Blog from abroad: Homesickness and the little things

The "positivity wall" next to my desk reminds me to stay positive when things start to get hard here.

The “positivity wall” next to my desk reminds me to stay positive when things start to get hard here.

Lately, I’ve found myself counting down the days until I can go home. It’s not that I don’t like it here; I’m just reaching a point where home sounds nice. Big living room couches, the smell of a bookstore, the crispness of fall, a functional library – small things that I had no idea I would miss suddenly fill me with nostalgia.

Being abroad for a long time is hard. I think about what my friends and family are doing back home and I wish I could join them and wallow in the comfort of familiarity. House shows, birthday dinners, coffee dates. If I weren’t here, I would be presenting this weekend at a conference in Portland with some of my best friends – an opportunity that I am acutely aware of missing. It’s easy enough to say that I need to be grateful for where I am and live in the present, but it’s a lot harder to do.

I didn’t expect to get homesick. I was so excited to explore this new culture and I was so sure that I would fill every minute with new experiences, take challenging courses and make friends with all sorts of people. The reality is less romantic though. Being here destroyed my motivation to get out of my comfort zone beyond necessary measures. Many of my experiences that involve trying new Ghanaian things have gone poorly and ended with me getting harassed by Ghanaian men, and maybe getting food poisoning.

This is not to say that it’s impossible to do new things here. Obviously I’ve had to adjust to a different lifestyle and norms in order to get by, learning to bargain for food and clothing; take the various forms of taxis and buses required to go anywhere; flush a toilet and take a shower without running water; cook without an oven or adjustable stove; pick up copies of textbooks from small print shops one chapter at a time. Little things. But little things become big when every single thing is different.

I bought men's Obama underwear out of one of my frequently bouts of patriotism.

I bought men’s Obama underwear out of one of my frequently bouts of patriotism.

After a while, the little things start to wear you down, just like cement quietly slaps the bottom of your sneakers until there’s no sole left. I’m hoping that this feeling of intense blah-ness will dissipate as I near the end of the semester – that it’s just a temporary valley in the peaks of this experience. I only have four weeks left of classes, so I’m just trying to keep my eye on the prize of being finished with school, which is by far the absolute worst part of study abroad, so that I can enjoy the time between finals by traveling and being with my friends here. (As a side note, I am so incredibly grateful for the American education system and have been drooling over the upcoming semester. I swear that when I get back, I will never complain about or skip classes again.)

I’ve never been exceptionally patriotic until now. I’m finding that I really love America. It’s an amazingly wonderful fairy candy land of a country full of people I can understand and places I know and social norms that seem so blandly normal. My experiences in Ghana will always be a part of me and in retrospect, I know that the good will far outweigh the bad. But at this exact moment in time, I can’t wait to go home.


Olivia Cohen is a junior double majoring in Political Science and International Studies. She is studying abroad this fall in Cape Coast, Ghana through a bi-lateral exchange program.

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