Get Away from Me: Managing Homesickness as an International Student

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Photo of Changi Airport T3
Only a few hours away from the cushy bed and the joy of staying with family.

Welcome back to school! : Probably one of the most dreaded sentence a student need to face throughout his/her study.

With new semester coming, it’s time to go away from the abundance of love and amenities provided at home and return to the reality of our life as students (as well as start taking my tenure as a columnist here in IM). Granted, studying should be an enriching experience, but just like any experience of going away from home, homesickness can start to creep in and probably it’s one of the later things you want to get to ruin your enjoyment.

Homesickness definitely need to be a part of any overseas (or at least out of region, for those who are still in Indonesia) studying experience because it’s a sign that we’ve stepped out of our comfort zone, and also something one must have experienced at least once in a lifetime. By now the famous how-if should come: How if I’ve studied out of region/overseas but yet to feel it? There are three possibilities that may arise:

  • You haven’t stepped out of the comfort zone (which arguably is one of the side effects of making ourselves feeling at home while overseas, such as by making a stockpile of things reminiscent of home as if it’s almost apocalypse)
  • You’ve been out of region/overseas for too a while (let time and therefore homesickness show itself, otherwise ask again to yourself)
  • You’re somehow desensitized to it due to moving to too many places (plot twist: how if you ever get such that opportunity to stay at so many places like him?)

There are some awesome articles made at IM regarding this topic containing some of the more popular suggestions like bringing remnants of home, planning on things to do, and doing things you love to do. There are of course a lot of tips to mention when it comes to such topic, but let’s delve deeper into some popular (and less popular) ideas to handle homesickness:

 

Packing remnants of home.

One of the most popular things to mention when it comes to managing homesickness, this deserves a separate article since I find this to be quite a complicated issue (find out below!) However, some awesome tips of mine will be:

  • Bring only what you can use. Without doubt, the last thing you want when unpacking is finding something you’ll never use.
  • Is it available for sale there at a reasonable price? Ditch it. Save your luggage allowance and pack other more useful items (or better, save your strength for unpacking).
  • Is it too valuable to be lost? Ditch it as well (except if you can hug it all the way, of course). Some luggage handles are more sly than others, so save yourself from that risk and move on.
Eric's drawing when he was in junior high school.
My piece of art. Looking a bit childish, yes, but nonetheless it’s still my work, so it’s also too valuable to be lost.

Update:

Feeling in need of more tips for packing? I’ve got you covered as well. From luggage allowances of more than 100 airlines all over the world, a series of infographics, up to how not to overpack for the trip, find out more at my new column here.


Doing something while you’re studying.

Once you’ve stepped into your second (or nth) home, there are many things you can do to survive studying overseas (is it that bad chances are you can’t survive?) or when we miss Indonesian friends. Except you stay at a niche area among Indonesians, chances are there should be some Indonesian students associations around, either university-based (ex.: PINTU in my current university and NTUST-ISA for my editor’s alma mater), or country-based like PPI … (name the countries here) which may come in awesome when we need help. Just like all awesome things, though, they start to decrease in awesomeness as you use it more and more (back to economics class: law of diminishing return). It’s not to say that you should stay away from ISAs for they provide nice opportunities to mingle with others and maybe seek for opportunities back in Indonesia, but my word of caution on it is that just as much as it’s great, you don’t want the feeling of merely studying in Indonesia again while you’re overseas.

Studying overseas is a great opportunity to know other people of different backgrounds, so when there’s the chance, just take it. Talking about knowing others, did I say I knew my neighbours and when a cat came in front of my room, I knocked their room so when they opened it I instantly ran into my room as the cat entered their room? Not the purpose of knowing others, for sure, although at the same time they can be also great enough to be the mind-saving force (My hall’s cat isn’t life-threatening, but on a silly note I’m afraid of cats).

Photo of one of Eric's hall's patron cats
My hall’s one of two patron cats. Photo courtesy of NTU Cat Management Network (yes, it’s one of the co-curricular activities here!)

An awesome point made by Robyn in her article in my view is exploring the surroundings. Since you want to get the feel of where you’re living now and be slightly more familiar with it, it can be an eye-opener on how the whole area functions. Some examples that I’ve done include taking a quite long, almost 8-shaped route mostly by bus in Singapore commemorating my 18th birthday (see here for photo and remarks), traveling to downtown alone on multiple occasions, travelled across the Causeway, and even took the downtown <–> airport public bus several times to get a glimpse of the east area.

