Last week, the inevitable happened.
Because it was, in fact, inevitable that I would become homesick eventually.
Homesickness is one of the first things people think of to worry about emotionally upon packing a few suitcases and hopping a plane for a while. Of course, people think, and I’ll know it’s happening because I’ll be thinking about home.
Here’s the thing, though.
That’s not what happened with me, and that’s not always what happens. It can, totally, but if you’re reading this and want to go abroad–it’s great, definitely do it if you can–it’s important to know that’s not the only way homesickness can present itself.
A couple weeks ago, I found myself having trouble sleeping at night. I started taking melatonin every few nights to make sure I was sleeping early enough to function well in my classes. Things that I know made me happy stopped doing so: Scottish Country Dancing, reading, learning something new in Gaelic. I still managed to have fun, such as on the Cowalfest Heritage Walk, but things just weren’t the same.
In addition, things I could generally handle and accept as a part of life (like one friend that I know is too busy to chat not being available to, or not having any ice cream in the house) hit me hard.
And this last week, it all rushed to me. Three nights in a row I found myself awake after 1am staring at my computer, knowing I should sleep but having anxiety about doing so, tired of needing melatonin. I gave in the first two nights, taking it and lying down, and ended up tearing up before I slept, my mind spinning with negative thoughts.
I’m alone. Nobody here likes me. Why did I do this? Nobody back home likes me anymore either because I left. I have no friends, and it’s my fault. And on and on. Those thoughts that you know aren’t true as you think them, but that doesn’t stop them feeling any less real.
And the third night, I knew I had let myself get bad, and I knew I shouldn’t have, but I also didn’t think I could say anything to anyone. My parents would be awake, but I’m in Scotland. I can’t call them crying, saying I haven’t been really and truly happy for a couple weeks even though I love it here. I’ve talked about this and been excited about this for so long. What message does it send if a month and a half into it I sound miserable?
I can’t do that, even though they’d be there for me.
So I focused on one thing: the friend I know is too busy to message right now, because she has a LOT of important schoolwork to do and messaging drains her more, all of which I understand. Focusing on that didn’t help the negative thoughts, but it gave me an outlet, and I messaged another friend making sure, even though I knew already, that friend 1 wasn’t mad at me. Why would she be mad? I have no idea.
And I probably would have left it at that, except my friend answered me, and then asked how I was doing, in that “I know something is wrong, so please tell me” kind of way friends have.
And her asking opened the swirling negativity and all the bad things I’d been feeling and I told her, and that’s when I realized what the cause truly was: homesickness.
I felt alone because I didn’t have the same kind of friendships as I had back home, friendships that have built over years, and I felt alone because usual fall traditions like pumpkins everywhere and making Halloween themed desserts and have a small Halloween party with close friends aren’t happening here, and I felt alone because it’s a big city with a lot of people and that makes finding really close friends more difficult.
There were a lot of reasons, and in hindsight, they’re pretty clear to me.
But emotions are not tied to logic, so even though since I talked with her through a mini-breakdown I’ve felt generally better, I still feel myself slipping at night into the negativity, and I still have to make an effort.
I’ve created an account on MoodGym, which is an online e-counselling program designed to help with depressive feelings recommended on the uni’s counselling services webpage, and am working through some of the exercises to identify my emotions and how to combat them.
I’m making more of an effort to spend time with the people I know here, and have had dinner with a few people since the incident, and I always feel better after spending time with another person. Tonight I made spaghetti for me and a flatmate, and as she’s from the US, too, and also hit her homesick point, it was nice to talk with someone that understands.
This post has, so far, been pretty long, but I’m not quite done. I want people to know that going to study abroad or moving to another country isn’t all sunshine and rainbows (especially in Glasgow), but when taking the bad with the good, and when actively trying to combat the bad, good things can happen.
Some people with adjust better than others, but everyone will struggle at some point, especially when traditions come up that are not really to be found in the same way in their new home.
And it’s okay. And definitely possible to move on from it, with some conscious decisions.
Based on the last week, these are some of the suggestions I have.
- If something starts to drastically change in your habits, be open to the idea that homesickness might be the reason. It’s tough when enjoying your new home to think about wanting to leave it, but it will happen, and it’s better to recognize it. Plus, naming what you’re filling, whatever it is, makes it less scary and easier to handle.
- Once you know you’re homesick, or if you have other negative feelings, talk to someone you trust. You might just need to hear the voices of people you love, or more contact than usual, something I asked for that my friend has been happy to provide. Connection tends to make anyone feel better, so on that note….
- Spend more time with people you met in your new home. Forming good friendships takes time, so don’t be afraid to ask people if they want to get coffee, go to dinner, see a movie…anything. Part of homesickness, for me, is always a feeling of aloneness, especially now because a big city is a completely different environment than I’m used to. Spending more time with my friends here eases those feelings.
- Don’t be embarrassed. It’s easy to be, especially if you’ve been really excited about where you are and have been telling people how much you love it. For me, it was almost shameful to admit I’m not perfectly happy here. However, the place you’re in doesn’t change your innate humanity, and bouts of negative emotions doesn’t change your overall positive experience or how much you love it, if you do, or how much you could love it, given the time. It’s an expected aspect of transition or culture-shock, and it often comes after the initial euphoria and strangeness wears off.
- Get involved in your new home. I’ve been missing some family and friend traditions, both official and unofficial, so I’ve started looking for traditions to partake in here. Granted, many of them are for closer to Christmas (a Santa Dash 5k, a Christmas Market), but the act of making those future plans creates more of a connection with the city, which makes it feel smaller and eases the loneliness. Plus, since I have access to university clubs, I’ve been able to look to them for events and social opportunities. The more people I interact with each day (and the more dogs I get to pet as they pass me, honestly), the better I feel, even though I’m an introvert and usually feel drained interacting with too many people.
- I haven’t gotten here, and I hope I won’t, but if nothing helps and the negative emotions persist for a three weeks or more (or even sooner than that if you need to), talk to someone that can definitely help you. Universities tend to have counselling services, professors/lecturers can help, if you’re religious (or even if not) there are priests, reverends, etc. that will listen, there is e-counselling, and there might be support groups available.
For me, the most important thing is that I am able to keep enjoying my time here even if there are times I wish I was sitting back in my undergrad dorm playing Cards Against Humanity at a mini Halloween party with my friends, or making Halloween treats with family.
Because I love this country. I love its people. I love its customs. I love its history. I love its language. I love its dogs.
And that’s not going to change.
I know this post got really serious, so I’m going to throw in this gif to pick up the mood.
Thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you if you’ve had similar experiences, so comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you think someone you know should read this, don’t forget to share.
Your Bonnie Celtophile,
PS-The experiences I’ve mentioned above is why I only posted one group of pictures from the Cowalfest Walk last week. I do have some more, and am working on them, now that I do not feel I need to spend as much time on my mental health.