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How to Feel at Home When You’re Abroad

As I was brainstorming this post, I thought I was going to talk about how to battle homesickness, but after reflecting on my own experience, I realized something. When you go abroad – not to travel and be a tourist, but to study and live there – it’s not about fighting homesickness but making a home out of a foreign place.

After my five short months in Bristol, I found a new home that was both comfortable and familiar, and where I lived an everyday life (or as everyday as it can be for a study abroad student). Here are some of the ways I did that:

1. Personalizing my space.
My apartment back in Berkeley had personal touches and decorations everywhere, so I had to do something to bring some color and comfort to my room in Bristol. Something that was super easy was making DIY paper chains out of strips of magazine paper, which I taped up on the wall by my bed.

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I also bought a couple small posters in Paris during my first month abroad, which I put up on my wall as well. A trick to prevent ruining your posters with tape or thumbtacks: stick some scotch tape directly onto the back of the poster at the corners (so the smooth side of the tape is facing up), then put tape loops on top of that tape. When you  need to take down your posters, you can remove the tape loops without removing a layer of paper.

2. Grocery shopping and cooking my own meals.
As a Los Angeles native, I missed Mexican food like crazy. So when my fellow Californian friends decided to have a “family dinner” get-together, we had to make homemade tacos. This eventually became a regular tradition as we squeezed into our student-sized kitchens for “Italian Night,” “Kids’ Night,” “American Night,” and more.

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I also cooked my own meals and packed lunches frequently. I may have been in a different country, but I still made food like I did at home for the most part. There was even a Korean market where I found ingredients for one of my comfort foods, ddukbokki.

3. Frequenting the same study spots.
I loved studying in cafés in Berkeley, and that didn’t change when I went abroad. My favorite study spot in Bristol was a Caffè Nero right next to campus. It’s part of a chain throughout the UK, so it wasn’t a local mom-n-pop place, but it became special because I went there so frequently for hours on end. I even created a Spotify playlist inspired by some of the music they would play there.

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On a side note, Boston Tea Party is a more “local” chain of cafés found in Southwest England, and was a close second favorite of mine (only because it was a bit more expensive).

4. Attending a concert for an artist from my hometown.
I wish I had attended more shows while abroad, but the one concert I went to made the world feel much smaller. It was an intimate boat-venue concert, for Kina Grannis, a singer-songwriter from Southern California who I’ve been a fan of for a while. She was on her European Tour with another artist called Imaginary Future, whom my friends and I got to talk to after the concert. Hearing familiar songs and talking with another Californian made home feel much closer.

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Even cooler was when I went to a free concert of theirs nearly two years later and had a short conversation with Imaginary Future  – and he remembered me! Well… he didn’t explicitly say that he remembered me and my friends, but he definitely remembered the “boat concert.”

5. Just hanging out.
Some of my favorite memories simply involve hanging out with my friends. From watching YouTube fail videos, to having a baking marathon, to cleaning up after a house party, to playing Scrabble until 4 AM in the morning, I had some good old college fun. During these random days and nights, I realized that although I was an ocean away from the USA, I was still a college student, and that made me feel right at home.

Overall, I think that the simplest to adjust to living abroad is to get into a routine. By doing things regularly, they become familiar, which makes the place you are in become familiar. You’ll definitely have times when you miss In-N-Out or NFL or your family, but you can still create comfort within an unfamiliar place to make it your new home.

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