Exploring new countries. Seeing new things that most people only dream of. Making new friends that last a lifetime. Making new memories that you will be telling for years. Study abroad is about new things. However, it is difficult when all you want is something familiar. During my two semesters abroad so far, I have had the time of my life, but it has not been easy.
There are many difficulties that are associated with the study abroad experience. The most obvious being that you must get used to an entirely new life in your new country. With France, being my second semester abroad, I figured that I would be used to everything that I must do to settle into yet another life in a different country. I was very wrong: Both semesters were hard, and setting up my new life with rent, cell phones, food, friends and a sense of belonging is never easy to do.
When things go wrong or you feel like it is not working out, it is so easy to want to give up and find the next flight home where you are comfortable. I felt this way when I arrived here in France. It felt as though nothing was going as I had expected, and I felt regret for my choice to take on another semester abroad. This is when the home sickness kicks in.
While abroad, you think of home often. All the small things that you do not give a second thought about feed into your desire to go back home: The California sunshine, your precious Mexican food, your favorite spot in PB and the dumb things you would be doing with your friends right now. Everyone I have met while abroad has had some degree of homesickness, and it usually is not just once that you will feel it. I feel a strong wave of homesickness every time I receive a snapchat from my friends back home. You feel like you are missing out on everything back home, and momentarily, you forget about all of the fun you are having abroad, and you want to trade it all away to go hang out with your friends even if they are just sitting around doing homework.
If I were to give any advice for fighting homesickness, it would be to find something that keeps you connected to home, but do not let it consume you. It can be as easy as putting up posters around your room so that you feel more at home. You can find the best In-N-Out replacement in your new county. Most importantly, talk to people back home so that you do not let go of your relationships, and you do not feel like you are being forgotten.
With all this advice, there needs to be a limit. Do not make your new country a new San Diego. You are abroad so that you can explore a new culture and new ways of seeing the world. You cannot decorate your room like San Diego and then never leave it. You cannot obsess over finding the nearest KFC (yes, those are really big outside the US) so that you can always eat familiar food. You cannot spend so much time trying to talk to friends back home that you miss out on new people and experiences that will change your life forever. Studying abroad is about balancing the old and the new.
Talking about relationships back home: It is even harder when you must leave the person you are dating. Both semesters, I have seen couples struggle to make the relationship work from different parts of the world. It is not easy, and I was glad that I was single while I was in Australia, but that changed here in France. I have a new girlfriend who also goes to State, but she is currently studying in Maastricht, Netherlands. Our relationship is very new, and it has been hard to always be in different countries. We have been lucky to see each other about once a month here in Europe, but for most couples, that is not the case.
I have experienced the study abroad relationship from both sides through personal experience and viewing others. It is always hard being away from the person you care about the most, but that is not just it. Jealousy is all too real, and it can be the thing that threatens your relationship. When you see your partner doing amazing things without you when you are stuck in class or studying for a test whether you are home or even if you are abroad, but not traveling, you wish you were there, too. It becomes easy to resent them because they have “left you behind” in their travels.
It is imperative to support your partner and to have support from your partner while you are abroad. The one back home should be happy about the opportunity that you have been given to partake in a life-altering experience. They cannot let their jealousy ruin your trip.
However, it is also important for you to make them feel included in your life. Just because you are not with them, it does not mean that they cannot be a part of your experience. Just like back home, they want to talk to you, know what is going on in your life and feel like they still matter. It is your job while abroad to make them feel that way.
However, just as I said before, this must be done in moderation. It is very easy to fall into a pattern of having your relationship hold you back from your experiences abroad.
Essentially, the message I am trying to convey in this post is that you are more independent while you are abroad than you will have ever felt before. It is essential, however, that you stay connected to your life back home. Keep your independence, but do not leave yourself lonely.
Daniel Haberman is a marketing major. He is studying in Nantes, France during Spring semester.