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How to Beat Homesickness When You're Abroad for the Holidays

Grace Lower | Aug 2, 2021

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No matter how far my travels have taken me, I’ve always found a way to make it back home for the holidays. The season just wouldn’t feel the same without the traditions, hearty foods, and inside jokes of my family’s celebrations. My fondness for the holiday season shaped my study abroad decision, too. When planning my semester abroad, the thought of missing out on Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas morning was unthinkable; so I opted to limit my travels to the summer and spring. In some cases, holiday travel is unavoidable, and other times it’s advantageous.

Maybe your dream program is held from December to January. Or maybe you’re planning your trip around a cultural event that takes place in the winter. Perhaps you’re a senior who needs to schedule around your upcoming graduation. No matter your reasoning, if you’re away for the holidays, be prepared for a healthy dose of FOMO. Here are a few tips to avoid homesickness, while keeping things merry and bright.

1. Celebrate your host country’s customs

Family traditions are an essential part of the holidays—and if you’re not home to celebrate, it’s easy to feel left out. Rather than dwelling on the loss of Grandma’s sweet potato pie, take advantage of the precious time you have in your host country. Use the holiday season to learn about local traditions. Seek out public events like festivals, markets, or community service. If you have a host family, ask about the holidays they celebrate—and join in on their traditions, if they invite you! There’s no place like home for the holidays, but there’s a good chance your host country has plenty to offer, too.

2. ...but embrace your own traditions, too

As travelers, we tend to relish new experiences and learn as much as we can from the places we visit. While there’s certainly value in personal growth, it’s important to remember how much we have to share. My suggestion? Use the holiday season as a catalyst for cultural exchange. Host a Friendsgiving with your international travel buddies. Make a favorite holiday treat for your roommates. Introduce your host family or your local friends to holiday classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (though depending on your hosts’ language preferences, make sure you can find appropriate subtitles). By sharing your holiday traditions, you’re able to give back to your host country, while indulging in your seasonal favorites.

3. Schedule family time

If you’re feeling the winter blues, make sure to Skype or FaceTime your family. . If you have a difficult relationship with your immediate family, try reaching out to your chosen family: friends, mentors, teachers, or neighbors. A long-distance chat won’t be the same as having you there in person, but your loved ones will appreciate knowing that you’re thinking of them—and you’ll benefit from catching up on news from back home. As an added bonus, consider sending out postcards in lieu of Christmas cards. No matter your methods, the holidays are all about celebrating with the people who matter most.

4. ...but make sure you’re staying busy

While there’s great value in staying connected with family and friends, it’s easy to go overboard. Too much time with folks back home can lead to homesickness, doubt, and loneliness. It’s easy to become hyperaware of every event you’re missing out on, and ultimately, this preoccupation will take away from your study abroad experience. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor: set boundaries on the time you spend with them. Staying busy with academic and social activities will keep you in the present, rather than focused on everything you left behind.

5. Take care of yourself

The holidays are a time for overindulgence. When you’re away from home, you may fall into bad habits—like Netflix marathons or binge-eating—as a way to combat loneliness. While the occasional splurge doesn’t hurt, use the holiday season as a time to focus on your mental and physical health. Enjoy a hot bath, go for a run, visit a museum, eat something green, or read a book. When you’re feeling good, any holiday homesickness is far more manageable.

6. ...but share the spirit of the holiday season

For all their commercialism, the holidays still center on a spirit of generosity and hope for the future. Do your part to spread some holiday joy by participating in a volunteer project, completing a random act of kindness, attending a religious service, or spending time in prayer or meditation. Shift your focus away from yourself. Do whatever it takes to find your place in this global community. You’ll be surprised by how quickly holiday homesickness fades when you realize you’re part of something bigger.

About the Author

Grace Lower

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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