Even the most seasoned travellers get homesick at some point, it may be for 5 minutes, it may for a few days… so don’t worry when you have that wobble and want to go home, it happens to the best of us and normally passes very quickly! Homesickness is a common worry, whether that be during the flight or four weeks into the project, it can happen at any time and when you’re least expecting it. So we thought it would be a good idea to give you some tips, so you can get through that funny five minutes/dodgy day/wobbly week and come out the other side with a sense of achievement and a huge smile on your face…
One of the reasons many people get homesick is because they have spare time in the evenings and sit and think about what their friends are up to at home, what their family are doing with out them – and you start to wish you were there as well. If you have access to wifi or the internet on a daily basis, checking things like Facebook and Twitter regularly tend to make this feeling worse.
More than likely your family and friends are wishing that they are in Thailand or India with you! Thinking about home only makes the situation worse, so try to keep yourself busy in the evenings. Start an after school club, spend time planning your lessons, arrange to meet other volunteers, contact your volunteer co-ordinator or make plans for the weekend so you have something exciting to look forward too! Keeping busy is key to not thinking about home!
Talk to other volunteers
You may feel like you’re the only person feeling homesick, it’s likely if you bring this up with a group of volunteers at least half will have felt the same during some point of the trip. Don’t be afraid to talk to others about how you feel, talking things through with people rather than bottling them up will help!
Create a mission list
If you’re worried you might get homesick when you’re out there, creating a mission list is a great thing to do so that you can actually see what you’ve achieved. It’s easy when you’re out to forget about all the amazing things you’re doing with your time and instead you can end up focusing on missing home. So before you go out, on the plane out there or even one evening when you’re there, create a list of all the things you would like to achieve, anything from teaching a class by yourself, setting up an after school club, to speak a word/sentence in Thai/Malayalam, catching a bus on your own (that is going to the right place!) etc. There are lots of things you can put on your list. A mission list is also a great thing to look back on when you get back to the UK, it will help you remember all of your achievements!
You can also add on things as you go along, there will be things that you won’t even think about now that will seem like an achievement at the time, for example teaching your host family, who speak little English, a card game!
Keeping a journal is another great way of recording your achievements and day to day happenings, they are also a great read when you get back to the UK and are wishing you were back in Thailand/India! If you don’t want to talk to anyone about feeling homesick, then writing how you feel is a good way to reflect on things.
Make lists of all the positive things that happened that day, and try not to focus too much on the negative things to much.
Make friends in the local community & get to know your host
As mentioned earlier feeling, lonely can often lead to feeling homesick, but you’re living in a community full of people! Get to know them! That may seem daunting at first, but I am more than sure they will be eager to speak to you and get to know you. You could do this by getting to know your host and their neighbours, setting up an after school club, finding out what leisureevening activities people in the area do or just going for a walk around your village with your host and ask them to introduce you to people.
Even if your host family don’t speak much English there are still lots of different things you can do, whether that’s learn each others languages by pointing at things, playing cards or learning how to cook the local food. The friends that you make when you’re out there will help to make your experience and distract you from what’s going on at home!
When I volunteered in India, from Monday – Thursday I had a different activity or class each evening – my evenings were full! I got to meet so many people from running extra classes at school, helping out at the local NGO and going for walks along the beach. I was constantly invited back to people’s houses for chai or something to eat, I surrounded myself with so many people that it was impossible to feel lonely…in fact I probably had the opposite problem – no spare time/time to myself!
Start doing something you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time…
If you’re worried about having nothing to do in the evening have a think about what you could do with your spare time. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but just don’t have time? Read War and Peace, A Suitable Boy – another very long book? Learn a language? Teach yourself how to knit? This is a great opportunity to do that thing that you’ve always pushed to the side… not that we can promise you’ll have tonnes of spare time, but it’s good to be prepared!
My volunteer partner in India decided to start learning French in her spare time, this meant that in the evenings if she had nothing to do there was always something she could go and do to take her mind off being away from home.
Speaking to home
Speaking to home is a tricky one, sometimes speaking to home can make things a whole lot worse as you end up wishing you were there. Sometimes it can make it better. Homesickness can last an hour, a day or a week – it takes everyone time to settle in! Think about why you’re ringing home and whether speaking to home is going to make you feel better or worse, give someone a call that will support you, talk you through things and remind you why you went in the first place, not someone that’s going to worry and tell you to get on the first flight home! Ask yourself:
- Why am I calling home?
- Would it be better to email home rather than speak to them on the phone if I am likely to get upset?
- Would it be best to wait a few days and call home when I am feeling more settled?
If you need to call home, then do it! But just think about what you want from that call before you pick up the phone. If you’re worried about speaking to other volunteers about how you feel, then speaking things through with a friend or family member at home might help you feel a whole lot better!
There will be things that get you down when you’re away, whether that’s catching the wrong bus, having a bad lesson, eating some horrible food, feeling unwell – and if lots of things like that happen in one day it’s easy to feel homesick. So when I first volunteered with VESL with two other volunteers, we made a rule – positive negativism; for every negative thing you said you had to say a positive thing about that same thing. It helps you to see the funny side of things when things feel like they’re getting on top of you, and it’s a great way to share your thoughts and feelings with other volunteers. Give it a try!
If you’ve got any other advice that we can add then please just let us know!