The first few weeks on Study Abroad can be both very very exciting but also daunting at the same time. Perhaps you never considered having a discussion about homesickness. The transition and move to college was a breeze. And Study Abroad seemed like such a great idea that fulfilled the desire for adventure, to see new and foreign places. However, it can be the smallest things and the biggest things that trigger missing home.
The obvious things are the big things, both good and unfortunately bad. The birth of a niece or nephew or a sibling graduating. The idea that you are missing out on milestones. Or the worst case is a close family member getting ill or worse still, losing a family member.
I remember from my travels that it was sometimes the smallest most unexpected things that reminded me of home. One that we frequently talked about with other travellers was that the milk tasted different. It seems insignificant but some days it was enough to remind me that I wasn’t going to be home for many months. On those days, I would calculate the time difference, buy an international phone card, find a payphone and call mum and dad.
Fortunately these days, it is much easier to be in constant contact. In fact, I have friends that in light of facetime and whatsapp, speak to their parents and friends almost everyday. Cellphone plans in Italy now offer so many minutes and so much data that you are hard pressed to use them all in a month.
Italy is certainly not challenging travel when you compare it to South America or Asia as a destination for study abroad however living here is very different. Everyone around you is speaking a different language, the money is different, and you need to have cash, it is not possible to pay for everything on a debit card, the supermarket is full of brands that you have never seen before, everyone drinks bottled water, there are barely any water fountains, and you can’t straighten your hair if you friends are cooking something in the oven because you will trip all the fuses in the house and be left in the dark. A small price to pay because you are in Italy!
The fixes to having a couple of sad, I am missing home, days can be really easy.
Here is some of our advice for students:
1) In Florence we now have a lot of places that serve American style food. Sometimes all you need is a plate of blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and fake Italian bacon to make you smile. Comfort food can work wonders!
2) Get out of the house and take a walk. It might even be a good idea to do this alone. Remind yourself that you are in a wonderful and beautiful place. Rediscover the initial excitement that you felt when you arrived. If you are writing a journal, take it with you to share the thoughts with yourself. Or write your best friend a message to share what you are seeing or feeling.
3) If your closest friends are studying abroad in another city, make a plan to meet up. Making new friends on study abroad is amazing but sometimes you just need to hang out with people who already know who you are. Make plans to go somewhere that you can focus on spending time together rather than racing around to a dozen museums.
4) If you family is coming to visit while you are abroad, mark it on your calendar. Knowing that your family will be here soon will give you something positive and fun to look forward to.
(Obviously, we would love to host you all for Parent Week but if that is not possible then feel free to contact us for suggestions about tours and things to do. The point of Parent Week is to simplify the planning process, take care of the organization of your trip to Florence to allow you all to spend stress free time together as a family.)
5) Take time out from travel. Spend a weekend in Florence. Traveling every single weekend is exhausting on top of doing school work and going out in Florence. You will feel less homesick as Florence starts to become your home. Dedicate time to bond with the city and understand it a little better. As you do, you will start to feel more comfortable and confident about living here.
6) Don’t be afraid to talk about it or ask someone for help. You are absolutely not alone. Everyone will have moments throughout the semester when they are missing home a little. Ask one of your roommates to go for a coffee.
7) There are plenty of resources available to you if you feel like the above is not enough. Talk to your study abroad advisor. It is their job to help and support you. And they have a list of resources if you feel like you need professional help.
It is also important to note that homesickness can also be an illness. It is not common. And it probably would have been obvious in freshman year in college. However in these cases, homesickness can manifest a bit like depression.
Having said all of this, it is quite likely that after three months, Florence will have stolen their hearts and will be forever indelibly etched into their memories as one of the most amazing experiences of their lives. I know because Florence has a funny way of doing that to people!
If you feel like you need more help, the following are recommendations for reputable, english-speaking, health professionals:
Dr Paolo Molino (Counseling Pschologist) Cell: +39-331-106-4726
Via Giuseppe Verdi, 7, 50122 Florence
Dr. Anna Choub (Psychiatrist)
Dr Stephen Kerr (General Medicine) Tel: +39-055-288-055
Piazza del Mercato Nuovo 1 Studio Medico del Cinghiale, 4th Floor, 50123 Firenze FI
By Anna McNiel
Author Bio: Australian, honorary Florentine, and some of my friends even like to make fun of me saying that I am now an American! I came to Florence in 2001, fresh off 6 months of world travel and ready to set my bags down for a while. Little did I know that Florence would steal my heart and that I would end up traveling around Europe with thousands of American study abroad students. 20 years later, I am still in love with Florence and creating amazing travel experiences. There is definitely something special about sharing a city like Florence with a first time visitor. Your amazement and enthusiasm reminds me daily about why I chose to make this place my home.