What storm, you ask?
The homesickness. As I stare down my upcoming semester abroad in Chile, I can see it coming. That raw, aching need to be home with your family and friends, having a normal summer and going back to school like everybody else. Those moments when I’ll be reduced to tears in wildly inappropriate situations.
And I will cry. Ask anyone who knows me. I’m a crier. A HUGE crier. I can’t hold back tears to save my life. And I also really fail at the whole “I’ve got something in my contact” trick. Because no human would take as long as I do to recover from a speck of dust in her eye.
(Although I did get a piece of char from a beef kabob stuck in my eye last night. That was a tricky one. But I digress.)
I truly envy the people who can have a decent cry and still look put-together when they’re finished. After a good, solid cry- the kind I can see coming with the homesickness- my eyes puff up like someone just punched me in the face, minus the bruising. If I go to sleep after, the swelling will be there in the morning. So there will be no hiding what I’m going through.
I’ve been through homesickness before. It hit me like a freaking ton of bricks my freshman year of college. Like an earthquake in Wisconsin. By that, I mean I wasn’t expecting it at all. Certainly I knew I’d miss my family and friends a little. I honestly thought, however, that since I wasn’t going that far away to school, and I knew I’d be with a lot of people like me, that it wouldn’t be too bad.
Holy lord, was I wrong. And it didn’t matter that I was making lots of friends. It didn’t matter that I was getting along in my classes (with the exception of Calculus II for Engineers- that probably made it worse). It didn’t matter that I kept going to Mass, nor that I received notes from home multiple times a week, nor that I was exercising and eating well. None of it seemed to help.
While I managed to keep my head above water to the outside world (as far as I can tell, few people knew how hard it was), inside I was pretty well wrecked. To the point that I began skipping heartbeats, having panic attacks, and going through a pleasant spell of insomnia. It got so bad that I made two trips to the health center in a week, once in the middle of the night with a friend, and another resulting in an EKG and a blood test. Note: hypochondria and the physical manifestations of homesickness aren’t a good combination.
Thank goodness for the doctor who saw me on the second appointment, who gave me the tests just to be safe, but also recognized that I was just so homesick I was making my body sick. Without making me feel stupid, but also without coddling me too much, the doctor told me that it was just first semester freshman year. I was just really, really homesick. And nothing was wrong with that.
So, here I am again, facing another huge life change. This time, at least, I see the tornado of homesickness in the distance. Tornadoes aren’t totally unexpected in Wisconsin. In fact, tornado preparation is taught in elementary school. Cheeseheads know how to deal with tornadoes. At least this time I know it’s coming.
I’ve begun to plan how I will handle it this time. I know there will be new challenges, like a new language and culture, but I think I’ll be better at seeing the signs. My coping mechanisms include exercise, since it helps me get things off my mind for a little while; reading, because that’s also a good way to get out of my head for a bit; lots and lots of email; keeping busy, since freshman year, I basically did jack squat outside of schoolwork; and by just letting it happen.
I have to let it happen. I think half of the reason why my homesickness was so darn rough was because I was shocked by it. I was fighting it, and feeling bad that I even felt so bad. I had trouble remembering that most of the other freshmen were homesick too. This time around, I hope I’ll be able to be more patient with myself and accept that homesickness is just part of the process.
Have any of you studied abroad or had a big life change that gave you some homesickness? Do you have any recommendations for me? I’d love to take any suggestions you have!
It was nice to get that out. Thanks for listening, guys.