Let’s face it—study abroad isn’t for everyone. There’s the stress of packing, the stress of traveling and—worst of all—the stress of being a stranger in a strange land. As the poster-child for homebodies, I once worried that homesickness, confusion and a whole bunch of anxiety would tarnish my own study abroad experience.
As you’ve probably guessed, I survived, and I picked up some tricks along the way. While some of these tips were learned from my own mistakes, I’m more than happy to share information about studying abroad to my fellow homebodies.
Travel someplace with a familiar language
Many people would give their right arm for the privilege of traveling to Italy, France or Spain. However, those locations aren’t for everybody. For my study abroad experience in Ireland, the familiarity of the English language—even in a native land—eased many of my worries.
Homebodies may be more comfortable when they can speak the native language of a country. For monolingual me, Ireland was a great choice, with the only differences being colloquialisms and accents. Wales, Scotland, England, New Zealand and Australia are other great options for English-speaking students.
Opt for a short-term trip
Unlike my sister, who spent a semester in London, I knew I would barely make it month overseas without cracking under pressure. Fortunately, Elizabethtown College offers three-week trips over May Term and January (called J-term). This was the perfect length for a homebody like me, since I was home before I knew it. Still, three weeks gives travellers plenty of time to experience the lifestyle and culture of another country.
Some classes are even designed for studying abroad. For example, students in BA450: Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies are headed for Prague for a weeklong exploration of central Europe. Check for classes in the core or your major or minor for fun opportunities!
The Study Abroad Office lists various locations, and is always updating the availability of certain programs.
Choose a trip with a busy schedule
If you don’t have time to be bored, you won’t have time to be homesick. That’s one of the main travelling takeaways I got out of my journey to Ireland. I’d walk holes in my soles, explore street corners and go out with friends every day. By evening, I was so exhausted I would practically pass out before I even changed into my pajamas.
While busy schedules are more commonly associated with a shorter trip, semester-long and even year-long trips can be full of fun. My sister’s London trip included day-trips to Ireland, France, Italy and other countries in the area. If you see free space in a schedule, plan ahead to keep yourself busy!
Bring something special with you
When I studied in Ireland, I took a treasured stuffed animal along. I felt kind of dorky at first, but on nights when I was high-strung from post- or pre-event excitement, it was nice to have a bit of comfort that smelled vaguely of cedar chests and chip steak sandwiches.
I initially worried that smelling my stuffed animal would make me extremely homesick, but it actually made me feel more at home. Knowing I had a piece of Pennsylvania with me, even though I’d flown seven hours over the Atlantic, was wonderful.
If you’d rather not risk losing a stuffed animal, blanket or photograph, bring along some snacks. While Ireland’s Butterkeks and blood pudding were to die for, I would have killed for a Klondike bar.
Journal every day
One thing that helped me compartmentalize my worries and stave off homesickness was journaling. I brought a nice notebook and some pens along with me, and took twenty minutes out of each day to write about what I’d been up to and how I was feeling. Getting my experiences down on paper was a constructive way to spend my free time. And, months later, it’s a nice little keepsake to remind me of my time overseas!
Don’t push yourself
Like I said at the start of this article, studying abroad is not for everybody. Some people are satisfied going all four years of college without setting foot on a plane. Still, if the opportunity presents itself, don’t let your anxieties get the best of you. Pack that stuffed animal, grab that plane ticket and take off towards the horizon!