Whoever said that home is not a place, but a feeling, probably had never experienced homesickness. Perhaps they also have never lived outside their birthplace. Otherwise, I donʼt think they would have the confidence to make this big statement. Although it is normal for an individual to feel homesick when living in a new environment, homesickness — if not handled well – can adversely affect a person’s mental well-being.
Let’s take my own example. As a Nepali who has never lived outside his country on his own for more than a month, the longing for my home has taken a toll on me. Honestly, I am still struggling, even after living in Chicago for more than two months, to make new friends, find my safe space and call my new “apartment” my home.
I am not ashamed to admit that I miss my home, family members, and friends so much that there are nights I cry myself to sleep. But this is my reality and also that of many international students. We all consciously choose to leave our original homes for reasons known to us. We all came here to study, learn new things, and gain new experiences that can help us be better.
I know it will take time for us, the international students, to fall in love with the city, find warmth and comfort in new friendships, and make this place our home. Until then, we must stay strong and overcome all the negative emotions that are creating a hurdle in our path towards growth.
If you are also experiencing homesickness like me, here are five things you can do to feel better.
Acknowledge that you are missing home
It sounds cliché, but acknowledging emotions is always the first step to solving any problem. Unlike other emotional experiences, homesickness is different. You may experience a sudden withdrawal. Your whole personality might change. You might become shy, as the constant fear of sounding stupid in front of new people may hamper your self-esteem. And sometimes you wonʼt even have the energy to deal with people and complete your assignment. It can be both intimidating and overwhelming to experience new things. You can feel that you are barely surviving.
But just donʼt think that your emotions are unnatural. Itʼs normal for you to miss your home and family. As your mind and body need familiarity for them to be in peace, you going haywire is perfectly normal. Just be in touch with your emotions and admit your feelings.
Try to make new friends
Old friends are irreplaceable, but thereʼs no harm in making new ones, right? You never know there might be people whose company can lighten your mood. So even if it can be a scary experience initially, try to find some new company. You can make new friends while using dating apps or even at networking events.
Plus, there are several clubs and groups at SAIC that you can be a part of. If you are a desi person, thereʼs a group called Namaste for South Asian folks. Similarly, if you love listening to music and shaking your body on the dance floor, Modern Dance Club can be a fun place to find new friends who share similar interests. Thereʼs also a Marxist reading group, for your information. Maybe you can find your new comrade there.
Keep yourself busy
I hate to say this, but keeping oneself busy can actually help to distract your mind and make you feel better for a while. Try to keep yourself occupied so negative thoughts donʼt occupy your mind. Read a new book, visit the library, go on dates, or take a tour of art galleries. Donʼt just stay inside your apartment watching Netflix shows, as I did initially. Because that might actually make things worse. Try to engage your mind and spend time outdoors.
I know it can be too much too ask for, but distractions are important. Thus find ways to distract yourself from sadness.
If you love going for walks, then there are plenty of parks in Chicago which you can visit in your free time. I would suggest you visit Lincoln Park. The picturesque green neighborhood can relax your mind and release some happy hormones from your body. Thereʼs also a zoo nearby which you can enter for free.
Find ways to connect with your roots
When I was living in Nepal, I barely cooked. I wasnʼt like Kendall Jenner, who couldnʼt even cut cucumbers, but neither was I a MasterChef. Funnily, things have changed (for good). Now, if I am not watching a new movie on Netflix, crying over toxic men, or doing my assignments, I will most likely be cooking my meals in the kitchen. And you know what — cooking helps a lot. So, like me, you can also cook your favorite food that you ate in your hometown and feel a little closer to home.
Trying out restaurants that specialize in your countryʼs cuisine can also be an alternative, if you are not into cooking.
The whole essence of what I am trying to say is that you can find ways to connect with your roots. This can make you feel a little less homesick. (Trust me!)
Take help if you need
Homesickness can be a triggering experience. It can release many negative emotions that can overwhelm people. Plus you are living alone. And dealing with traumas with no proper support system can be really challenging. It can drain an individual to a level that they might not feel good about themselves. So if you are having difficulty navigating your new life, thereʼs nothing wrong with seeking help.
Make an appointment with a therapist or a counselor if you think you need help from a mental health expert. If you are unaware, the Wellness Center at SAIC also offers free counseling services to students. I reached out a month ago and regularly sought therapy. You can also take therapy sessions from them if you feel that the homesickness you are experiencing is affecting your mental well-being.
Ankit Khadgi (MAVCS 2024) is a Nepali queer storyteller based in Chicago. He hates people who eat momo with ketchup and mayonnaise and drink Chai Tea.