming sense of ohmygodIamsuchababywhyamIherewhatamIdoing??? I haven’t felt such an intense need for the comfort of home and my parents’ care since I was a tween/early teen, and arriving at college my first year was nothing compared to this.
Needless to say, that feeling wore off within a couple of days. I was very fortunate to find amazing people within the first week who I really clicked with, and that first week felt like it lasted forever with all our adventures. Then came a new stage of homesickness, the deep-seeded back-of-the-mind missing home that comes when the initial honeymoon phase fades. It took me until about week 5 or 6 to feel like I could mold myself into Dublin life, but I’m happy that I got there. I still missed people from home, but I felt like my eyes were more open to the beauty around me, and I found myself embracing the places I was experiencing. And before I knew it, it was time to go home…which is another blog’s worth of reflection.
My experience with homesickness was mostly home-people-sickness—I missed the people that come with my hometown and college campus. Yes, I do find charm and beauty in the midwestern/non-Chicago Illinois landscape (especially in the fall), but if nobody I cared about was there, I wouldn’t care nearly as much. Hearing about things happening on campus while I was gone was great, but also weird, as I knew I was going to come back to campus in January and a lot would have changed. Of course, as we were told by our academic leader, as it’s natural for much of our writing to be shaped by our lives back home, it’s natural to reflect on the place we left behind to go abroad from different lenses, sometimes rose-colored. It’s very easy to romanticize where you’re not.
I also want to talk briefly about the semi-myth of ungratefulness in this scenario. Yes, it’s possible to be a genuinely ungrateful person. And yes, practicing gratitude was something that helped me become less homesick. BUT shaming homesickness as being “ungrateful” for this experience you get, I find to be extremely unhelpful. If you’re a student abroad who isn’t having the time of your life because you can’t stop thinking of home, don’t blame yourself for being homesick! It’s completely natural! And the more you care for yourself, the better your experience will end up being in spite of that homesickness.
The biggest thing that helped me adjust was finding spaces that fit my energy, as well as continuing activities I like doing. For example, I love swimming, so I found a pool I can get a membership to and go swimming a couple times a week. I need more quiet spaces often, so I found local libraries, bookstores and coffee shops that I could hit up when I needed a break from the chaos of city spaces. I love spending time in nature and photographing nature, so I made time to take trips to parks and gardens (see my blog on best places to touch grass) in addition to nature-y day trips (see my blog on day trips). I also found a charity shop that needed volunteers and started volunteering for a few hours a week. There I could interact more with locals and give time to a local space that needed it. Though seemingly small, this made a huge difference for me. It gave me something to look forward to, and a link of connection to this new place that I’m living in.
Some other things that helped me:
- Practicing gratitude, but not in a shameful way. Maybe just logging one thing I did from the day, or writing about a scenario from a different perspective.
- Writing letters to people back home! Texting and calling is cool and, frankly, necessary in this day and age, but there’s something special about writing and receiving handwritten letters. A couple of friends and I sent letters, which was really nice to get in my post box every couple of weeks.
- *Ahem* *cough cough* sleeping. I was pretty terrible at this at times, but hey, growth mindset! Getting more sleep when I’d had a rough day always made the next few days easier.
- Spending time with people I enjoy because I enjoy them! Chances are, if you’re studying abroad with other people, you’re far from the only one who misses home in some way or another. If I was in the company of people who I could laugh with, talk with honestly, and enjoy life with, everything felt easier. For me, feelings and existence feels way lighter when I share them/myself with others than when I keep it all to myself.
- Giving myself time! The more I rushed to “get over” my feelings, the more painful it was. There’s nothing to “get over” here, I was dealing with completely natural feelings. Things definitely got easier when I stopped trying to fight how I felt and just let myself feel it.
We were shown a graph depicting an average study abroad experience when it comes to feelings, including homesickness, and I’d have to say, it was pretty accurate for my experience. There were also plenty of funny TikToks that I saw (usually with cat memes) that depicted the stages of study abroad, from pre-departure nerves to initial homesickness to feeling on top of the world to fantasizing about never leaving to coming back home and adjusting to life again. Basically, to summarize all my thoughts is, it’s a process, and there’s no reason to judge yourself. It’s okay to miss home, even if you have a complicated relationship with places you’re from. In fact, it’s more than okay—it’s normal.
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he/him -- I'm studying Creative Writing and Studio Art at Knox College, class of 2025! I mostly dabble in cartooning, poetry, creative nonfiction, portraits, and humor writing. Outside of my majors, I play guitar and electric bass and sleep a lot.