Maintaining mental wellbeing while studying abroad
Homesickness. A plague that can translate easily into loneliness in the midst of what is supposed to be an incredible time. It can obstruct self growth, new places to explore and people to mingle with. For many like myself, studying abroad brings unknown obstacles to overcome while already in a brand new environment, like missing your hometown.
My first semester of college at Northeastern University actually did not occur at its base campus in Boston, Massachusetts. I studied at Swinburne University of Technology 10 minutes outside the city of Melbourne, Australia. Through the N.U.in program, I met a group of 110 likeminded college freshmen, some more experienced in world travel than others. I personally had only exited the United States in a summer camp trip to Montreal, so this whole world voyage thing was very new to me.
As the first couple months flew by, I wandered through the streets of the second largest city in Australia and explored nightlife with a new group of friends and newfound independence. Around the halfway mark of our semester, the Jewish high holidays arrived and I found myself with a lack of peers who practiced the same religion or ways to observe. Every year prior, I would attend temple services with my family and be excused from school. While abroad in Australia, I experienced new feelings of disparity. For a number of reasons, I felt consumed by isolation during this period. Loneliness set in, even though I was surrounded by several new friends I knew I could lean on.
Though some days I felt bogged down by homesickness, I did not let it hinder my study abroad experience. I figured I could share my tips to avoiding the inevitable homesickness most experience, for anyone who plans to go far away from everything they've ever known.
~ Scheduling a weekly appointment with parents and friends during the few times that we were all awake always helps. Melbourne is a 14 hour time difference from my home in northern New Jersey. This makes for unscheduled FaceTimes or calls home to friends or family to be pretty unruly. All the while, those who I was able to contact took my mind off of feeling isolated.
~ Cooking food from home is an automatic mood saver. Simplifying recipes that your dad or grandmother regularly makes (because not everyone is a professional chef) and sharing with others is one way to bond with new friends and is a lovely way to take your mind off of missing home.
~ If there is a neighborhood in the place abroad that reminds has hints of your hometown community, I recommend visiting it as soon as possible. In my example, one neighborhood on the outskirts of Melbourne named Malvern has a denser Jewish population. Alongside one of my new friends, we visited a historic Jewish bakery called Glick's (and obviously indulged in some bagels).
~ For those abroad in remote parts of the world, I realize a bagel shop is not always accessible. However, learning about the traditions of the locals and enjoying their cuisines also subtracts some feelings of loneliness. Immersing oneself in a new culture and engaging with non-tourists can sometimes be just as gratifying as the same old boring rituals. For instance, learning about Indigenous culture local to Melbourne and their varying belief systems supplied me with a greater cultural understanding instead of longing for home.
~ Surround yourself with photos of people and places you care about from home. A dull, empty dorm room wall is as lonely as it can get. Having a photo wall beside my bed reminded me of the people I love and, if I ever forgot a FaceTime appointment, reminded me to give them a call.
~ Utilizing health coping mechanisms, whether you established them at home or in your new habit. Be it meditation, a sweaty workout, journaling, doodling or video games, any activity that reminds you of home is sure to help reduce the numbness that can accompany homesickness. For me, keeping a journal is a method I use during times in my life when I feel overwhelmed. Now, I can look back on old entries and recall small Australian incidents I otherwise would forget.