When I decided to take a journey across the world five months ago, the first thing I was warned about was homesickness. “The first week will be the hardest,” they said. “You’ll miss every little thing about home, especially the things you wouldn’t expect.” Professors, fellow students, family and friends reiterated this more times than I can count. They made the first week sound absolutely treacherous.
Despite all these warnings, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I would be homesick and I accepted that. I knew I would be afraid — as anyone would be during their first trip out of the country — and I accepted that, too.
What I didn’t expect was just how immediate the homesickness struck.
My flight to Bangkok consisted of three legs. The first was a three-hour flight from San Diego to Seattle and it passed like a breeze. The second leg was a twelve-hour flight from Seattle to Taipei. This flight started out okay, but by the end I was a wreck. I was sobbing silently to myself, thinking over and over, “Why did I do this to myself?” I was suddenly filled with such fear and sorrow that I couldn’t remember why I was going on this trip in the first place. I wanted nothing but to go home.
By the end of this long flight I was so distraught that I wanted to hop on the first flight home and entirely drop out of the program. As I sat in the Taipei airport, I began to plan out just what I was going to say to my professor, my family, and my friends. I began to decide which flight home I would want to take. I was set on giving up on this program that I had been so excited for just the day before.
Amidst my emotional turmoil, my boyfriend threw one piece of golden advice my way. It’s a little simple, but doing exactly this has gotten me through my first two weeks in Thailand. “Why don’t you Google ways to cope with homesickness?” Yep, that’s it. He told me to Google how to get over homesickness. The most amazing part is just how well it worked.
The moment I typed “How to cope with homesickness while studying abroad” in my search bar, I was flooded with results. There was story upon story of students who left home for the very first time to study in another country for six months. Every story started with the same terror and regret I was feeling, but by some miracle those students hadn’t taken the first flight back home they could find. They were still out there and they were happy.
All of these stories empowered me to keep going. I thought that if so many other people in the world experienced homesickness and overcame it, so could I. I wouldn’t say that the relief that came from this insight was enough to completely wash away the knot in my stomach, but it dulled the pain enough to push through the last flight to Bangkok.
By the time I arrived at our destination, I was drained. The emotional roller coaster I had experienced within the past 24 hours had winded me and, if I didn’t have fellow classmates to usher me through Immigration, I surely would have ended up lost in the airport somewhere. I knew on some level that I was now in a new country where I’d be living for six weeks, but it was beyond my comprehension. All I wanted was to sleep.
It wasn’t until I woke up in the hotel the next morning that the gravity of where I was sunk in. I expected to feel a renewed wave of sorrow and fear, but instead I was greeted with excitement and pride. I’m in Bangkok! I had done it! As I skipped down for hotel breakfast, I happily greeted the staff with smiles and broken Thai. I looked in awe at the beautiful décor adorning the hotel lobby. I gaped at the spread they were offering us for breakfast, then I tried a bite of every single thing while watching boats pass us on the river. I was in Bangkok and life couldn’t be better.
As a social work student, our goal is to empower the people. We often act as the bridge between “can” and “can’t.” We support those who may not have support anywhere else. We give an ear to listen and words to offer insight. I’ve seen these things happen every day since I’ve entered the field of social work, but I hadn’t realized the true strength empowerment can give those we serve until now.
Reading stories of people who had experienced the same thing I had, feeling connected to the other students on this trip and receiving love and support from family and friends has empowered me more than I could have imagined. I feel confident that I can brave anything and come out a stronger person on the other end. As someone who has spent much of life letting fear of unexplored territory hold her back from chasing her dreams, this lesson is more valuable than gold.
Who’d have thought I would learn it on a twelve-hour flight over the pacific?
Ashley Purugganan is a current graduate student in the school of social work. She is spending the summer interning at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand.