Moving out of your parents’ house is tough as it is, but moving away from your home country makes things even harder. I didn’t really know what homesickness was until I moved to Canada from Prague, Czech Republic. I knew rationally what the definition meant, but never experienced it to the extent I have since moving out and away for the first time.
I decided to move to Edmonton for university and it has been tougher than anticipated. Being a Canadian, but essentially an international student, I have encountered several cultural differences, as well as a whole lot of homesickness. But in my time here I have been able to figure out, at least a little, how to cope. So here a few tips that have worked for me on dealing with the challenges of moving away from home.
1. Get involved with a community
This seems like an obvious tip, one you might see in an article about travel and studying abroad, but it’s been crucially important for me. As an international student, you will probably be meeting other international students and chances are you will make friends there. As for me, I’ve been lucky enough to live with family and family friends — the downside though was that I had to go out of my way to find people to meet. So I started swing dancing and joined a few campus clubs. Whether you’re an athlete, dancer, writer, or animal saver, find a community in the city and join it. Similar interests can lead to friendships.
2. Be prepared for questions. A lot of them.
“Where are you from?” “How do you like it here?” “Do you miss home?” “Is it very different?” All these are questions I have heard over and over, and it can get tiring. Being from Prague, I have encountered a lot of “OMG! I love Prague! It’s beautiful! Why did you move here?!” or “I would love to live in Europe!!! Have you been to Paris? How many languages do you speak?” First of all, I know Prague is beautiful, I grew up there. I moved here, because I wanted to. And I only speak two languages. The grass always seems to be greener on the other side; I have met people who were envious of me living in Prague, and I have friends who would love to go to Canada. It can be difficult to avoid questions about home, and if you try to avoid them, you might end up feeling more homesick and isolated. What I have found is, if you do not feel like talking about home, don’t. There’s plenty of other topics to talk about and fixating on longing for home doesn’t help.
3. Check out cultural events around town
I personally love music and art, and I still haven’t seen a lot Edmonton has to offer, so if you have any suggestions, throw them my way. Nothing makes you feel more homesick than looking at old photos from home and crying on Skype. Trust me, I’ve been there. Ask some new friends you’ve made about events happening in town, go check out a concert, a play or a festival, go see a hockey game, or eat poutine. Chances are you might like it. If you don’t, you can call your friends at home and tell them about it.
4. Accept your feelings and acknowledge the differences
Adjusting to the environment, culture, and mindset of a new country takes time. If you are homesick, talk to your friends at home, talk to your family. It might make you miss them, but in the end, it helps. If you’re very homesick I recommend listening to Home by Michael Buble or watching the movie Brooklyn. Pro tip: buy some tissues (you will need them).
I personally grew up in a country full of — stereotypically speaking — smoking, beer drinking, cynical, and slightly pessimistic Czechs. Small talk between servers and customers in Canada is a norm, whereas in Prague people often look puzzled and possibly grumpy. Constantly hearing “Hi! How are you?!” from grocery store clerks and baristas made me feel confused for some time. I end up replying with “Good!! How are you?!” even if I feel homesick and sad to a point where I want to say “Hi, no, I am not fine. Why are you asking me? Are we friends?” It’s a cultural difference I still haven’t figured out.
Whether you are an international student at the U of A or planning to move away, be prepared for a challenge. In all honesty though, every experience abroad is different and I highly encourage everyone who has the desire to move away to do so. It has its cons, but it definitely is enriching and eye opening. The important thing is to stay open minded and don’t forget your wanderlust. Whether you decide to stay where you are, move back home, or move somewhere else, trust your instincts and be true to yourself.