How to Overcome Homesickness and Culture Shock

Overcoming homesickness and culture shock can be incredibly rough, especially because it is often something that won’t go away overnight. It’s made even worse by the fact that some people don’t take homesickness and culture shock serious and don’t realize just how much it can affect a person. However, being homesick does not mean that you are weak. It is experienced by a great number of people, and can be beaten. Find out how to overcome homesickness and culture shock!

Study Abroad: How to Overcome Homesickness and Culture Shock

I’ll be the first to admit that when I studied abroad in Japan for four months, I dealt with severe homesickness and culture shock. The culture shock I had been expecting, the homesickness I did not. The pillows and beds were much harder than I was used to so I was having trouble sleeping and was fighting extreme jet lag. Plus, I am already a picky eater, and I quickly found that there were VERY few foods in Japan I would actually eat. I really didn’t have the “honeymoon phase” of culture shock. While I was excited about learning and experiencing Japanese culture, the “negotation phase” of culture shock hit me from day one.

In the beginning, I thought that I would just need time to adjust, but I quickly found that, the more time passed, the worse I felt. Due to anxiety and homesickness, I developed a strong aversion to food. Just the thought of food repulsed me, and I struggled to eat even a handful or so of chips for every meal. I began to really worry that this was going to be my life for the next four months.

How Did I Overcome Homesickness and Culture Shock?

For me, the key to overcoming homesickness was to stop looking at the big picture and just take baby steps. I stressed myself out because I knew that I should be eating more than just a cracker or two for meals. I felt uncomfortable when I had to go out to eat at restaurants because of social obligations.  I wouldn’t order anything, or if I did, I couldn’t take more than a few bites of what I had ordered (and leaving leftover food like this is frowned upon in Japan). I was incredibly anxious that I had made a huge mistake by going on this trip, that I hadn’t been ready at all. At the end of the day, none of those thoughts were getting me anywhere.

The key to beating my homesickness was to stop looking at the big picture and just take baby steps.

– Kiyoko

So here are my five tips for overcoming homesickness and culture shock when studying abroad….

#5 – Read Other Peoples’ Stories

When trying to figure out how to overcome my homesickness and culture shock, I spent a lot of time reading tips for beating homesickness, desperately trying to find something that would finally help me. Doing so lead me to find stories from many other people who had also dealt with homesickness, whether they were going off to college, doing a study abroad program, or had moved to a different country. Reading their stories was a small comfort, if only because it meant that I wasn’t truly alone. There were plenty of other people who had been homesick or dealt with culture shock and eventually overcame it. If they could do it, I could too.

Read Other People's Stories

#4 – Limit Your Connection to Home

Before I left for Japan, I told my mom that under no circumstance – bar a medical or family emergency – was she to allow me to come home. Looking back, this was one of the best things I ever did when preparing to study abroad. She had to remind me of that statement, because we both knew that if I went home early from this study abroad experience, I would live to regret it.

During the first few weeks in Japan, when I would skype with my mom, I would feel better, but only in those moments. As soon as we hung up, I would often feel worse than I did before calling her. I’m not saying to completely cut off connection with your family, but try to not let it prevent you from moving forward.

Limit Your Connection to Home

#3 – Push Yourself, But Not Too Hard

This tip for overcoming homesickness and culture shock when studying abroad is a little contradictory to the last one. If limiting contact with family isn’t pushing yourself, then I don’t know what is. Just bear with me on this one.

In all of the research I did, trying to learn how to deal with homesickness, one of the most common tips was to not stay locked up in your room. Go out and explore the new place you find yourself in. While I agree with that, I think you should also be careful.

I forced myself to try and keep busy, to go explore the new world I found myself in. However, I only resulted in giving myself a panic attack in the middle of a shopping area. I was overwhelmed by the loud sounds, intense smells, and bright lights that surrounded me, for the busy city was very different than my quiet hometown. After that experience, I was definitely in no mood to try to go out and experience my new home.

