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37. How do I overcome homesickness

After spending more than a year in Taiwan, already there is that feeling of finding a place for myself, a second home. Being oceans away from home for the first time, definitely comes with a number of things, like having to adjust to a different culture, learning system, making a lot of personal decisions, and embracing the new company of the friends I have just met from around the world. The greatest feeling I thrive on the most is the whole experience of just being distant from home.

However, sometimes I miss being with the people closest to my life, family and friends and just seeing the surroundings I have lived in my entire life. Distance and time unfortunately, cannot offer that luxury of heading home whenever the mind gets that nostalgic round. But again, as important those things are to me, I thrive on the realisation of the incomparable and priceless benefits I have already, and still to gain, which I believe is a great experience, one that I would not trade for anything.

"Home is where the heart is" - Pliny the Elder.

That quote may suits my life well during my study in Taiwan. From the day I arrived in the Taoyuan airport on August last year, I already missed my family and everything that I left in my hometown. The first six months of my stay in Taiwan could be taken as an adaptation phase for me. I never live far away from my family. The things that I used to do, the food that I used to eat, the people that I used to know, the places that I used to visit every day for pray, everything become totally different. Here, in Taiwan, I have to be independent and take care of everything by myself. I remember Moliere said: "the greater the obstacles, the more glory in overcoming it". It is true for me. Once I realized that everything was so different here rather than in my country. I told to myself to bear with it and find the way to get settle with the condition. I learned to seek for what the things that I really missed but not exist here. Then here it goes with the sort lists: family, Acehnese foods, the culture, and Acehnese environment.

I've been living in Taiwan for 4 months now; fulfilling a long-time dream to study abroad. The homesickness for me is a cycle between feeling normal and feeling really down. The down time is usually in the evening, when I'm home alone. During the ups I feel pretty normal and in agreement with the logic that brought me here to study. But I do feel more tired, and I just don't have as much energy to be enthusiastic about things.

The whole thing is making me question how long I should stay here. I came here to improve my Mandarin, to study MS and to live internationally for a while. (So that I will have had that life experience.) When I'm feeling up, I have the strength to keep pushing on towards those goals but when I'm down, I don't care anymore. I just want to be home. I want to give up trying to stay strong. In fact they inspired me to live abroad because I wasn't ready to settle down until I did this first.

Studying abroad, miles away from home, one the common things most of internationals students has to deal with is “homesickness”. Homesickness usually means the unsatisfactory feeling you get when you are away from home for too long. It is a sort of separation reaction, where the individual concentrates on what is missed from the old environment “home”. This feeling can be manifested in anxiety; lack of concentration, appetite, sleep therefore can affect general health and influence your performance as student. I have four months living as student Taiwan, miles away from home I think I start missing my home, not the physical structure of my house but the mental state in which I feel comfortable, safe and accepted. Usually this mental state is provided by the important people surround me, relatives and close friends. However, I have made my own ways to overcome that feeling, for example: find activities to do when I miss my relatives, meet new people and makes friends, keep in touch with mom, dad, friends and relatives, keep a positive attitude and most important is to have a few pictures in my room and lab of the people that I miss most.

I come from Honduras, Central America. A small country where social values, manners, lifestyle and culture are almost-completely opposite of Taiwan.

The first shock was: Why people here are so friendly to strangers?

In my home country (and especially in my home city, Tegucigalpa), most of people are not so open and friendly. So when I arrived here, it took me a while to get use to the friendliness and warmness of Taiwanese people. It was not annoying; it was "too good to be true".

And not only that! Many things are different in the environment but also many things change inside of you when you move to a different culture. It can be a really hard challenge to ‘let go’ your family and comfort zone in your home culture and in my first weeks in Taiwan I was happy of my decision, but somehow I could not get this question out of my head: What the hell am I doing here?

We can see Homesickness as the distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and attachment people such as parents and friends. Almost all human being experience some degree of homesickness when they are apart from familiar people and environments, and particularly when you face a new culture. Fortunately, there are many ways that I used to deal, overcome or coping with homesickness and I think you can do try to do the same think if you are a student or not.

