For this post, I’ve chosen to tackle a rarely discussed subject, especially in grad school. While, as an international, I spend time in groups of international students, I spend the bulk of my time with Americans. I find that the topic of homesickness creeps up in discussions in both groups, under different forms. My Hungarian friend might yearn for guláš, my Texan friend might miss his childhood friends or his high school buddies, and I may reflect on the pace of life in Romania, and how differently things move in New York.
I remember we talked a lot more about being homesick in college, when we had just left home for the first time for an extended period of time (most of us), had arrived in a new/strange country (some of us) and we were younger and less quipped to deal with stress and separation anxiety (all of us). By grad school, when we are supposedly “adults”, have traveled, worked, gone through a variety of social relationships and reached a new level of maturity, it’s almost embarrassing sometimes to admit that we are “homesick”. I said the word to one of my friends in my second semester at SIPA, and they replied with “aww, miss your momma’s cookies?” I laughed it off, but I did indeed miss my mother’s homemade desserts, and so much more.
As for all of life’s deepest existential/soul-related afflictions, there are no easy solutions. But there are ways to cope. I, like most SIPA students, take refuge in my work, in the day-to-day marathon of keeping on top of coursework, jobs/internships and professional opportunities. Making friends in your new environment is also, of course, important, and I am fortunate to have wonderful friends of all backgrounds here in the US, and in New York in particular. Having friends of your own nationality/from your own culture can be even more helpful, if that’s your thing (it’s not mine, but it is most people’s). Reconnecting with your roots can mitigate homesickness – I sometimes go to the Romanian restaurant in Queens, or to the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral on the Upper West Side (not for religious, but for cultural reasons). And, naturally, staying connected to the people you love, the people back home, can do a lot for your suffering heart: I talk to my parents on Skype or WhatsApp weekly, and we text/email daily (I am an only child, and we have a very tight relationship). I also keep in touch with several high school friends. I watch old Romanian movies, listen to traditional Romanian music (I don’t care for the contemporary one) and of course, whenever I can, go back to Romania and go on trips around the country. I also have traditional Romanian knick-knacks scattered around my NYC apartment, and they remind me of home, in a warm and touching way. I have made it my mission, though, to take advantage of New York while I am here, and so, most of the times, I focus on the present and the geographically immediate, immersing myself in discovering this wonderful city.
It’s worth noting that homesickness has been recognized as a factor that affects students, and that there are resources on campus that can help: http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-help-for-homesick-students-on-campus-1445363539?alg=y and https://health.columbia.edu/counseling-and-psychological-services.