Studying abroad—from Instagram’s point of view—seems like the ideal experience. Living in a different country, soaking in the sun and culture, traveling to different countries and cities with your best friends and wearing your summer clothes all year ‘round sounds like a dream. For many people, it is. But for me, the homesickness took its toll.
Suddenly, a month abroad felt like a lifetime.
A year ago, bored with my everyday routine, my roommate inspired me to study abroad after she studied in Australia for a summer. Back then, my life seemed at a standstill. I looked forward to studying abroad because it acted as an escape for me and a chance to incorporate more independence in my life.
Back then, I felt like I didn’t have much going for me. Sure, I had school and my friends, but I didn’t do much outside of that bubble. I yearned for my independence abroad. But life continued to throw its curveballs at me.
While my sister lived in South Korea studying abroad, I got ready to embark on my study abroad journey to London. As I prepared to leave, my grandma got sick and eventually passed away. The guilt of going away to London to have the time of my life ate at me. How could I have fun in another country while my family mourned and needed my support? How could I enjoy my travels when I couldn’t go to her funeral? More and more, the homesickness set in. Not only did I deal with grief, but I dealt with guilt—a tough combination. I just wanted to go home and comfort my family, yet I was living with strangers in a country completely foreign to me. I was by myself.
As time went on, the homesickness began to consume me.
I didn’t have much privacy when I studied abroad since I lived with five other girls, so I would pretend I to go to the bathroom just to have a minute or two to cry in peace. Not only due to homesickness and grieving, but I felt angry with myself for studying abroad. I felt selfish for going away. With me and my sister gone, my mom didn’t have us to help her grieve. I urgently tried to figure out how I could cancel my trip and go back home even though I knew I really couldn’t. I felt like I made a huge mistake.
I knew I needed advice, so I decided to go to my friends who had previously studied abroad for their wisdom. “If you don’t have a freak out about regretting study abroad in your first week abroad, did you even study abroad?” asked my friend Melanie Marich. She knows a lot about studying abroad; through a high school program, she studied and lived with a host family in Germany for a whole year. I knew I could trust her judgment. “These feelings are very normal, and you’ll move past this wave of feelings. Life will be waiting for you back home when you’re done,” she said.
I appreciated Marich’s words because they were true. While it may have felt selfish to put myself first, I knew I shouldn’t let it ruin my experience. In life, some things happen that you simply can’t plan for. This was one of those things. I had to keep telling myself that my grandma would’ve been happy for me and that I made my family happy by taking advantage of this opportunity. My grandma loved to travel around the world with my grandpa, and his adamant requests to my sister and me to stay abroad and not come home meant a lot to me.
I knew he had both of our best interests at heart.
On the first day of class, the professor asked us about the hardest thing we experienced while preparing to study abroad. My classmates said things like packing, learning a new culture or getting scholarships to help with the payments. While I related to them, I knew I had my answer. I ended up getting vulnerable and sharing with my class my grandma’s passing and the guilt I felt. While it seemed embarrassing, I knew it would help them understand me better. I had to spend every day of my life with them for a month, after all.
To my surprise, my professor related to me. She told me that when she prepared to study abroad for the first time, her grandmother also passed away. While she got ready to cancel all of her plans, her mom told her to follow her dream. Having my professor understand my feelings allowed me to open up more so I could have a better time without trying to hide my emotions for the sake of the experience.
With new advice under my belt, I tried to change my outlook.
Instead of considering the people around me like strangers, I worked on including them in my experience. Whenever I planned to eat a meal, I invited my roommates to tag along. When I went shopping, I invited them. When I wanted to visit a new museum or park, I invited them. Including more people in sharing my experience helped me feel less selfish and less lonely. They gave me a distraction away from my grief and my guilt so I didn’t feel like I had missed so much at home.
Once I became more sociable and stopped letting my homesickness hold me down, I started to have the enjoyable experience that everyone dreams about. My roommates became my closest friends, I formed a bond with my professor from our one-on-one experiences, I traveled to cities around Europe I would have otherwise never gotten the chance to see and I stepped outside of my comfort zone. In doing so, I discovered new things about myself: my strengths, my weaknesses and what truly made me happy in life. The experience I almost canceled became one of my most valuable.