Keep in touch with your family: It’s one thing that you need to keep, but do not keep your mind in the past when you where with your family. Try to find new interesting things in your new environment to discuss with your family. When you feel like missing home tell it to your family, they might help you to alleviate your pain temporally.

Adventure and challenges have always been part of my life. Set impossible and see how
eventually come true, make me feel alive. I'm always in constant move, re-inventing myself and exploring around. Since I was a child, I have had the dream of seeing the world and learn from every circumstance that crossed by the road. However, leave your family and friends every time you decide you need a change, is not easy. Although each step I take is by choice, the way to interpret each situation has an effect in my life.

Having the opportunity to explore Asia was a really challenge. I never imagined spending
several years of my life surrounded by a completely different culture to mine. It is just like jumping from the Western society to the Eastern society from one day to another. 

Having to move miles away from your native country is not an easy task. Leaving your country to embark yourself in a new adventure, means you have to leave behind everything you know: your city, your house and more important than that, your family. The bond between an individual and his/her family is an important emotional and psychological link since an individual is born. When an individual is separated from his family, feeling homesick is inevitable.

I moved to Taiwan six years ago. When I departed from my country, I left feeling excited, as I was about to start a new adventure to enrich my knowledge. At the same time, I left heavyhearted, as I had to leave my beloved family behind. Although it has been a long time since I moved to Taiwan, I still miss my family like the first day. There are those days when I just wish teletransporters really existed, so in the blink of an eye I could be with my family for just a moment and return to continue with my life here. Unfortunately, teletransporters don’t exist yet and therefore I have learned through the years how to diminish and overcome homesickness so that it won’t affect my performance as a student.

There is no secret recipe and there is no specific way to overcome homesickness. Sometimes we will do some things; sometimes we will do others to overcome it. We might even think our homesickness could have something to do with the weather, with the time of year, with the people or who knows, the only thing I do know is that I have never been able to overcome it. It comes and goes, sometimes stronger than others and I am for certain that time doesn’t make it better but somehow worst. I have had my share of countries so the country makes no difference and we will blame whatever is different to say we are homesick. For me, In Norway it was the weather, In New York the crowd, In Kenya the food and now in Taiwan, oh well, it’s a combination of all the above. The truth is that as much as I miss the food, the good weather and the calmness of the countryside, the thing I miss the most is my family and no matter how many friends I make in other countries, my family will always be my family no matter what and even though being away is so worth it, nothing will deny the fact that I miss them to death and at times I even question how worth it is it to miss all the important events in their lives, miss their birthdays, their births, their deaths, miss their happy moments and even miss being there with them at the times they need me the most.

Living life in a new continent, country or environment can be a very refreshing and gratifying experience; however, this experience also comes with its own set of homesickness challenges. I greatly accepted God’s blessing in the form of a scholarship awarded by the TaiwanICDF program.  After arrival one of the most outstanding obstacles that challenged me was to cope with homesickness. Overcoming homesickness is not a reality because I don’t think there is a cure to ever overcome homesickness fully. In my preparation, homesickness was not addressed and after the flurry of activities of settling into my new environment simmered down, I understood the true meaning of what was homesickness.

Determined to rise above the circumstances, I was jolted to reality and understood that my coping strategies had begun even before I touched the soil of my new home and I was unaware of  how helpful the streams of correspondents from Taiwan while I was still in my country Belize. The emails welcoming me to Taiwan and to my university of choice mentally prepared me to eliminate the thought that I would be missing home, family, friends and mode of life. This kind and thoughtful gesture from these Taiwan correspondents was the first step in warming me up to feel welcomed to their country which I would have to adapt as my second home for my study years. Furthermore, I was fortunate with the assignment of a Taiwanese volunteer for international students, a buddy who has not only assisted me in preliminary settling in but has faithfully maintained the friendship by linking up with me on a weekly basis to have dinner and exchange our backgrounds and interests.