Before I left to study abroad, and during the first couple months of being here, I would confidently tell everyone that I wasn’t going to be homesick. I was convinced that the excitement of it all and the chance to live in a new city across the world would cancel out any feelings of sadness, stress, or thoughts about my life back home in Pennsylvania. I have also admittedly spent a lot of time throughout high school and college wishing I could move somewhere else. My new surroundings and opportunities to travel Europe certainly distracted me for a while, but when my birthday rolled around last month, I started to feel emotions that I didn’t think I would have to face while abroad.
More and more over the past month, I’ve found myself thinking about my parents, my friends, some of my favorite coffee shops and restaurants in my hometown, and even my job. Not that I didn’t think about them before, but I’ve had an overwhelming feeling of missing these parts of my life that I’ve been so distanced from. If you told me back in January that I’d be feeling like this, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Despite how prepared I was to move to London when it came to the surface level things, I wish I had been more prepared for some of the mental challenges that most people are probably experiencing just like I am.
Even if you “hate” your hometown, you’re going to miss it.
I am 100% guilty of speaking negatively about the place I grew up, partly because it’s the same town I go to college in, and also because it’s in the middle of Pennsylvania. I was DETERMINED to get out of there as fast as possible back in January. Trust me, I probably would have done anything to go abroad even sooner. I do believe that it’s been so beneficial for me to spend time away, especially since I absolutely love London, but I definitely feel differently about my hometown than how I did a few months ago. I guess in a weird way, being away from my town has given me the greatest appreciation I’ve ever had for it. It’s honestly been nice to know that when I move away to a city post-graduation, I’ll think fondly of my hometown rather than resenting it in the way I often did when I was there all the time.
Even the little things like going on my usual scenic drives, walking around campus, and getting food from my favorite sushi restaurant have made me emotional when I think about them (Yes, I love sushi that much). Until you’re unable to drive or get that same meal that’s your go-to at home, you don’t realize how much those things make you happy. My advice for anyone going abroad would be to cherish the parts of your day that you look forward to when you’re at home, and know that it may take a while, but you will miss them A LOT. Don’t worry too much though, you’ll find some equivalents once you get abroad. Instead of driving, I like to ride on the top deck of a double decker bus, go for walks around the beautiful parks here, and I often go to one of the amazing London food markets if I want some comfort food.
You’ll probably have FOMO.
When I would talk to my other friends that went abroad before we left, we would always say that we weren’t even worried about missing what’s going on back at school, because we’d probably be traveling to another country or living it up in our chosen city. I do think that this was true for the first couple months. If I saw a Snapchat or a post of my friends back home, I didn’t feel upset about it because I was having so many incredible experiences of my own. I still wouldn’t trade the life I’m living right now to go back, but certain things recently have made me feel the FOMO that I was so adamant about not having.
The past couple months have been filled with some of my best friends’ birthdays. Not being able to be there to celebrate in person with them most definitely gave me a LOT of FOMO. When it comes to an average night out or a regular day hanging out with friends, I’ve always had the mindset that those things will be there for me when I get back. When it comes to milestones like my friends turning 21, or getting to go with them to our annual on-campus concert that we haven’t had in a few years, it’s harder to see those things as replaceable. Know that even if you are living your best life, it’s okay to admit that you’re sad about not being able to experience certain things with your friends, or even your family.
You’ll feel like you need a reality check (seriously).
I cannot stress enough that at a certain point, you will have an overwhelming need for a HUGE reality check. During a normal semester, I had a job, I got paid from my internship, and I was heavily involved in a bunch of extracurriculars and commitments for my classes. Once you come abroad, all of the things that once supported you and occupied your time will no longer be there. At first, I found this to be such a relief. I’m usually very overloaded with work, so I saw this time as a chance for me to relax and genuinely enjoy the life I’m living. In many ways, I was right about this semester. Without my usual responsibilities, I’ve had the opportunity to do things I normally can’t and I’ve been generally less stressed. Even though it sounds great (and a lot of the time it is), I’ve recently found myself anxious about the fact that the life I’m living right now just isn’t reality.
Yes, I know it sounds weird to say that, but the life people live during study abroad is SO unsustainable. The majority of us are unable to work, so we can’t make any money while we’re here, and we have to take a step back from all of our usual involvements. When it comes to money specifically, it’s a difficult thing to come to terms with. Especially here in London, everything is SO expensive. It genuinely feels like I step outside sometimes and money is just sucked out of my bank account. I don’t have any regrets about paying for travel and the incredible experiences I’ve had here in London, but at this point in the semester, it’s become both mentally and literally draining. I’m honestly excited to get back to work when I get home, aside from the fact that I truly do need to make the money back (lol). Traveling to a new country most weekends and living in one of the biggest and most expensive cities in the world, without a job, is a fantasy that is both a blessing and a curse.
There's not a foolproof way to prepare for study abroad, but go into it with the understanding that it's going to be one of the best experiences of your life, and also one of the most challenging at times. Even though it's not necessarily fun to experience some of the stresses and sadnesses of studying abroad, it does teach you so much. I'm so grateful that I've been able to have so many life changing experiences this semester, while also growing up and learning in more ways than I can count.
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<p>Hi there! My name is Helena Haynes and I’m a third year student at Penn State University majoring in Advertising with minors in Information Sciences & Technology and Digital Media Trends & Analytics. I love being involved on campus with things I’m passionate about, and I’ve had the opportunity to serve as President of the Advertising/Public Relations Club, Research/Strategy Co-Lead for our advertising competition team, and as a Print Writer for VALLEY Magazine, a life and style magazine here at Penn State. In my free time you can find me cooking, watching Sex and the City, or spending way too much time on LinkedIn. I’m so excited to be studying abroad in London this semester and I can’t wait to explore the city and learn more about the culture. I hope you follow along on my journey with me!</p>