Homesickness. We’re all affected by it at some point. Whether it’s the longing to walk down familiar streets, the yearning to eat mom’s homemade meals, or just the mere desire for comfort and familiarity, homesickness hits hard for all of us eventually.
A southern California native, I’ve been hit with huge pangs of homesickness. In these periods, I begin to miss the palm trees, the wide, two–way roads, the beaming SoCal sunshine, the delicious and wide array of food (specifically the wondrous Asian cuisine), the ability to see the mountains wherever I go, the overall slower pace of life. I even start to miss the knick–knacks of homes—characteristics that I had neglected before I came to Penn. But most of all, I miss the seemingly everlasting, carefree time I spent with family and friends—our movie nights, boba runs, weekend outings, drives around town, or simply being in their presence.
Coming from all across the world, many students feel the same. For Ria Chinchankar (W ’22), an international student from Dubai, home was almost the “exact opposite of Philly.” She describes her life in Dubai as very sheltered and centered around a few key locations. For Peter Nguyen (C ’22), home in Richmond, CA also differed heavily from Philly—the Bay Area’s “inviting” and “diverse” environment heavily contrasts Penn’s bubble. For Nikole Bonillas (C ’22) from Laredo, TX, a combination of her close–knit bonds with her family, her love for her warm and fun hometown, and her appreciation for her town’s Tex–Mex cultural blend has led her to feel homesick.
Homesickness may be something we’ll deal with throughout our years here at Penn, but there are many ways, some of which might seem like common sense, to alleviate the wistful feeling.
Tip #1: Call home.
It’s the best solution. Calling home up to three times a day is nothing unusual for me. Hearing the voices of my loved ones puts me at peace like nothing else. For Ria, the time difference makes it difficult to call home as much as she’d like. Even the short three–hour time difference between the East and West Coast sometimes gets in the way of my phone calls. The key is scheduling—find that time slot that works for both sides. And remember that you can always text, Snapchat, or as Nikole’s brother likes to do, send Game Pigeon messages throughout the day.
Tip #2: Find a community on or near campus.
Whether it’s a cultural club on campus or a comforting neighborhood, find a place where you can be yourself and connect with your roots. It may be hard. Peter notes, with Penn bubble, he hasn’t found a strong community on campus yet, but he is hopeful it will work out. On the other hand, Nikole has found new homes in La Casa Latina, a Latinx culture group, and MEChA, a group that explores Mexican–American and Latin–American culture. She has also found South Philly to be a neighborhood that reminds her of home.
Tip #3: Eat away your homesickness.
Nothing will ever replace Mom’s homemade meals, but we can find some nice substitutes. For me, a trip to H Mart to buy my favorite Every Burger snack or a hearty serving of dumplings from Chinatown is all it takes to sweep away my latest wave of homesick feelings. Ria’s found some restaurants near campus that serve good Arabic food and decent Indian food.
Tip #4: Bring "home" to Penn.
Deck out your room with pictures, posters, and don’t be embarrassed to bring out your favorite childhood stuffed animal. Pictures fill up two sides of my wall. Similarly, Peter has stuck up pictures, although they sometimes make him feel nostalgic. Nikole has hung up a Mexican flag, and she has also brought her salsa and mariachi music to Penn. “People who shower at Hill, I’m so sorry, I’m the one playing the Mexican music in the restroom. I have no shame in it.”
Tip #5: Complain to your fellow homesick friends.
Never underestimate the power of catharsis. Friends understand what you’re going through the best. Hanging out with people from the Bay was Peter's immediate response to how he copes with feeling homesick. Likewise, Ria has many friends who come from further away. “A lot of us international students know what we’re getting into when we go to school far from home, but as always, it’s nice to complain about it, like we all know we come to school to do work, but that doesn’t stop us from whining from finals."
Tip #6: Find things to love about Philly.
Find things here that you start to reminisce about and long for when you’re back at home. Maybe a special cafe only open in Philly. Maybe it’s Philly’s amazing transportation system. Maybe it’s Wawa. Maybe it’s even Penn’s subpar dining hall food—one of my friends and I actually have weekly cravings for Hill’s knockoff Asian noodles. I’ve come to love Philly’s arts and culture scene, with its old Ritz movie theaters and numerous museums. Make Philly irreplaceable.
Some of us dealing with homesickness might have joked about transferring to a school back at home. We might have asked ourselves: Why did we give up safety, comfort, and family for this? To this, Nikole says, “no te des por vencido,” which translates to “don’t give up.” She is determined to reap the rewards of studying at Penn and is excited to take her newly-gained knowledge and apply it back home. Her dad often reminds her, “There’s no place for you in Laredo anymore, your dreams are too big to belong in this town, so don’t feel too homesick.”
Perhaps the best tip I have for you doesn’t come from experience or the words of some self–help guide on Pinterest—they are the words of Nikole’s father, because what is better than a parent’s advice to help one feel at home?
"Know that you’re where you belong, and you can always find your way back home."