The year you spend abroad will be one of the best of your life. You will make tons of new friends, try delicious new foods, experience a new culture, and become a part of a new community. But with all of this good also comes the not-so-good–homesickness. You can miss your friends and family. You can miss special events and holidays and traditions. With Thanksgiving coming up, there are students all over the world missing their Thanksgiving traditions, and also making new ones. To help you with your homesickness we spoke with three USAC alum about their experiences abroad during Thanksgiving.
Here is their advice for surviving the holidays abroad.
On my mom’s side of the family, I have 18 aunts and uncles, 15 cousins, and sometimes their spouses and kids. Thanksgiving is a big event each year, and though I knew I wanted to study abroad in the fall, I was sorry to miss it. Here’s a pic of the kids table I missed out on that year:
While studying abroad in Lüneburg, Germany, Thanksgiving weekend was the longest break we had, so my friends and I took this opportunity to travel farther away than we ever had before: Budapest, Hungary. Our train left early morning from Hamburg, and after 15 hours of window watching and naps, we arrived late that night. I was lucky enough to stay with locals—the family friends of my friend Michelle—and they made the experience unforgettable. Andras and Maria picked us up at the train station and gave us a midnight tour of the city before heading back to their flat. The next morning, Andras helped us buy metro cards and gave us a personal tour of his city, including the castle, opera house, a special tour of parliament, and the church where he and Maria married. That evening, we went back to their house where Maria had cooked us an American Thanksgiving meal, turkey and all (I have to say though, that the goulash we ate the next night was my favorite).
I still skyped my family for the holiday, but I realized that even though I missed them, I didn’t feel homesick, and it was all because of Andras and Maria. When you are studying abroad, take every chance you get to stay with local families on your travels. It’s the best and only way to find a home away from home.
I am thankful for my unforgettable stay with Andras and Maria and all of the wonderful experiences I had during my time abroad.
Luneburg, Germany Fall 2014 Alumna
My last Thanksgiving was spent in France. The day of, our program director invited everyone in our program to a potluck at her apartment. All fifty of us piled into a tiny French apartment with the food that we brought and had a great, although crowded night.
The following day I went to my friend’s home-stay for what we called “Francegiving.” Somehow, my friends went through the trouble of finding a turkey that we could cook. Her whole extended home-stay family was invited to Francegiving and we all had a great night sharing a bit of our home culture with some new friends in our adoptive country.
Although I was not able to spend Thanksgiving with my family, I am thankful that I was able to spend it with a great group of friends.
Lyon, France 2015-16 Yearlong Alumnus
Thanksgiving 2015 landed me in Viterbo, Italy, for the first half of my year abroad. Mid-November hit and I realized for the first time in my 21 years I wouldn’t be celebrating by sneaking a few bread rolls before dinner with my mom, antagonizing the turkey for not being done yet with my dad, or using pumpkin pie as nothing more than an excuse to eat a mountain of whipped cream with my sister. Who knew I’d grow nostalgic for the uncomfortable “please, I beg of you, pass the potatoes” moments I had used as an excuse to avoid the “sooo, are you seeing anyone?” and the “what are your plans after graduation?” interrogations from my well-intentioned and completely deplorable distant relatives?
All I knew was the third Thursday in November was fast approaching and I, for the first time since calling Italy home in August, would have been happy to hop on a plane back to the good ole turkey-laden U.S. of A.
So what’s a strong, independent, study-abroad savvy person to do when even the thought of hands traced into turkeys has them sending a weepy “I miss you almost as much as I miss the family stuffing recipe” message to their mom?
I have one word for you, my fellow Thanksgiving lovers: Friendsgiving.
Oh, what a fun blend of the words “friends” and “Thanksgiving,” you thought, I’m sure. I was a Friendsgiving skeptic myself, doubting the ability of my absolutely wonderful study abroad friends to come even close to my Thanksgiving. I thought spending Thanksgiving with anyone other than my family back home would be like having boxed mashed potatoes when you were expecting the real thing: still potatoes, sure, but it’s just not the same.
Friendsgiving took my boxed-potato doubts and threw me into one of my favorite days of my entire year abroad. We, the reluctant to admit we were feeling a bit homesick, decided to meet up at the biggest apartment of the bunch. Thanksgiving in Italy was a potluck-style celebration where Italians and Americans, joined by our love of food and good company, shared a Friendsgiving meal for the ages. We had gone on a wild goose (turkey?) chase through the Italian grocery stores for the main course, which ended up being a successful dinner mission and a bonus bonding experience. The table was filled with everyone’s best attempt at their at-home favorites. Stuffing and mashed potatoes from the Americans, pasta and tiramisu from the Italians, love from everyone involved. The only thing more full than our stomachs were our hearts.
I am thankful for all of my wonderful friends and every experience we got to share in Italy.
If you find yourself abroad this Thanksgiving or simply away from your family, remember to embrace your surroundings, your friends, and be thankful for the experiences you have.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at USAC!