If getting out and discovering your new home is just a little too overwhelming, do it in stages. Start off by hanging out in front of your new place (whether it’s a dorm, apartment, etc) and just people watch. As you start feeling better, explore the street where you live, the neighborhood, and eventually the whole city.


#2 – Take Things One at a Time

As I mentioned above, I added to my anxiety and homesickness by stressing about my inability to eat and my crazy jet lag. I was worried that I was never going to be able to eat more than a few crackers and start having to worry about unhealthy weight loss.

It’s not easy, but you have to learn to stop this negative thinking in its tracks. Once it gets started, it tends to spiral out of control very quickly. If I can only eat three crackers for lunch, that is okay. For dinner I will eat four crackers, and for breakfast tomorrow, I will eat five. I didn’t just magically overcome my homesickness and culture shock. It was a process. Accept where you are at with it and take small steps to cross that bridge. Eventually you’ll find yourself at the other side.

Take Things One At A Time

#1 – Find People to Lean On

I still remember the day my homesickness took a turn for the better. A few of the people in my dorm got together to play a game of cards. We played uno and old maid, and I was thrilled to find that there are card games which are universal. Having the card game helped me meet other people in the dorm in a situation where I was comfortable (instead of at a restaurant where I was worried about eating or out on the town where I felt overwhelmed).

If you’re simply traveling to a place (as opposed to moving there) it may not be as easy to find friends such as I did, but it doesn’t mean that there is nobody to lean on. Find hotel or restaurant staff that aren’t super busy and willing to sit and chat for a few minutes. Most will be happy to spend a few minutes telling you about the local area to help you feel more comfortable.

Kuromegawa Cherry Blossoms

Those are my tips for beating homesickness! I hope they can help!

Have you ever been homesick? Have some tips for beating it that you think I missed? Feel free to share your story in the comments below!

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Study Abroad: How to Overcome Homesickness and Culture Shock

20 thoughts on “How to Overcome Homesickness and Culture Shock”

  1. I’ve lived abroad for four years and I find homesickness rarely gets talked about in the expat community. After the first month or so, you are expected to get over it and enjoy your time abroad. I truly agree that the best way to get over it is to make good friends, ones that you can lean on when you are missing home. Great article!

    1. Thanks! I think it is definitely something that should be talked about more. When I first dealt with homesickness and was trying to find ways to deal with it, most articles I could find were all about going away to college.

  2. Nice article about something that is not often talked about on travel blogs. I think traveling for several months and staying abroad for several months are two very different things. When I am traveling for months (discovering something new everyday), the discovery momentum lasts and I don’t really feel homesick. But if I am staying in a foreign country for months then, a new routine appears and I end up missing my previous routine in my home country. So for me what works is making sure I discover or visit something new everyday or every few days, to trick my brain into thinking that my life in the foreign country is much richer than it was in my home country.

    1. I think you’re on to something about there being a difference between traveling for months and living abroad for months. In all of my travels, my study abroad experience was the only time I’ve ever been homesick. Even while studying abroad, I wanted to go out and explore and see all the cool and great things. I had that discovery momentum, but I ended up with a panic attack instead, completely overwhelmed by the crowded city, loud sounds, intense smells, and bright lights. I come from a small rural town, so Tokyo was definitely a shock, but I’d been to New York before moving to Tokyo, and I absolutely loved New York. I think the difference was that in my mind I knew Tokyo wasn’t just a trip. This was my new home, and these loud sounds, intense smells, and bright lights were something I was going to have to deal with every day. I think that’s the difference and maybe where homesickness starts to sink in.

  3. Having lived abroad in my teens and early twenties I think the best tip is to force yourself out and to meet people. Everything feels so much better then. The other thing is really to make the most of every opportunity. Whilst I would not say that every moment of my time away was awesome, I would say that it changed the direction of my life and made me much more self sufficient.

    1. I agree. Getting to know people in your new community is incredibly important, but I also think that, while people should push themselves to not sit in their room all day, they also shouldn’t push themselves too hard, otherwise they’ll just end up stressed out and have a panic attack as I did. They have to take one day at a time and work on taking footsteps forward, no matter how small they may be.

