When your volunteer is living abroad it can be hard to know how to help them when they're homesick (it happens to us all!). Here are a few ways you can support them while they navigate this new experience.
Homesickness is real and it will inevitably happen to just about everyone who spends a semester away from home. Most all volunteers experience homesickness at some point in their trip — maybe it's the first night or maybe it's halfway through their semester. And it also shows up in different ways. Sometimes homesickness hits and they get over it quickly, but sometimes it lasts a little bit longer.
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Over the years we have worked with many volunteers who are struggling while they live abroad. Here's a few strategies that we have seen volunteers use to help work through it, and we think their friends and family supporting them in these ways can be beneficial.
Keep Your Calls Short
One way to tell if your volunteer is homesick but not admitting it is if they want to call home all day, every day. Of course we encourage you to keep in touch with your volunteer, just be careful to watch how much time you're on the phone with them. We've seen that spending hours a day Skyping or Facetimeing can actually make the homesickness worse.
When you do talk, instead of telling them about everything they're missing out on, focus on their experiences. What new adventures did they have today? Who is their favorite student? Did they try any new foods today? How is their roommate? Keep them talking about about what's going on there while you catch up instead of reminiscing about being home.
Keep your call short and encourage them to go explore their city with someone in their ILP group instead. When they're able to have those adventures of being in a new culture, that can really help. Staying at home in their room tends to increase homesickness.
Show Them Love and Support
To be honest, living abroad can be very hard. You're thrown out of your comfort zone and everything is new. If your volunteer calls home saying that this semester abroad thing is a lot harder than they expected, you don't need to be surprised. They're living in another culture, so that means the food they're eating is new, everyone is speaking a language they (probably) don't understand, and the WiFi isn't loading Netflix! I mean, their mattress is probably harder than it is in the States because that's how they do it in other parts of the world, so even sleeping is different.
It can be easy to fall in the trap of focusing on all the things that aren't like they are at home, but encourage them to work through the tough days so that they can be proud of what they accomplished. It's totally normal for volunteers to have days where they long to be home (they'd give anything for some Cafe Rio), but then it's also totally normal that when the semester is over and they come home ... they'd give anything to be back abroad riding their bike to the smoothie stand down the road with their group of volunteers. It's the grass is greener on the other side concept. Remind them of the reasons they wanted to come abroad. Help them to be present and make the most of their life right now instead of longing for the future.
Consider sending over a pick-me-up or care package. Getting letters in the mail will help them feel your loved. Packages are also incredibly appreciated. You wouldn't believe how exciting it is to get a small package full of Cheetos or other treats.
Yes, listen to their complaints but don't forget to lift them up as well. Encourage your volunteer to be proactive and make plans rather than sitting at home in their room during their free time. They can explore, meet new people, and find new things to do in their city with their ILP group! Encourage them to dive into the culture and really get to know the city they are in. When they get out and do these things their minds will be taken off of their homesickness a bit. Let them know you are excited for the new things they are experiencing and know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
If they are struggling with homesickness encourage them to talk to their Head Teacher. They can be an in-country resource to have.
A semester abroad is an incredible way to gain confidence and experience!
As they travel and serve they will see amazing things and make a difference in the lives of those they meet!
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