Preparing for the inevitable on a journey abroad
Last week I wrote about how to offer emotional support to friends who are living abroad. But it’s just as important to prepare your own homesickness plan before you head off on a grand adventure. When I was younger I assumed that my adventures would take care of me. I thought that my new surroundings would be so much better than everything I had at home and would insulate me from any thoughts of my own bed or my parents or my closest friends or my favourite breakfast foods. It took me more than one trip abroad to realize that no matter how great an adventure is, sometimes being away from home is hard. Sometimes it makes you wander around a new city until you finally find a coffee shop and sit in the corner crying into your americano.
Last time I left for an adventure I very consciously thought about the things that would make me feel better and packed myself a homesickness kit. Here’s what I put in it.
Coffee and Chocolate
The first time I went to China, I assumed (I assume less now) that being in a land of tea would magically cure me of my coffee dependence and I would become a tea drinker. I did not. Coffee became my comfort food and I would sneak away to McDonald’s to drink coffee and sometimes eat a hot fudge sundae. So last time I went to China I brought some ground coffee, a French press and a large supply of my favourite chocolate. Familiar smells and tastes can help ground you when you’re far from home. Of course there’s coffee and chocolate in China, but having my own supply for the first couple of months made me feel a lot better.
External Hard Drive
I like TV, and I adore Chinese TV dramas. But on those days when you can’t seem to make anyone understand you, watching TV that you only understand a percentage of is discouraging and can even be depressing. So I always bring along some of my favourite shows on an external hard drive. Even if you’re able to access Netflix where you are, internet isn’t always reliable. And even if you’re not a TV person, I am willing to bet that there will be days that indulging in some mindless television will be exactly what you need.
Music is just as important. Load up that drive with your favourites. Music is also just beautifully shareable and friendship inducing. If you’re teaching, playing some of your favourite songs in class can be a great icebreaker or even the basis for a lesson.
Books or Magazines
Reading material is heavy, but I always like to take a couple of books (one new and one old favourite) with me. I find it’s nice just to be able to put something on your desk or bookshelf when you’re settling into a new place. Nothing makes me feel lonelier that waking up to an empty bookshelf. Books are also a great way to make friends–trade them and leave them behind at a hostel or school for future visitors.
Item of Sentimental Value
This may not work for everyone, but it’s vital for me. I have a doll that is older than me and I take her with me whenever I travel. The one time I didn’t take her was when I travelled to Ukraine for the first time; I was 20 and thought I was finally too old for her. I was not. I had nothing from home that had any sentimental value, and I felt it when I was trying to fall asleep at night. Personal items are the one thing that you definitely won’t be able to buy when you’re away from home, so take some time to think about one or two small things that remind you of home and make you smile.
You will get homesick, even if it’s not the kind of homesickness you felt when you were a kid at your first summer camp. You can’t prevent it, but you can bring some things along that will make it hurt just a little bit less.