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Wanting to Go Home Doesn’t Mean You’re Doing Your Time Abroad Wrong

When I was preparing to study abroad in Southern Germany for a year I knew there was only so much I could do to really be ready, and that a lot would come as I walked through this new season of life that I was about to embark on.  I knew about culture shock and a lot of people said that homesickness was a thing.  But honestly, I didn’t think I would ever get to the point where I missed home that much.  I knew my time abroad was just a season, it was temporary, and I had lived on my own since I was 18 so independence wasn’t something new for me.


Tübingen

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was viewing homesickness from the wrong angle. Homesickness wasn’t going to be combated with my independence, instead, it was a byproduct of now belonging to 2 different worlds. 

When you’re living in a new country a shift happens.  You begin to create a new normal, you establish yourself in a new routine, with new friends and a new environment.  But in creating this new norm you have now created for yourself a paradox of belonging.  As much as you belong to the life that you put on hold back home, you now belong to a life abroad.  A life that is changing and shaping you in ways that you can’t fully understand while you are in the midst of it all.

So why this overwhelming desire to go home?  Why, if you are establishing a home and routine abroad is there this struggle? This overwhelming pull to be at home at your favorite coffee shop with your friends?  After all, this time abroad is just temporary isn’t it?  Life back home is just on pause, so shouldn’t I be focused on my short time here?

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I shouldn’t want to go home! What is wrong with me?!?! 

I have been rolling these questions over and over in my head trying to find some answer, and then it dawned on me.  It’s the effect of the paradox.  As your global experiences and relationships expand your world begins to grow beyond the borders of your normal.

Southern Germany

Missing home is the growing pains of border change.  

Living abroad brings with it a fear of being left behind by the people you love back home.  You are changing and growing as a person and they aren’t here to experience it with you… This fear brings to the forefront of the mind the question, “what kind of peg is this experience molding me into?”, and “will I still fit into the same hole when I go back home?”.

This desire to go home in the middle of your studies abroad isn’t because there is something wrong with you, but it is a call of desperation in the midst of so much change.  It’s the subconscious idea that if you can go home now everyone would see the changes in you thus far and you would have a better chance of still being the same shaped peg, or at least allow friends and family time to adjust to the new you.  This desire to go home is a manifestation of the desire to bring your friends and family along with you on this journey that is changing you, growing you, and shaping you into a different person.

It is important to recognize this, to recognize the truth that we won’t be the same person when we go home, and that a transition will take place as we attempt to make “home” our new normal and help our family and friends adjust to our new selves.  We will probably have the desire to return to our homes that we made while abroad, for me this is my German home.  But just like the time it took to be shaped and molded by our new homes abroad when we first arrived, we too will find our new design when we return home.

Wanting to go home doesn’t mean that you are doing your time abroad wrong, it means that you are being greatly shaped by it. 

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Hallie

Hallie is a young wanderer who loves coffee, photography, and all things travel. Follow her adventures at @roamcatalinaroam


3 comments

  1. I completly understand. I’m taking a gap year in the United States, TX. I’m enjoying my life here as a real Texan. I met new friends, they’re like a second family.
    However, I’m very homesick sometimes. I miss my boyfriend a lot, it’s been 7 months that I didn’t see him and it’s not easy. I face time him twice a week but I’m always wondering: ” What is he doing ? Does he miss me like I miss him ?”
    I know that I’m going to be sad when I come back too… I’m gonna miss my life here because it’s like a second life !
    What’s worse? Leaving your family, what you know and love to go in an unknown place or getting somewhere where you get a new life and family and leave them forever?

    1. Hi Juliette!
      First off I am so sorry for my late response to your comment but thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your struggles, I am with you lady! My boyfriend is back home in California and my heart aches to be with him… This I can say with confidence doesn’t get any easier, especially with challenges like time difference and just life itself. But I can also say with confidence that communication (even about the little things like what you wonder about) helps immensely with the health of a long distance relationship! My boyfriend and I text, email, snapchat, and skype. Even tho most of the time it isn’t at the same time… Keep pressing into the challenge friend!! It is just a season that will be over sooner than we think!

      As for your question, what’s worse? What I try to do is shift my perspective on both. I try to see them both as beautiful opportunities that are both equally hard and wonderful at the same time! Building friendships around the globe can be amazing because you have sort of a second family to return to in the future and visit!

      My advice (if I can share as someone who definitely hasn’t figured it out for herself) is to keep investing into those relationships you have made, even after you go back home. We live in a world where it is easier than ever to do that with technology! It just needs to be assisted with intentionality on our part. Just leaving the friends I have made in Germany as I switched schools will take intentionality to maintain from a few hours away, but they are so worth it!

      It’s hard work, but that is the beautiful burden of living abroad, we leave pieces of ourselves in each new place we make home. And hopefully can return to them in the future, even if it’s for a short time.

      -H

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