    1. Personally, I’ve never stayed in a hostel, but it is definitely something I would love to do in the future. I think it’s great that you can meet other travelers looking to explore the same places as you!

  4. I’ve been living in Thailand by myself for about 7 years now but I still get homesick from time to time… I think it’s mostly just FOMO. So your Tip #2 is spot on! Sometimes I intentionally do not look at my family’s fb posts hahaha.

    1. Yes! Later during my time in Japan (after I conquered my homesickness), I was traveling around the country going to many of the places on my bucket list because my exchange university gave us a week spring vacation. One night in my hotel I was scrolling through Facebook and saw that many of my friends back from my dorm were celebrating somebody’s birthday and ended up in a food fight that looked like loads of fun. In that moment, I felt that pang of homesickness (although this time it was a desire to return to my dorm, not my home country). I put it away and had to remind myself that I was out visiting some incredible places, and this was probably a once in a lifetime adventure. I would have plenty of time to hang out with my friends when I got back from my spring vacation.

  5. Hmmm never thought of homesickness this way! An eye-opener indeed! My expat friends keep talking about this and they say the solution to it is friends, alcohol, and travel in varying proportions:) Guess you get my swing!

    1. Most definitely! I think a lot of people often think about homesickness when it comes to moving away for college or something similar (at least that was what often came up when I was originally searching for overcoming homesickness about a year ago). I definitely think it’s important to recognize that there are a lot of different types of homesickness that depend on the situations people find themselves in.

  6. I totally understand what you are saying. I am living abroad now, and not just for a couple of months, probably forever! The blog. my beating was the the blog.

    1. Great idea! When it comes to expressing myself, I have always found writing better than speaking. It allows me to gather my thoughts into a coherent train of thought and often provides myself some clarity. Writing, whether it be for others to read on a blog or to keep it private in a journal, writing is a great way of getting over some of your biggest challenges.

  7. I agree that homesickness is something that people don’t take seriously enough – if it’s not dealt with and you don’t know how to handle it, I’ve seen it very quickly spiral into depression. So sorry to hear that you struggled with sever homesickness – mental health really can have an affect on your physical state as you found with food. These are fantastic tips and strategies for dealing with it, and I’m so glad to hear that your took a turn for the better. I think having a support network and people to lean on is one of the biggest things, as new friends allow you to feel comfortable in your new home.

    Thankyou for shining a light on this and highlighting something people don’t often like to speak about.

    1. Thanks for the great feedback! As an only child, I had been used to being by myself at home. I’ll admit, it shocked me a little to realize just how much I needed other people in order to feel comfortable in my new home.

  8. Home sickness can be a real issue that one needs to face, especially when you are away for a long period. You have given some valuable suggestions to overcome home sickness. The best way probably is to focus on the present and get immersed in the experiences of everyday so that you do not have much time to think and this will definitely heal the home sickness.

    1. I definitely agree. When I first arrived in Japan, I had a full week to myself before my orientation, so I really didn’t have to much to preoccupy myself with other than just generally getting settled in. I found that once events start happening and I had things to focus on, it became easier.

  9. As everyone has said, such a rarely-seen topic, yet one we probably all encounter either on the road or on our return home.

    I taught in China for two years, after spending the first 3 weeks starting everyday thinking that would be the day I’d head home. By the evenings, I’d found something to stay for the next day!

    Good friends and writing down my thoughts and experiences helped me to find my new routine….that and advice from a friend back home who said I was only ever 24 hours from home.

    And when I did return home, it took me about six months to find myself all over again…but I’d had experiences that will stay with me for life.

    1. I definitely think that finding things to stay for is another great tip for overcoming homesickness. It might take a while, but the drive to want to have amazing experiences can eventually overcome the desire to go home. Things may not be perfect in your new place, but often the experiences waiting there are worth it! Sometimes we just need that little reminder…

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