by Jill Robinson and Hannah Nevitt, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Abroad Participant
The excitement and adrenaline of planning a trip abroad includes the usual suspects: packing, practicing the language and perusing guidebooks, but rarely a game plan on how we will deal with being homesick. As we indulge in photos and articles highlighting our destination it seems unlikely that we will miss the familiar surroundings of our hometown. Greenheart Travel’s volunteer participant in Costa Rica, Hannah Nevitt, is no stranger to feeling homesick. With a twin sister back home in the States and missing Thanksgiving and Christmas with her family for the first time, she has hit low points like all travelers. She shares her strategy for staying positive during her program and making the most of her cultural exchange experience.
“For me, it helped when I realized that what I was feeling was indeed culture shock and homesickness, and that it was normal. This made me feel better and I started to create coping strategies and ways for me to make the most of my experiences. I did not want to remember the days of ‘just wanting to go home.’ I wanted them to be filled with activities and memories of living in a different country, with a different culture, and putting myself out there to fully embrace it! This can be hard to do when your thoughts are not in the present.”
Staying positive is just one way, but that is easier said than done. Hannah shares five mental strategy for getting through the low points.
1. ) Patience, Patience, Patience: “I don’t know how many times I have repeated this in my head over the past few months! When I am facing difficult situations, homesickness, or even just wanting personal space, I remind myself to be patient, and that I should enjoy each day I have left here. I try to look at the opportunity I have been given, and to reflect on what I have learned. It may not always be easy, but taking the time to stop, recollect, and take a deep breath can help you to stay focused and to put your best foot forward.
2.) Try to maintain a positive attitude: Again, easier said than done, but a conscious effort can go a long way.Your family and friends are proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself too. It isn’t always going to be easy, but as my father always says; “if it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.”There are sure to be times when you may feel lonely, lost, sick, confused, and overwhelmed, but knowing this and expecting it, will help you deal.
3.) Not Wrong, Just Different: There will be elements that you face daily that you may not necessarily understand, or agree with. It is important to remember that there are other ways of doing things, and that they are “not wrong…just different.” Reminding yourself of this can help in keeping the peace, as well as in helping you learn from situations while abroad.
4.) You Can Go a Lot Further With Sugar Than You Can With Salt: Kindness, self-reflection, and even humor can go a long way in dealing with culture shock and homesickness. It is easy to get overwhelmed when you don’t know the language, have been stuck on a slow-moving train for hours, or when you are frustrated that you cannot get a hot shower in your current hostel. Once again, patience, and a dash of humor can save you in many of these situations…you would be surprised.
5.) Find Your Place, and Make It Your Own: The best way to avoid homesickness is to put yourself out there and create a support network in your new home. It may not be easy for everyone, but try to reflect on the types of experiences, places, or scenes that make you feel most at home. Whatever your “place” may be, it can help if you try to immerse yourself in some way within the community, or with other people where you are, especially if they are locals.
6.) Documenting Your Trip: One of the best ways I have found in dealing with homesickness and culture shock is to write about my experiences. Whether it is simply keeping a journal to vent, or compiling running blogs or newsletters on your adventures, it is a way for you to express to family and friends back home what you have learned, what you are experiencing, and even the hardships you face and overcome along the way.