... and how not to
As a returnee, there are many advises I can give you. And you have probably heard all of them.
“Enjoy your exchange, it is the best year of your life, make the most of it” etc etc. But the reality of an exchange is often harder than it seems. People keep telling you to have a good time, while in fact you might be having a really hard time. You miss home, you miss your friends and if you could you would Skype with them all the time.
Instead try to keep in mind the following when keeping contact with your family.
Avoid constant contact with your friends and family back home
I know this seems harsh, but the fact is that being in contact with home constantly will not only keep you away from the experience of being there, it will also make the homesickness much and much worse. Yes it may seem to help at first, but in reality it will only make you realize that what you have back home that you don’t have in your host country. And yes, you might not have friends that know you completely. Your host family might not understand you at all times. But that is the experience. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you should – yes, I will say it again – make the most out of it.
Regulate/schedule the times on which you Skype with your friends and family
Does that mean you can never talk to your loved ones? Of course not. But keep it regulated. Make a schedule and don’t talk to them more than once every few days. Having a fixed time for talking to your friends and family back home might help you feel more calm, because instead of every time you miss them you will talk and using the contact as some kind of drug, you are regulating it.
Write a blog
Sometimes you just have all these thoughts and emotions that you want to share with people – or maybe not. One thing I can definitely recommend from my exchange is keeping a blog.
First of all, because everyone can read it. That means you don’t have to tell your mother, aunt, cousin, friends and neighbours all individually what exactly you did that weekend. This will safe you a lot of time in unnecessary conversations on social media. If you don’t your feelings to be out in the open, you can always keep an email list and send it to everybody personally.
Another reason why keeping a blog is great is because later you can read it back and remember all the little details of your exchange, which is great! (Trust me, you will forget about 80% of what happened)
In the end you will probably not write on your blog as often as you’d like, but that’s okay. You can even just make smaller updates of maybe 100 or 200 words. Any update will be read with a lot of joy back home and keeps them updated on how you are doing.
Another great way of writing off your emotions is to write letters. During your exchange you will probably start appreciating your friends and family much more than you did before. Let them know!
Let’s face it, it doesn’t get more personal than a letter. I think every time I received a letter from my mother I cried, no matter what she wrote down, and I know she had the same reaction to my letters. You just don’t get that kind of intimacy through a Whatsapp message.
Don’t tell them about all the times you are feeling down
I know you want to tell them. You want to tell someone you know (and someone who knows you) but the truth is, when you are having a good time you will probably not tell them. Not so explicitly. That means that in the end, parents get worried, friends think you are having a bad time while in fact, you are probably only having a bad time when you are talking to them.
It happened to me that a lot of people started sending me messages asking me if I was alright. Apparently I had told my mom I was having a hard time, but that feeling passed. Not for my mom. And when my family asked her how I was doing, she told them what I had told her; that I was having a bad time. By the time the messages reached me I had already forgotten that I was feeling down the days before.
In conclusion, it is very hard for your family to know what is going on. They don’t know the cultural context and they don’t know the experience of studying abroad. The information you give them is always limited and that’s all they get, and although it might seem comforting your parents or friends are probably the last people who are going to understand what you are going through.
My parents often tried to give me well-meant advice. “Can’t you just..” “But why don’t you just.. “. No, actually it is not that easy and it is hard to explain that to someone who hasn’t been there.
Remember it is only for a limited period of time
And although that might seem like an eternity right now, time will pass by extremely fast and before you know it you are back home on the couch with your parents. Only you don’t have so many things to tell them, because you already told them everything when you were there. In your exchange, as in life, there is only one certainty: it will end! Once you are back home you are going to wish you had spent less time on the internet talking to the people you would eventually talk to again and more time talking to the people around you.