How to Deal with Homesickness while Studying Abroad

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During this holiday season, many go back home to celebrate and gather with their loved ones, while many unfortunately cannot do so due to other engagements or financial reasons, and wound up with homesickness. However, homesickness doesn’t only happen during festive seasons. It can happen at all times and during unsuspected moments, and most of the time it doesn’t feel good. Our contributor, Hans, shares his experience and some tips on how to deal with homesickness.

For those aspiring to move abroad for the first time, it’s quite exciting to think about starting a new life in a place with different cultural values and climate, surrounded by people we barely know. For some others, it might be terrifying to start over, getting to know new people, learning new language and customs, and leaving the familiar behind. Getting those thoughts aside, regardless of whether you are thrilled and looking forward for your new chapter or still sobbing from leaving friends and family behind, you will be faced with homesickness one way or another. It might come sooner or later, but most people will eventually arrive at this stage where the thought of going back home before the time comes due feels so pertinent.

As for my story, I was more the former than the latter. As the only person from my program going on an exchange program to France and knowing that there were not many Indonesian students at school, it felt appealing that I get to make friends from other countries. I lived in an apartment with three other Czech master students and such experience allowed me to learn a lot from my roommates.

Hanryano and his roommates in Rennes
Hanryano and his roommates in Rennes. (Photo by Author)

Nevertheless, as time went by, I started feeling homesick on my second month.

The first thing I did was reach out to my friends and family back home. It is easy to get carried away in a new life that you forget your family and friends at home that may want to hear your stories. I did not burn bridges, it is not difficult to find some 30 minutes of your time to do some catch-up with family or engage in occasional chat with your closest friends. When exam season arrives, it does not hurt to let them know you will not check your phone every so often, and that you need some time to study.

Sometimes, it is difficult to schedule Skype calls or any sort of conversation with friends and family at home due to time differences, study and work schedules, and other activities. In that case, you will require help from people closest to you, geographically. Try finding an Indonesian society or family living around the neighborhood. In some places, notably rural areas, it is easier to keep in touch with fellow Indonesians through the Indonesian Student Association (PPI). However, urban or suburban areas usually have higher population of Indonesian diaspora. Not only helpful to bring back the romanticism of living in Indonesia and even possibly taste some (free!) Indonesian dishes, engaging with fellow Indonesians abroad is also a great channel for job hunting, expanding your academic and professional network, and most importantly a means of getting emergency aid when something happens. Your foreign friends might be busy preparing dozens of paper and exams but most of the time we Indonesians take care of each other when we need the most.

Then, move on to my favorite cure of all: getting your Indonesian food craving fixed.

It is considerably trivial for most Indonesian students living overseas, but I would strongly suggest getting your favorite instant condiments with you. The soup instant noodle is always the best remedy when winter fever lands as it provides warmth and nostalgia of the taste of Indonesia. For some people who already sharpened their cooking skills before going abroad, it might be good to bring your own prepared instant sauces, from Opor Ayam to Rendang, as some tropical spices might not be available or the dish is too expensive to make, especially if you would only devour it yourself. Trust me, a good hearty food really helps to ease a bit of burden caused by homesickness.

Instant sauces and condiments from Indonesia: a cure for a lonely heart.
Instant sauces and condiments from Indonesia: a cure for a lonely heart. (Photo from kulinologi.co.id)

For those who would make the effort (and have spare space on the luggage), bring your memorabilia with you, and by that, I did not mean to stuff all your Kebayas and huge personal belongings with you. Sort some of the most important and compact items that remind you of home, such as small photographs, locket, or sarong — even better if you can also use them abroad like everyday clothes and accessories.

We also have the internet to ‘bring’ home closer to us.

The easiest way to reconnect with your Indonesian roots is to open the internet and find some live streaming of Indonesian channels. With the increasing penetration of internet and cable TV, not a lot of us tune in to local TV stations. Nevertheless, they will give you more detailed updates which Twitter and online news wouldn’t provide. If you feel your work and study materials are getting unbearable, invite fellow friends to watch some Indonesian movies. Even cheesy movies you would not normally watch back home will feel strangely good when you watch them overseas.

Last but not least, this does not happen every day but when it does, make your way to events held by the nearest Indonesian embassy (usually in conjunction with Indonesian major bank holidays or when someone holding an important position is visiting). It is a good opportunity to reconnect with your friends who are scattered in different cities and to widen your network as well. This might put an end to your arduous job hunting process and land you an internship or permanent job in your dream company or institution.

As I have lived with it, homesickness is extremely normal. The important part is how to be wise in keeping a balanced life. Make sure you get the most of your time abroad while still maintaining your cultural roots as an Indonesian.

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Hanryano works at Indonesia Financial Services Authority covering Non-Bank Financial Institutions sector. He used to work in an e-commerce company where he was familiar with warehouse management system and the growing start-up community in Indonesia. Hanryano earned his bachelor degree from Institut Teknologi Bandung majoring in Business Management with specialization in Finance and Operations. During college, he was an exchange student at ESC Rennes, France and secured funding from the Ministry of Education. His time outside work is filled with learning new subjects, traveling, and volunteering.