When Lyddia Skaggs studied abroad in Thailand, she felt homesick for two and a half months. Skaggs felt chained to her bed, only escaping her room when her friends coaxed her out into the city of Hua Hin, which she would call home for an entire semester.
Studying abroad may seem like a vacation at first glance — a home away from home to take a break from the always-stressful college experience. However, after the initial excitement wears off, the strange, new feeling of missing home can become all too real. It is not uncommon for students who study abroad to face homesickness at some point but it can look different to every student.
“[Being homesick made me feel] tired and all around just sad. Like I was missing something,” Skaggs says. “I knew that I was fine, rationally I knew that, but emotionally I just wasn’t there.”
Feeling emotionally drained from day-to-day took a toll on Skaggs’ studies. Her grades dropped because she slept so much, she hardly ate and all she could think about was going home to be with her three-year-old son.
Halfway through her trip, Skaggs hiked to the top of the Ao Manao mountain in Thailand. After that, she decided to change her routine.
“I don’t know what it was, but climbing to the top of that mountain was the hardest thing I have ever done,” Skaggs says. “It’s three miles straight up and half of our group didn’t even make it to the top. But once I got there, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m here. This is what I’m doing. I know I miss home, but I’m going to enjoy this while I’m here.’”
Once Skaggs completely immersed herself in Thailand’s culture and made the decision to experience all she could, she appreciated her time abroad more.
Study Abroad Coordinator Jennifer Dickey encourages students to take advantage of the diverse aspects of life abroad and, like Skaggs, immerse themselves in new cultures.
“Try new foods, talk to the locals, experience everything you can in your new city, and that helps you get used to your surroundings a little bit quicker,” Dickey says.
Ayesha Ather, a junior international relations major currently studying abroad in London, offers similar advice. Ather has moved around her whole life, so she stresses the importance of experiencing the distinct features of each location.
“Sometimes we travel and go places but our hearts and minds are someplace else,” Ather says. “When you’re studying abroad, don’t leave your heart at home — take it with you wherever you go.”
Ather plans to extend her time studying abroad through the Fall 2016 semester, which makes her experience with homesickness different from what many of her peers feel. She says that when she and other students feel homesick, they tend to keep quiet about their feelings.
“When you study abroad, I think the assumption is that every moment of it should be filled with a magical wonder, so there’s a little pressure to cover it up and urge yourself to enjoy the most you can,” Ather says.
For Ather, homesickness comes in waves. She says she doesn’t miss a particular place but rather, people or moments in time. Ather says that while she doesn’t feel homesick every day, she is constantly adapting to her surroundings and discovering new things in London.
As Dickey has observed during her time working in Study Abroad programs, students who experience homesickness ultimately gain a new sense of open-mindedness.
“[Experiencing homesickness] makes them appreciate home more, but also once they acclimate into that new culture, then they have a new appreciation for doing things differently and for having to learn how other cultures and societies live their day-to-day lives,” Dickey says.
Longing for home can feel different to everyone who experiences it. For some, homesickness may be a constant battle, while for others, it may come and go. Whatever form homesickness takes, keeping an open mind while studying abroad allows for eye-opening experiences and a new appreciation for the different things in life.
Story: Katie Dineen