Studying abroad is a dream for many students — and to realize it necessitates hard work, dedication, and oftentimes, a lot of funding. But when homesickness strikes, that dream can become something of a nightmare.
“It’s always sad, right?” asks Fareeda Eraky. “It’s like this feeling of longing to go back to where you grew up.”
Eraky is a 22-year-old Egyptian medical school student preparing for her second year at Rutgers University in the United States. Although she usually returns to Egypt for holidays in the summer and winter, this year, she has not managed either.
This, sadly, is an unfortunate reality for many students living abroad. With Egypt ranking as the third largest ‘sending’ country in the region, and the number of Egyptian students choosing to study abroad having tripled in the last decade, it is no isolated issue.
Sometimes, coming home for the holidays is made difficult by academic necessity, such as summer or winter programs, and sometimes it is difficult because of finances, which have become an even bigger issue in light of the devaluation of the Egyptian pound.
In Eraky’s case, both are to blame: even if she were not enrolled in a summer research program, paying the airfare from New Jersey to Cairo simply was not feasible this year.
Eraky recalls how a ticket used to cost around USD 800 (EGP 24,760), but is now selling for a minimum of USD 1,000 (EGP 30,950), even if it is booked six months in advance.
Because of her circumstances, it has been more than a year since Eraky has returned to Egypt. Yet, even though she is homesick, she hopes to help others in her situation with a few tips and tricks to combat the feeling.
Keeping Up to Date
Eraky stresses that homesickness is different for everyone, and that sometimes what works for one student may make the feeling worse for others. That being said, one of the things that works best for her is staying in contact with friends and family back home.
“It makes you feel like they’re part of your life,” she says. “Part of homesickness is feeling like you’re on the outside […] because your family, your culture, the place you consider home — you feel like you’re not part of what’s going on over there.”
Eraky goes on to explain that there is a lot of guilt associated with being abroad. Missing milestones and being unable to support family members weighs on students, making them miss home even more.
One way she circumvents this is through gift exchanges. Even though she cannot travel, some of her other family members do. She and her friends have made a game of sending gifts to one another through these family members and receiving others upon their return.
However, even keeping up to date with something as simple as WhatsApp can make just as much of a difference.
“It doesn’t have to be anything big,” she clarifies. “Just personal.”
Pieces of Home
Eraky also recommends indulging in the culture students have left behind. For her, this means watching Egyptian shows, or even just listening to Arabic songs.
“I don’t really listen to Arabic music,” Eraky admits, “but one time this song came on Spotify, and I was actually really excited. Even though I don’t know the song or like it that much, it just felt like home.”
She notes the same effect can be achieved by eating Arab or Mediterranean foods, either from restaurants or homemade.
Another interesting tip Eraky offered was to befriend people of a similar culture.
“I recently made an Arab friend — she’s not even Egyptian, just Arab, but she listens to Egyptian music and loves Egyptian food and has a similar culture to us. We’ve been spending a lot of time together and I think that helps a lot too,” Eraky shares.
Embracing the New
Eraky acknowledges that further exposure to a student’s home culture has the potential to make them more homesick, rather than less. In such cases, she has different advice.
“Make your new location feel like home,” Eraky recommends. “Decorate it the way you would your home, […] but also find something [unique] that you love about the place, or something you enjoy doing.”
She shares that she has taken up tennis at her local courts as well as other fun activities she does not usually participate in in Egypt.
Eraky stresses the importance of ensuring students make a “proactive effort” to enjoy where they are studying abroad, as it can negatively impact mood, mental health, and overall performance if they cannot.
“Remind yourself why you’re doing this,” she insists. “It keeps you going.”
While studying abroad is an incredible opportunity, Eraky knows that homesickness is nothing to sneeze at.
She encourages those stuck abroad, either because of academic programs or flight prices, to continue on the path they worked so hard to get on.
“I want students studying abroad to know that it’s worth it in the end, […and] you’re not weird for feeling homesick,” Eraky says. “You do adapt, and your family and friends back home are probably also very proud of you. So just, you know, keep going.”
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