When coming to Rome, I didn’t really think I would get homesick. I’ve traveled before, have been living at Temple for three semesters, and have always been pretty independent. I have family halfway across the world and am able to cope with missing them most of the time. I knew I would miss my friends and family, of course, but I’ve never experienced true homesickness. In retrospect, I’ve almost always traveled with my family and I go to school about an hour away from my home town, so my family is always within reach. My friends at school are really supportive and positive so even if I were to get homesick, they’re like a second family. In the states, I have a really strong support system, so I haven’t really felt homesickness since we first moved to the US.
I didn’t realize how different it would be in Rome. The knowledge that I won’t be able to see my family and friends until May seemed fine before—what’s 5 months? But now, I am really missing them. I didn’t realize how much I needed them in my life until they weren’t there. The Eagles won the Superbowl a couple of weeks ago and I’ve never experienced such intense FOMO. I didn’t quite understand what homesickness was until I experienced it. It’s not the same as just missing home, it’s like an ache for the familiar. I’m not one to accept feeling sad; since I’ve started feeling this way I’ve been working to find ways to cope and improve my mood. Here are some ways I’ve found effective for dealing with homesickness while studying abroad:
- Bring home abroad
I knew I would miss my home, so I prepared by bringing a couple of items that remind me of it. This has been a really comforting thing to have since I’ve been missing feeling homesick. I really wanted to pack as lightly as possible (I’m a notorious over packer), but I’m so glad I didn’t forgo these comfort items. I don’t know what I’d do without my puppy slippers or my fluffy pillow. Having a couple of things that remind you of home is like bringing home with you. I even found my old shampoo at a local pharmacy and I was more excited than I’d like to admit. Before I left for Rome, one of my friends got me a little jewelry dish that says, “little things,” because we always used to say it’s the little things in life that make you happy. This phrase has never been truer for me than it is now. These little things I brought for my comfort are my most important possessions, it’s like having a little piece of home sitting on my bedside table.
Another way to make yourself feel at home is to invest in your space. You might feel discouraged that you don’t feel at home in your apartment/dorm/homestay, but that’s all the more reason to make an effort to make it your own. Put up photos of your friends and family, spray your favorite smells, bring out your old teddy bear, anything that makes you feel like the space is yours. It’s important to have somewhere to really come home to, somewhere to feel safe and secure—create that space for yourself.
I think a component of homesickness is feeling like you don’t belong, kind of like feeling lost. If you know what’s happening next and you understand your environment, then you’ll feel a greater sense of belonging. This feeling can be achieved through the development of a routine. Figure out where you like to eat breakfast, your favorite grocery store, pack your favorite snacks for school, find your groove in your host city. Personally, I finally figured out where to get off the tram every day going to school and home without looking at a map. As a person with absolutely no sense of direction, this is a really comforting thing for me. Once you get a grasp of what to expect every week, you’ll feel more grounded.
- Live a healthy life
Part of feeling at home is feeling in control of yourself and your life. You might get sad and indulge in the pasta and gelato Italy has to offer, but this will only lead to greater frustration and a longing for mama’s home cookin’. You can make yourself feel better by exercising and finding ways to make the food you miss. Find a cool park to run in, share your favorite recipes with your friends, make an effort to improve your standard of living and you’ll have more control of your life. This control will lead to a stronger sense of home. I’ve found that doing yoga and practicing mindfulness has really helped me to feel okay with being away from home and content with being away. Find an activity or place that makes you feel at peace; the knowledge that you have that place or thing to go to when you’re feeling badly is comforting in and of itself.
- Love your host city
I’m lucky to be in a city as incredible as Rome, it has all of the culture and liveliness you could ask for, plus great food. When I first arrived, I did a lot of exploring and I really enjoyed it. Having settled a bit, I was doing less exploring and started to feel less excited about being here. That was a mistake. Continue exploring! Rome is huge, and it has so much to offer. There is no end to the things to be seen in Rome, or in Italy for that matter. Go out and be a tourist, take photos, visit museums and landmarks, take a train to Florence. There is so much more to do than sit in your apartment and watch Netflix.
- Put yourself in perspective
Yes, family and friends are so important, but they’ll be there when you get back. Take advantage of your time abroad, it’s really not a long time. It goes by so quickly. I’m already halfway done and I’m amazed at how quickly the time has gone by. I haven’t even been to the Trevi Fountain yet. Don’t be scared to google “25 things to do in Rome.” I know I’ve done it in Philly a hundred times. Plan out your weeks, decide when you’ll do what, and the time won’t feel so long.
Overall, I’ve concluded that feeling homesick is a combination of missing my people and feeling like an outsider. Having learned some Italian and gotten settled with a routine has really helped me to feel more secure in Rome. I have spring break next week, friends visiting soon, and trips planned for the next couple of months. Mapping out my time has made me realize I really don’t have much time left here. Now I’m occupied with enjoying the rest of my time rather than missing home, and it’s a much more productive mindset to have. I hope anyone feeling homesick is able to read this and cope with the feeling. Focus on the opportunity rather than the past and get gifts for your loved ones to appease your need to be with them.