My first few weeks here I was suffering from the worst case of homesickness. Starting that very first night sitting alone in my little chambre de bonne, I just laid in bed bawling my eyes out, texting my mom about how much of a mistake I thought I had just made by coming here. I had gone through the whole summer not preparing myself for abroad at all so everything about leaving home hit me like a ton of bricks in one moment. I remember my first few weeks here I couldn’t go more than six hours without bursting into tears, but at some point, it all stopped. I honestly can’t pinpoint when it was, but after a while, I didn’t have that overwhelming feeling of homesickness anymore. I couldn’t even remember what it felt like, it all became something of the past because I had finally distracted myself enough from it.
I don’t know if you read my first post on this little blog, but I’ve never been away from home before. Yes, I did move out of my home home for college, but the University of Redlands is only an hour drive right to my front door. I could easily get back home for weekends or even day trips. So with knowing I always had that as an option I never felt homesick in Redlands. Everything was familiar and convenient. I had familiar faces right away on campus because there was a handful of us from my high school who all happened to commit to the same university. I was alone then, but not nine-hour time difference, fifteen hours of travel time, and zero physical access to a single person I know alone. In Paris, I found myself in a totally new place, by myself, with no security blanket to hold onto.
I was too afraid to go out in the city on my own and at the same time didn’t feel connected with any other student in the program. I spent the majority of my time alone and in silence, waiting for my friends and family back home to wake up so I could text and call them. I constantly felt depressed and anxious and I was so afraid that the feeling wouldn’t ever go away and follow me all the way home. It was a bad place to be. I wasn’t giving myself the chance to adapt and was just hiding from the reality that I am living in Paris and the flight back home isn’t booked until December. I was afraid that it was going to be the longest 108 days of my life because the first four days alone felt like an entire month. I needed to get over myself and make the most of my experience. It’s not something that’s going to happen again later in life.
Study abroad was something I had always dreamed of. I get to be a student in a foreign country during this important time in my life where I’m still young and growing. Still not tied down by work, relationships, and bills. I have the freedom to travel, spend money on silly things, walk around exploring, and have fun. The opportunity I have been placed in is not something worth sulking and being sad during. I starting forcing myself to say yes to any social gathering with people and getting people's phone numbers so I could text them asking to do things. If I didn’t feel comfortable going out on my own at first, I thought going out with people would help me take the steps to feel comfortable. I started taking steps to help with the homesickness and it worked. I had to look back at old journal entries to even describe what I was feeling then because I have completely forgotten it. Thinking about how I was convinced that I would need therapy and counseling when I got home to deal with this experience is funny to me now, but it was so real then, and I totally get that. I was able to deal with never being away from home before and figure out how to live here and be happy, so I want to share what I thought helped with that for any future study abroad students who feel the way I did. It does get better and it gets better a lot faster than it feels. My week two journal entry was already doing pretty okay and by week three I didn’t want to leave Paris.
Go out with people. I knew I needed to connect with the people that I would be spending the next three months and two weeks with so I forced myself to get out there. It was silly of me to be afraid of this at first because honestly, we are all new here. None of us know the city or each other so essentially we are all going through the same thing just in our different ways. The first week was like freshman year of college all over. Testing out the waters. Everyone trying to get a feel for one another to figure out who the real friendships are going to be. It was madness, but it all settled eventually. It was also great to just talk to some of the other students to see how they were feeling and see that I wasn’t totally alone. Of course, there were some who really did feel super comfortable as soon as they got in Paris, mostly due to the fact they had studied abroad before or they moved away for school, but there were some who felt just as homesick as I did. I remember sitting on a park bench with one of the girls just talking for a few hours about how we felt and it moved mountains to help me feel so much less alone.
Now I’m going to contradict myself and say let yourself be alone sometimes. Going abroad is a growing experience for yourself. What you learn about more than the classes or the culture is about who you are and how you function as an individual person. I have always seen dating yourself and getting to know yourself as one of the most important things for us to do at this age in our life and this is another opportunity to do just that. I didn’t have wifi in my homestay room so when I was alone I had to find things outside of Netflix to do. I had to think and read and write and just deal with all of my emotions in a healthy way instead of pushing them back to deal with later. I was so afraid of that dead silence, but it’s what helped me get over the homesickness so quickly. A healthy balance of distractions and reflection is so important.
Go ahead and buy those Oreos. Pack a few bags of goldfish to take with you abroad. My mom makes fun of me but these tiny little snacks from back home are so comforting. My favorite part of dorm life in college is having copious amounts of snacks at arms reach so just having some familiar snack foods with me in my Paris “dorm room” made me so happy. So if you are craving Oreos and McDonalds, go for it. There’s no pressure to eat French every day because there're so many days here. We don’t eat American food everyday living at home so why would we eat french food everyday living here?
Make yourself feel at home. I am that college student that had three massive boxes that I bring to move-in day every year that are purely dedicated to room decor. I need the space I’m spending time in to feel cozy and comfortable. I knew for a fact I would need to do that here too because white walls don’t do it for me. I brought a cork board and art prints to keep my walls happy. I have a blanket here from home that I sleep with every night because I’m convinced it still smells like home. Making my tiny little room into a space that is so me makes it so much easier to be in there. Feeling comfortable is so important. We are living here, we aren’t just visitors so you have to do something to make yourself feel a bit more moved in.
Find your place. Paris is so massive and diverse there’s something in this city for everyone. Find a place that makes you feel the most at home. Maybe it’s a garden that reminds you of the weekend jogs that you go on with your mom. Maybe it’s a coffee shop that feels like the one you go to back home to read or catch up with friends. Maybe it’s Disneyland because you’re from Southern California and have spent probably half your life walking down main street USA so that feels the most like home to you. Okay, my place is the Disneyland one. As silly as it sounds it felt so nice to be in a place that I feel so comfortable in. A place that I know how to relax and enjoy myself in because it's so close to my heart. Hopefully, your little plot of home doesn’t cost 60 euros to get in to, but I will say it’s nice to know you have that option to just run away to somewhere when you start missing home.
I survived half the semester without needing therapy. Honestly, I am so proud of myself for this accomplishment. I am happy in Paris. Now I’m not saying the homesickness is completely gone. I am still so excited to go back home. I think one of the many things I have learned about myself since I’ve been here is that even though I am a very independent and adventurous person, I’m still a big old homebody that’s very connected to friends and family. As I’m writing this post there're only 52 more days until I am back in California with an in-n-out burger in hand and on my way to the real happiest place on earth. But with that in mind, I’ve been here for 56 days and have accomplished so many amazing things that I would have never imagined I could. Just knowing I’m here and pushing through the hard and enjoying every little thing gives me so much hope for the future. I CAN do it. I have faith that if I ever choose to travel or live abroad again it won’t be as hard. I even hope to come back here some day and show off Paris to someone I love. Homesickness is totally natural and it’s just a reminder of what home really is to you. It sucked, but I’m so glad I had to just deal with the crappy feeling that is homesickness. I honestly feel like it helped me so much as a person and just that alone makes going abroad worth it.
ps: please enjoy the small collection of photos from Disneyland Paris