Grace Lower | Dec 21, 2020
When people talk about studying abroad—or any travel for that matter—they tend to focus on the positive.
While they’re overseas and long after they return, these travelers will eagerly share photos of beautiful scenery and decadent foods. They’ll take to social media with exciting updates, and share articles about the value of exploring the world.
The underlying problem, of course, is that travel is part of life—and life is inherently messy. It might have taken 100 tries to capture that tranquil photo of an otherwise crowded beach. That Instagram post of an authentic pasta dinner may have followed a two-hour wait in a crowded restaurant lobby.
While I don’t deny that my own study abroad experience was incredible, it didn’t take me long to discover that long-term travel isn’t always glamorous. When I first embarked on my study abroad trip, I imagined that every moment would be rich with discoveries and new experiences. But after a few months in my host country, the initial excitement of travel began to fade. I started noticing the negative facets of my surroundings: my host home didn’t have air conditioning, I was getting tired of the food, and I missed the familiarity of the US.
This feeling—something I’d later refer to as the “study abroad slump”—is all too common for long-term travelers. While travel can be draining, it’s important to recognize that the study abroad slump is temporary. It’s all a matter of perspective.
To snap out of my slump, I adopted a few new habits to the most of my time abroad. These six simple tricks helped me rediscover my love for my host city and learn more about myself along the way.
1. Take a Break from Social Media
One of the hardest parts of being away from home is a sensation referred to as FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. While I was abroad, I missed out on birthday parties, road trips with my friends, and a handful of incredible concerts. Although I could have stayed up to date on all that was happening back home, I found that I was happier when I didn’t know about what I was missing. For the final few months of my trip, I did my best to avoid social media. Without a barrage of notifications, I could focus on my own experiences rather than living vicariously through my friends.
2. Get Involved
While I was abroad, I was happiest when I engaged with the surrounding community. When I wasn’t in class or exploring the city, I worked at my internship, took part in service projects, and participated in city-wide festivals and sporting events. By connecting with my neighbors through shared experiences, I felt like I was part of something bigger—in those moments, I saw a new side of the city I’d grown to love.
3. Find a Routine
Homesickness is never fun, and it can sneak up on even the most seasoned travelers. I found that the easiest way to overcome it was to carve out a place for myself in my host city. Once the novelty of my new home began to wear off, I established a routine as a way to get settled. I began frequenting a nearby cafe for a quiet breakfast before class. On Thursdays, I’d run errands in the afternoon. And on Tuesdays and Fridays, I’d go jogging along the river. My simple schedule helped bring consistency to my life, and it made an otherwise foreign place feel a little more like home.
4. Keep a Journal
While journaling is often associated with cringe-worthy middle school diaries, it’s actually a great way to process information. While I was traveling, I kept a small, leather-bound journal in my purse. Whether I was struggling with a new challenge or relishing an amazing experience, I’d take time to jot down what was on my mind. Putting my thoughts into writing helped me process everything I was learning throughout my travels. My little journal now sits on my bookshelf at home--it doesn’t contain my best writing, but it holds ideas and experiences that I won’t soon forget.
5. Push Boundaries
Once the newness of my host city began to wear off, I found I could reignite my sense of adventure by learning something new about myself. From taking solo trips across the country to signing up for salsa lessons on a whim, I found that there was nothing quite as gratifying as pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
6. Be a Tourist
I know this one sounds counterintuitive—especially since most travelers will go out of their way to avoid seeming like tourists—but there’s something to be said about visiting your host city’s famous sites. Whether it’s a historic monument, a cafe with the best pastries around, or a world-renowned museum, the places that are written off as “tourist traps” are popular for a reason. Whenever I took time to appreciate the beauty around me (no matter how popular it was with my fellow travelers), I remembered just how incredible travel can be.
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.
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