After a chaotic airport experience and a long dark van ride through the city, our group of fifteen strangers from all around the states (and Italy) made it to our first stop in the Dominican Republic. Still groggy from our travels we made our way up to dinner and began getting to know one another. Everyone was welcoming and friendly but as my mind began to settle my stomach didn’t. Instead of butterflies, I had bats and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the feeling but I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made the right choice.
During our first week in the Dominican Republic, we had group orientation every morning. This consisted of learning Dominican history, discussions on group dynamics and of course, ice breakers. One of these ice breakers consists of writing down our fears regarding the next three months and putting them in a hat and discussing them with the group. As we filtered through the slips of paper there was a reoccurrence of the word “homesickness”. We soon came to realize that most of us hadn’t been away from home for longer than a month. This is when one of our (amazing) program leaders Tati said: “ Think about it like this; if you are homesick, that means you have something good going on at home to return to.” At the time I didn’t know that this would be one of the most important pieces of advice I’d be given during my time abroad.
The feeling I felt on the first night suddenly went away during the first week and I felt ready to conquer the next three months with no looking back… until we arrived at our new location in the DR where I must have brought my first-day jitters in my suitcase. After a luxurious week of wifi and hot water in our ranch in Jarabacoa, it was time for our homestays in the small village of Angostura. I had that same fluttering feeling in my stomach and still questioned whether or not I should’ve chosen a more traditional route closer to home.
Upon arriving the first thing my host mother said to me (well technically to Tyler our impromptu translator) was “Welcome I’m your new mom!” It didn’t take long for the two of us to be watching telenovelas at night and having dance parties before dinner. Every morning I would ask her how to say the name of a household item in Spanish and eventually, I would teach her the same words in English. While laughing at each other’s rigid pronunciations I came to learn my first tip to conquering homesickness: the small victories and moments count. It’s a cliche but it is one I have found to be very true. If you focus on all the little “in the now” moments it makes the sacrifice of comfortability worth it.
Fast forward three weeks later to October fifth, our one-month anniversary! In the course of four weeks, I had already made so many memories and connections that I wouldn’t trade for anything which brings me to my next tip. Remember that home will always be there but the experiences you are having now are once in a lifetime. I’ll be honest, there are definitely times where three months seem more like three years but when I take a step back I realize that I only have ninety-one days to really get the most out of these two countries as possible. Be open to finding a little bit of home wherever you go.
Knowing what works best for you. That is my third tip. One essential thing this trip has taught me is how different everyone is and during this experience, I have gotten to know myself better than I ever have. It’s okay to call your family and friends when you miss them and it’s also okay to unplug completely for a little bit. If bringing a stuffed animal from home or showing your new friends (countless) pictures of your hometown makes the distance a little easier then go for it! Everyone at one point or another feels a little out of place or homesick, you’re not alone!
The best thing to remember is that there is nothing wrong with missing home. It doesn’t make you ungrateful for your experience if anything it not only gave me a whole new appreciation for the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, but also a newfound appreciation for where I’m from. Traveling the world has been the best experience of my life (so far) however it is also quite possibly one of the scariest. Embrace the fear and get the most out of your time abroad while you can so that way you have that many more stories to tell when you do go home! Oh and as my mom always says “don’t forget to take lots of pictures!”