By Elisabeth George |
One of the most common pieces of advice college students hear is to take the opportunity to travel while they are young. After graduation, a full-time job or family responsibilities can severely limit your chance to go on the trips you’ve always wanted to take but kept putting off.
Studying abroad is a perfect opportunity to travel, explore new experiences and test your own limits. Even if it’s only for a summer, the time frame for a study abroad program is longer than an average vacation, so you have more time to further immerse yourself in your host country’s culture and language.
Unlike a vacation you have more time to learn a couple phrases in your host language and begin to recognize locals. You will develop a routine and become familiar with the habits and natural flow of your neighborhood. This is also a good opportunity to pay more attention to the mundane and to see daily life through a different lens.
One such lens could be cultural differences. While chatting with the cashier and smiling a hello to strangers is expected in the U.S., Shae Koharski, a Baylor senior studying abroad in Budapest, noticed it isn’t the social norm in Hungary.
“In line at the store I would wonder ‘What did I do? Did I do something wrong?’” Shae said. “You get in your head about it. But it’s just how they are.”
This is the first trip Shae has taken without her family and she said it has been a hard, but beneficial experience. While Shae has traveled to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, she said her biggest obstacle in Budapest has been the language barrier. She said the lack of effortless communication has been what has made her the most homesick.
“I took two years of French in high school and I’m [taking] Swahili now, but I haven’t had much experience with languages. Anywhere I’ve been, I’ve been able to get by with English,” Shae said. “But learning common phrases helps… you have to be proactive. Sulking in your feelings won’t help anyone. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
However, not everyone experiences homesickness in the same way. Devan Zenuk, a Baylor junior participating in the same study abroad program as Shae, commented that she doesn’t really feel homesick in the traditional sense. She has lived in Germany, Illinois, Texas and goes to visit her grandparents in Canada every summer.
“Home is wherever you are,” Devan said. Because of her transitory life growing up, she said that what she misses isn’t necessarily a place, but the people that she loves.
What has made Devan’s experience in Budapest easier was her observation that European cities tend to have similar layouts. Apart from learning the different metro stops and where things are in the city, Devan said that as long as you know how to travel on one metro system, all the others are easy to adapt to.
Her tip for feeling homesick is that, “It’s important to remember [your family] is going to be [at home] when you get back. Nothing will have changed.”
Pushing yourself to visit new places and try new experiences is important for maturation and obtaining life skills. Studying abroad is the perfect chance to do that. Being homesick and experiencing culture shock are normal and something everyone should expect to struggle with at some point during a trip, but don’t let that scare you away from taking a chance from experiencing a great adventure.