How To Deal with Confusing Feelings: Homesickness and Culture Shock

Dec 10, 2022 3:30:00 PM / by Lynn Dang

It's completely normal to have a wave of differing emotions when you move and live abroad for a period of time. Whether they're ups or downs, you might run into feelings that can be confusing. Lynn Dang shares 4 tips to deal with homesickness and culture shock when you're abroad.

Traveling is one of my favorite hobbies. Learning about new people and cultures is my personal meaning of life, and I love to take advantage of any opportunity to get out of my comfort zone. Throughout all these times traveling, across different states in the US or different continents, I have not felt homesick.

However, life becomes pretty different when one moves abroad for four months to study and live in a foreign culture. I never thought I would be writing a blog about the topic of homesickness, yet here we are! Homesickness can occur for many reasons, and culture shock may also contribute to these confusing feelings.

student sticking out their white shoe on the lawn on the Pitt campus

At my university campus back in America, I am very comfortable and familiar with my surroundings. One of the most recognizable buildings at the University of Pittsburgh is the Cathedral of Learning, and it is part of my daily routine to sit on the grass outside of it.

Sometimes there is a lot of pressure to have an amazing time at all times, but it is completely valid and normal to feel anxious, lonely, or even grieve the life you were comfortable with back home. It is a process that everyone experiences at some point, to varying degrees. Here are some of my best methods for dealing with homesickness.

  1. Make Plans to Look Forward To

Immersing myself into new cultural norms is one of the first things I like to do. Whether it’s by making dinner or travel plans to look forward to, or the actual action of exploring somewhere new, I find that the excitement of immersing myself is a great way to make new memories. It is a reminder to slow down and appreciate the fact that I live in a new place. There is such a special opportunity to get to know it. Practicing the gratitude of being here has created a more positive mindset for me.

By making plans with others or myself, I am able to become familiar with my new surroundings. Instead of being in a scary new place, the streets and views feel normal. One of my favorite things to do is take a daily walk from near the Duomo to the Arno River. I particularly like people-watching all of the tourists taking photos or riding gondolas on the river.

Gondola on the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio during sunset in Florence

Known for its beautiful views, the Arno River is a popular destination for both tourists and locals. Visitors can stroll along the river or take a boat onto it.
Lynn Dang smiling and standing on a bridge by the Arno River during sunset in Florence

I enjoy spending time at the Arno River during sunsets.
  1. Keep Your Personal Care Routines

Self-care is often emphasized among students, and doing that during a study abroad experience is no exception. It can sound cliche to “focus on self-care,” but it truly works. The same methods that a student in the US uses to take care of themselves are what can be used in Florence.

I have found that setting a certain day to do essential chores such as grocery shopping, laundry, and cleaning has helped my daily life feel more organized and structured. When I was first getting settled, it was overwhelming to remember what I needed to do and when to prioritize my tasks. Now, I am able to wake up and know the things I could do that day to make my week flow more smoothly.

  1. Connect Your Old Life with Your New One

After establishing a greater familiarity with your new city and a comforting routine with your new home, the natural next step is staying in touch with your roots. The time difference between Italy and the US can make schedules differ greatly, but doing a few simple actions can still maintain meaningful relationships.

Whether it is calling your home friends randomly or sending a quick photo to your parents, I have found that staying in touch can be easier when I casually check-in at seemingly random times. I enjoy sending friends and family random photos of my day, or texting someone when I see something that reminds me of them!

Student taking a photo of themselves with a floor-length mirror at the CAPA Florence Center with stairs in the back

There is a large mirror on the way to the classrooms at the CAPA center. I regularly stop to snap a photo of myself for the memories or to share with friends back home.
  1. Connect to a Community

I find so much meaning when I learn about others and can be a part of something greater than myself. Whether it is joining a volunteer opportunity from CAPA or taking the initiative to meet my fellow students, I love the feeling of being part of a community. In a way, being yourself and engaging with others is a way to contribute to the community and make someone else’s day, and it is so rewarding.

I have been a participant on CAPA Florence events such as a gelato tour, a Florence city walk, and a Siena day trip. Outside of CAPA, I regularly walk around Florence to explore the shops and alleys. Because of this intentional engagement, I can feel myself being less of a tourist and more of a resident of this community.

The Duomo in Siena, Italy

I participated in a CAPA excursion and learned about the rich history and cultural significance of Siena, Italy.

Ultimately, the goal of integrating one’s self is not to escape homesickness, but to create a new home while remembering to be grateful and connected to the old. I hope these tips can help you adjust to your new city and make it feel more like home!

Thanks, Lynn!

Lynn Dang

Lynn Dang is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2022, sharing
her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Finance major from University of Pittsburgh, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

Lynn's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

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Topics: Florence, Italy, Predeparture & Study Abroad Preparations, Local Culture