Sitting at pre-departure orientation last December, I remember thinking how boring it was to listen to some strangers talk about how I am going to feel when the “study abroad fascination bubble pops.” I remember thinking how relative it was to each person, when they felt homesick (no, it is not taboo to mention it) or when they felt lonely or when they felt like they hit a wall with the language and culture around them. I remember thinking how silly it was to sit months in advance talking about emotions not even guaranteed to arrive.
About a week ago, I received some bad news from home. My grandmom fell ill and soon passed away, thousands of miles away. The first decision, a very personal one, was whether or not to come home. I decided to stay, and I do not regret it after consulting my family and friends. I thought of how proud my grandmother was to see me go abroad, realize my independence, and learn to make a difference. And though it never is easy, somehow it becomes easier to accept tragedy abroad.
At the beginning of the semester, I wrote about not allowing things beyond my control to stop this adventure. I decided to approach this semester with open eyes ready to see a more colorful world, with open ears ready to hear vibrant stories of triumph, failure, and rich experience. But at some point in the past week, my eyes and ears began to close to the beauty surrounding me. My first adopted language became a chore and temperamental weather metamorphosed into a daily nuisance. I grew weary of rice and beans, and I think that I had a dream of a Wawa hoagie and free Rita’s Water Ice on the first day of spring.
Sometimes I could not communicate to my host family how tired I was, and I began to count days.
And that is where I went wrong and I forgot what mattered most. I forgot that nothing was going to change or improve if I did not communicate how I felt. In another language or with people you recently met, it is just not as simple as calling up my parents. But my parents are not here, nor are my Temple friends, nor are the study abroad staff who rightfully warned us about these inevitable feelings. For as lucky as I am to have access to all of these people via the Internet, it is not the same as communicating how you feel personally.
I have learned already from these hard lessons. Once I opened myself up to my host family, they understood and looked out for me. When I talked to my new friends about how I felt, I realized many of them shared my thoughts about living abroad. I began to make deeper connections and grew more comfortable. Yet these were all events I heard about in that pre-departure meeting, that now I am glad I attended.
So to anyone thinking about studying abroad, that is abroad, or is committed to go abroad, do not shy away from these feelings of homesickness, fatigue, or cultural inundation; they are normal, and the only way to resolve them is expression. I have felt the love of this country, of my home friends and family, and of this program as we move past the midpoint of our stay, and I look forward to the adventures and challenges ahead.