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37. How do I overcome homesickness

Feeling homesick is a natural reaction most of us experienced when we move on from one phase of our life to another and leave important relationships behind. As the saying goes “home is home and there is no place like home”. Therefore, being away from family, friends and the environment that one is used to be in is usually a rough experience and a daunting challenge for many first time travelers, especially university students studying abroad. However, starting a university career is also an exciting time! Starting my university study abroad, which also doubles as my first experience travelling away from home, I was seriously nostalgic and very lonely during the first weeks of my first semester; thinking about my family members, friends and love ones. But noticing that it’s a normal thing for first time travelers, I believed I can overcome it over time with readjustment and socialization. Immediately, I started to strategize some coping mechanism to overcome the homesickness.

When you come to live in a country with a culture and tradition so radically different and contrasting with the forms of living you have at your home; that sentiment of longing, that memories of your motherland that begin playing like a secret movie in your head, the feeling of being lost, that is when homesickness begins. But, I might say, there is hope, because this sort of grief depends greatly on the notion itself of “home”. If you think of it as the geographical territory where you have been born, its culture, the surrounding environment, or, in a more personal approach, you think of it as wherever your family and your old friends are, then yes, you are probably far away from home, but also, maybe, if you turn up a notch that same concept, you can seize all this emotions from a different perspective and finally come to terms and feel happy about it all.

Taiwan recorded my first destination of international travel and also the first time I have been away from home for two months in a row. I arrived Taipei on a sunny morning on September 3, 2013. There is a common saying in my language that “a person who experienced war and the one who just heard about it have different feelings”. Until today, I only learned about homesickness from the meaning of the word and from second-hand experiences of family relatives, friends and colleagues. I can now tell at every measure how much touching homesickness can affect one’s positive feelings. Having admitted being homesick, certain coping strategies is helping me to swallow this feeling.

I am Sibonile Dlamini from Swaziland (very far right) and right candidate to write about homesickness. Overcoming homesickness is an ongoing process and I guess I will really never say I have overcome it as I am still trying to overcome it. If I were to stay in a foreign country for more than two years I would have to re invent my coping skills when it comes to overcoming homesickness. Homesickness hits hard in the first year. That's when you feel like you need to take the next plane home. It gets worse in the second semester though. Well I do not think one would say I have mastered  how to overcome homesickness because when you think you have everything in order and everything is going smooth there comes Christmas time, Easter holidays or just well celebrated holidays in your country it hits the hardest there. Whatever you do to overcome homesickness does not really last long but it helps to keep you sane.

Until recently, I thought I was incapable of feeling homesickness. My over-active imagination would run rampant whenever friends complained of homesickness; I imagined myself as some sort of psychic who is incapable of experiencing this one vital human emotion. This does not bother me in any way, though. I see my friends become glum and morose towards the end of every semester with homesickness while I was perfectly content with the knowledge that I am going to see my family in 2 years. Now as the days of my student life comes to a closure on a foreign country, homesickness is no longer a stranger to me, even though I am much less affected of it than many others. Yet, I must admit I miss BELIZE and BELIZE misses me, but I know my country awaits me. Three mayor ways how I keep up the fight of homesickness A.K.A my 3 commandments are (1) stay in touch, (2) adjust to your surrounding (Taiwan) and (3) be yourself.

Firstly, stay in touch. This can be easily achieved by making friends in your new environment whether they're locals or visitors. This is the easiest way to love your new location. If you take the time to open up to others, you may learn that you've found a whole new group of people that you have so much in common with. Furthermore, you can learn from them to think differently and to be thankful for where you are and what you have become. Also, remember to stay in touch with the word of wisdom (God) no matter which religion you are. You can achieve this by attending church, devoting your time to volunteerism or simply joining a club. Wherever you go, you should try to act extra friendly; no matter how sad you may feel. This will make you more open to meeting new people and will make more people drawn to you. Make friends with some locals so you can appreciate the new environment, locals can guide you into a true native experience. Oh!! And never forget to always stay I touch with family and friends back home (Skype, text, Facebook or calls).

Introduction

Away from home can be so hectic and stressful especially if you have never stayed away from home for more than one year, but in Taiwan I am home away from home. The elements of homesick are there since here it’s a different environment and culture. However, I have listed few ideas and activities on how I easily overcome the homesickness syndrome.

