I've always been a big home girl - it's my favourite place - and have always been really close to my family. They are the most important aspect of my life. I've had a charmed childhood, growing up in a lovely environment with a lot of support and love. Naturally, I feel extremely blessed. So perhaps this is why I've always struggled with homesickness. Up until my mid-teens I couldn't even go on a sleepover down the road without missing my mum so much that she had to come and get me. No joke. School trips and French exchanges were always a challenge: When I was happy and having fun there was no problem, but whenever something made me feel slightly down, the homesickness bug would bite. And it still bites me now. I get a lump in my throat, tears well up in my eyes, and all I want is to go home. Anyone relating to this at all?
Unsurprisingly, going to university was a challenge at first. Prior to leaving home last September, the longest I'd ever gone without seeing my family was ten days. I think my record is now four weeks, which is a loooong time for me, although I know this is NOTHING for some people. It's interesting, isn't it - how we're all different about this type of thing? A year on, university is a home from home, and although I'll still miss my family when I'm there, I can't wait to get back.
I'm currently pushing myself out of my comfort zone by working as an au pair in Austria. I'm only here for three weeks, but three weeks can seem like an awfully long time when you're in an unfamiliar environment. Here's what I've learned about dealing with homesickness:
1. It gets easier as time goes on. A lot of people think that if you've only been away for a few days, how can you possibly be homesick, but I find that the hardest part is just after you've arrived in the new place or left your loved ones. As time goes on, despite not having seen your family or been home for a longer amount of time, it actually gets easier. Remind yourself of this. I remember when my family came to visit me at university for a day in my first term - I cried so much just after we said goodbye and they left me again. But then I settled back into my uni life, and everything was fine.
2. The more you do it the better it is. You have to push yourself to do the things that you find difficult, as they then get a little bit easier each and every time. When I'm feeling homesick, I always find it reassuring to remind myself that going through these feelings are making me stronger.
3. Keep yourself busy. Sometimes when you're missing family, friends and home, all you want to do is sit in your room, alone, and look over pictures that remind you of them (whilst gorging yourself on chocolate/ice cream/wine - delete as appropriate). This is possibly the WORST thing you can do in this situation. You have to go out, socialise with others and keep yourself busy. Trust me. I know. Now, when my family leave me after visiting at uni, I make sure to go and hang out with my friends and thus put on a brave face. It's good to distract yourself, if nothing else. When I arrived here in Austria, I went out with one of the other au pairs to sample a spot of Saturday night Vienna, despite being shattered from an early start and travelling all day. I'm glad I did.
4. It's OK to cry. Every once in a while, just let it all out. My place of choice for such an activity? The shower. No one can hear, and you can't even tell how much you're crying. Every chance you will feel better after a few minutes bawling your eyes out. Or exhausted enough anyway. But don't do it too often.
5. Put things into perspective. And sometimes, you need a bit of tough love. Just man up! What are you crying for? There are people in the world battling life-threatening illnesses, living in war zones, struggling to find shelter and put food on the table, and you're crying because you miss your home!? Geeez. Listen to the song "Generator" by The Holloways. It'll remind you how lucky you are and how you really have nothing to be moaning about.
Now, after writing down what I've learnt about dealing with homesickness, I feel better already. You should try it. For now, I'm going to carry on submerging myself in Austrian culture as best I can, and making the most of this great opportunity.