Photo of Eric's "joy ride" for 18th birthday
Almost 8-shaped due to my insistence of boarding at interchanges, otherwise it’ll look even better. But anyway, the trip took me in total 6 hours, which made it like a joy ride.

One tips from Matthew that I found useful: Share your experience. Experiences are meant to be savoured and shared (since we only die once), so when you have some bitter experiences like rejected by your crush, burned out due to the plethora of assignments, or even simply missing home, a pair of ears listening works marvels to sooth your mind, so reach out to someone you trust and share your problems to her/him.

 

Second last ditch: Get your fix of home comfort or move to a more familiar country.

The appeal of home is probably as wonderful as the sight of land after weeks of sailing across the ocean. When you’ve tried so many ways to cure homesickness yet found no avail, one way to solve it will be to get a leave and return home. Nowadays there are a lot of ways to fly back to the patronage of our parents, but of course some ways are better than others. Laborious routing and fare search is often involved, though keep in mind of its ending: the (golden) ticket back home.

Upon reaching home, savour the best your family’s hospitality has to offer and think of ways to solve homesickness. Here are several reasonable choices I found:

  • Taking exchange opportunities. Craving for travel? Look for countries allowing for easy movement around like countries in Schengen area (staying in German yet interested on having a day trip to Paris?) or Southeast Asian countries (not that easy due to physical barriers, yet as Indonesians we’re still blessed with free travel to SE Asian countries). A great event that I could take by leveraging the latter: a volunteering event by one of NTU’s co-curricular activities in Cambodia.
  • Transferring to nearer places. Missing plush beds and warm hugs? Home is only a few hours away. How about strong-tasting foods? Should be only a short stroll. Asian countries with its rapid growth also start to be a thriving area for education. With various universities putting their foothold in Asia including Monash at Malaysia and NYU at Shanghai as well as some of the better universities in the world based in Asia like NUS and HKUST, it’s no doubt that quality education shouldn’t need to call for a full day of surviving in a cramped metal tube. Moving to a more familiar place may not be a homesick-free option, but nonetheless can reduce it to some extent.
Photo of Changi Airport T3
A few hours away from the cushy bed and the joy of staying with family.

These things, though, are not to be taken with a grain of salt since both calls for a tedious process which should at least involve course matching, moving out and in procedures, bureaucratic issues (if applicable, e.g. scholarship or bond), and possibly long waiting time). For that reason, I suggest you to consider this idea quite carefully. Any more awesome ideas for this? Just share with me on email.

 

Moving back to Indonesia for good? Last thought: Why do you study overseas in the first place?

If you ever need to consider this, chances are you should have tried all other options available. It’s time to rethink why do you study overseas in the first place: Is it because you want to explore more opportunities outside? Better education? Acquire a more global network? More capable of adapting to different culture? Anything else?

Whatever your reasons are (except due to your parents’ whim), there are always compromises between studying overseas and staying back, which after all goes back to what are you pursuing in life. Having parents in need of constant care? Then by all means focus on caring them. Got some cool startup growing very fast? Not to worry, some of the better known founders are dropouts (though for most, properly structured education will be a more feasible idea). There are, however, things that can wait. The thought of returning home can actually wait as well if you’ve been overseas for only a very short time yet you’ve already caught some acute homesickness (but don’t wait for too long either since by that time returning will also be detrimental) Marriage is also something that can wait as well since chances are you’ll need to make a living. :-p

 

All in all, homesickness is something I would like to say, however small it is, expected and even necessary just like how our body needs small amount of minerals like calcium; yet as it’s not prescribed by anyone else but yourself, it’s also something highly personal since some of the common patterns may not apply to some people (ex.: me bringing in very few items reminding of home, or maybe some of my acquaintances not joining ISAs at all). As such, the onus is also on you to find out your homesickness’ severity and therefore its remedies. My concluding words will be: Be bold, express yourself, and you’ll find comfort in yourself.

See you on the next column!

 

I can’t read minds, but at least I can recommend some great articles for you:
  • Should my overseas study experience feel as if I’m in Indonesia, or should I even stay a bit away from fellow Indonesians? Mary got her answer here: http://bit.ly/2bwGaLm 
  • Thinking of returning to Indonesia after your overseas study? Find out what to expect after returning to Indonesia here: http://bit.ly/2bwMMVm

All photos are taken by me and are free to use by attributing the author except otherwise stated.