Culture Diversity

The program I am currently doing is an international program which defines itself in the name since there are many foreign students. This rich diversity of culture helps one to understand how other people live on other parts of the world. The language barrier is very interesting since most of us foreigners have different accents and sometimes have different meanings to whatever we are trying to express. I have never been alone most of the time trying to learn few sentences from different languages, we share study rooms and we mingle with local Taiwanese students too.

I’ve had friends ask me “Don’t you get homesick?”, “How you cope with being far from home?” but I have never had my family ask me any of those questions. As I was growing, I always had the support of my parents (which I am thankful for) and because of that I learned to be far from home or even stay alone without my parents or family around. This was greatly influenced because of the love I have for travelling; as the last child that I am one would expect my parents to hold on to me even more or have more restrictions for me. It was quite the opposite. Even though I never travelled distant countries, I still got to travel quite a bit far from home or sometimes I would spend days in another area in my country without missing home.

I was always excited to go somewhere, to see and learn new things and learn to become independent.  As I once told my friend who asked me how is it that I cope because she misses her family and everything about home, and I told her that I got used to the times I would travel outside from my home and I made it my objective to not miss home when I go away. Of course, I do miss my family but not to the extent where I wouldn’t know how to deal with being far and to add to the reason why is because I wanted to go study abroad and far from home.

“Our native soil draws all of us, by I know not what sweetness, and never allows us to forget.”
― Ovid, The Poems of Exile: Tristia and the Black Sea Letters

No matter who you are or where you are from, you will at some point or the other, miss being home. Whether you miss it because of friends, family, activities or even food, you will miss it. The key is to not let it get the best of you!

There was a few times where I really missed being home and asked myself what I am doing here?! Each time when I would miss being home, I’d think about the reasons why I came to Taiwan in the first place. I remembered that my mission coming here was not only to get my master’s degree but to be someone better in life, someone my younger brother could look up to, someone my parents would be proud of and someone my future wife would love. In short, I keep my mind on my mission.

Of course one of the things that made me miss home the most was the food! Having to completely change diet, it was hard! But as someone who loves to cook, every time I would miss the food from my country, I’d go to the store and buy the ingredients I need to cook what I want to eat and I’d cook it. If I drank a coca-cola with the food back home, I’d drink one with the food here. It is definitely comforting to be able to eat something that I would eat back home. So if you don’t know how to cook, learn!

Among the major changes in someone’s life is transition from home country to a foreign land. There are different reasons for relocation in life. The most pronounced ones are expatriate appointments, looking for greener pasture or seeking knowledge. For whatever reason it may be, homesickness in most cases is inevitable which can sometimes make people feel quite miserable.

I would however deviate little bit from the original topic: “how I overcome homesickness” to managing or reducing homesickness. In my opinion which I am entitled to, homesickness for somebody well connected with a lovely family back home cannot be overcome instead reduced or managed. Because homesickness in a simpler term could be understood as a desire to reunite with the family back home; as such, it is an unequivocal and an impeccable fact that homesickness cannot be overcome as long as a person remains connected with the family.

However, readers would agree with me that staying away from home is an exhilarating and rewarding experience; but not an experience without insurmountable challenges that one could only cope with. Researches prove that homesickness could also be an anxiousness that arises due to certain reasons: missing the cold hands of parents, loyalty to lifelong partnership, isolation, inadequate copping meazures and culture shock.

When we start a journey, we do it full of energy and hope, especially when is going to be an experience that will contribute for our studies and for us to have a better future. However, when this experience is going to take place far away from home we might start having second thoughts and we might encounter ourselves with one of the biggest challenges when studying abroad: Homesickness.

I consider myself as a very strong and optimistic person, therefore, when I departure from home I set myself the goal of coming to Taiwan and make the best possible experience out of it. During the first two weeks I will not deny that it was hard. Such a different culture was somehow shocking for me.  The food tasted extremely different from what I am used to, the size of the city was a little overwhelming as I come from a small city, my body started to resent the different of time zones and my mind tried to betray me by bringing me so many kinds of memories of friends and family I left: I was already starting to miss everything and everyone.