Making this list brought back so many great memories from college, particularly the road trips I took with friends. My college town was in the middle of a rural farming community, and one of my best road trip memories was parking on a country road to go look at sheep. (No, seriously! There’s something incredibly soothing about sheep-watching.)
The term “Third Culture Kid” first came to my consciousness from an advisor who was a Third Culture Kid herself. I decided to write my senior thesis on the re-entry experiences of Third Culture Kids, which became a way for me to learn more about what I was going through. For all the incoming freshmen this fall, here are some tips on avoiding homesickness.
1. If you have the opportunity, focus the topic of a research project on your home country. Often, college classes will encourage you to do a research project on a topic of your choice. Writing a paper or doing a project on the country you lived in as a kid will often lead to seeing your home in a whole new light. There are often so many political and social issues that you don’t always notice when growing up abroad, and now that you’re outside of the country, you can study it with a new perspective.
2. Enjoy food from your home country. I was missing one of my favorite Ghanaian dishes-beans and plantain, and during a trip to a Ghanaian restaurant in D.C., I ordered it with “gari,” a white powdery garnish that makes the dish thicker. The waiter looked surprised, and asked me how I knew about that. This started the conversation, and we ended up chatting about Ghana.
Take the opportunity to make food from your home country with friends. A TCK friend who attended college in Illinois after growing up in Bolivia would often cook Bolivian food for her classmates as a way of having something familiar, as well as sharing her experience with others.
3. Be intentional about the connections you make on campus. Facebook and Skype make it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends from around the world, which can be both good and bad. If you’re spending the bulk of your time communicating with friends from home, it may be more difficult for you to connect with potential new friends on campus. Be intentional about finding a balance between keeping ties with your friends from home, and being open to new friendships at school. Otherwise, you may find yourself stuck in a rut living “back home” virtually.
Laura Polk, standing in the middle, returned to Ghana two months after graduating from college.
4. Decorate your dorm room with art from your home country. Putting up posters and art from your home country is a great way to remind you of home, and it’s a great conversation starter for you to share stories with dorm mates.
5. Sign up as a conversation/language partner. Many of the English as a Second Language programs at universities coordinate conversation partners with ESL students as an opportunity for them to practice English. As TCKs, we often have some insight into the experience of learning a new language. It’s a great opportunity to learn about a new culture, as well as being able to serve as a sort of “cultural broker” for newly arrived international students. You could also seek out other language groups as well.
6. Find a TCK or international group on campus. Another part of maintaining balance is finding a “safe space” to talk about growing up a TCK. Often college campuses have groups for Third Culture Kids; if not, start your own. Making connections with other students who were “away from home” was also a good way handle my own homesickness. Although we had different experiences, we were able to bond over a shared experience.
7. Go out! Take a random road trip. You’re more than likely attending college in an unfamiliar place, or at the very least, a city or town you haven’t lived in recently. Take a weekend and explore a new area with some friends; not only is it a great way to bond with your friends, but also a good temporary cure for restlessness. Gaining new experiences is the best way to cure homesickness.
Overall, make the most of your experience! College is one of the few times in life when you’re in an environment made up predominantly of people in your age group. Take full advantage of all your campus and surrounding community has to offer.
Laura is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and the University of Maryland.