Column: How I deal with homesickness as a international student
It’s the middle of the semester now. It is the time everything becomes exhausting and I just want to go back to my home.
I am a international student from Beijing, China. It takes about 13 hours of flying from Beijing to Detroit and then one hour of driving to get from the airport to East Lansing. I’ve done that every summer since I came to MSU. This is my last year here.
It’s probably not common for students to be homesick during their fourth year. But I identity myself as “different” from other international students. I label myself “different” because I moved a lot. And every single move was out of my comfort zone, so I don’t “hate myself” when I cry for home.
The first time I came to the U.S. was during my second semester of junior high school when I enrolled in a six-month exchange program. I was accepted by a host family in McAllen, Texas.
I was a nervous and excited 16-year-old girl who started her journey to the U.S. in 2014 with poor English. The first feeling of homesickness came to me fast. I wasn’t comfortable on the airplane because I sat for so long. I wished my mom could’ve been sitting with me so that I could have laid my head on her shoulder.
My friends in China wrote me a lot of messages in a thick notebook. I was afraid to read it because I was afraid of crying. But I had been holding it in since the security check at the airport. I had to do something to shift my attention.
I opened it and started to read under a faint light. My vision was soon blurry. All the memories buoyed up as I read through the letters. I took a deep breath and looked outside. It had been dark for a long time because of the time difference.
“Just like my mood,” I thought.
When I got off the airplane, my whole world changed.
Several hours beforehand, there had been people familiar to me at the airport. But the faces passing by looked quite different. I didn’t know where to go. And I missed my mom again.
I had to get over it by myself. After all the struggling, I eventually stepped on America’s land.
The school I went to was a public school with no Chinese classes. I tried really hard to make friends and practice my English. Culture shock, language and loneliness were all difficulties I had to deal with.
The first couple months didn’t make me homesick because those difficulties kept me busy. It was during the middle of my time there, when I kind of got used to life, that made me homesick.
I started to write. I wrote everywhere I could to express my feelings. I wrote in my notes in Chinese so nobody could understand. I typed in my phone — pretending I was talking with my friends — so I wouldn’t look lonely. I wouldn’t allow myself to cry because it made me look weak. I just wrote, wrote, wrote anywhere I could.
I moved to Utah for my senior year of high school as a international student, which is technically different from a exchange student because the two hold different visas.
I went to a private Catholic high school that year. The work wasn’t challenging for me as I prepared for my SAT test. The school had more international students — especially Chinese — but I had such a hard time getting involved. Maybe because I had just transferred. Maybe there were other reasons.
During the middle of the year, I lost control to handle everything. My tears just came out by themselves in the middle of classes. One day, I ran out of my religion class to the school clinic. I requested a video call to my mom and started to cry loudly without any other words.
My counselor must have heard that, so she came to check if I was doing okay. We talked for a long time until I calmed down. I went back to class, having regained my self-control.
It’s the middle of the semester again. After four years of studying at MSU, I am never emotionally homesick like I used to be. I miss my home, but not because I’m afraid anymore. I miss my family just because I love them.
Every year, domestic students go home and celebrate Christmas with their family. This reminds me of Chinese Spring festival, a time as important to us as Christmas is to domestic students.
I figure people could be homesick for a lot of reasons. The best way to deal with it is to release it. I used to blame myself for crying, but not anymore. Talk to someone that’s reliable to you, write in your diary, communicate with your parents — there is no shame to being homesick.
Let the homesick feeling be explored rather than holding it back.