Everyone says you should be open to new experiences during your Erasmus year, but finding myself crying because I’d run out of milk wasn’t the sort of new experience I saw coming. Let’s rewind; I had been making tea in the kitchen of my impossibly small apartment with the teabags I had brought over from home. The night before I left, I had filled a zip lock bag with Barry’s tea and tucked it away in my suitcase – a little piece of home to bring with me to France – only to be ambushed by the empty milk carton sitting in the fridge. I cried because at home there is always milk in the fridge. I cried because in France there’s no one to call to ask to pick up a litre of milk on the way home.
My first few weeks of Erasmus felt like a holiday, and the reality of the fact that I was now living a two-hour flight away from Ireland never properly sunk in. It wasn’t until the first therapy session I had in France over Zoom when my therapist looked at me and said, “You really miss your mom, don’t you?” that the floodgates opened. I felt so far away from home at that moment that I may as well have been in Australia.
When that homesickness finally did hit, I had no idea how to cope. Before my roommate moved in, I lived alone for a month. Every minute I spent in my apartment by myself was accompanied by a varied selection of podcasts, some vague conversation about current affairs or relationship advice always droning on in the background so that I could avoid the silence. I took other sensible precautions like avoiding my Phoebe Bridgers playlist as best I could and not looking at photos of my dog.
There were times in those beginning months when the homesickness felt impenetrable, like it was a weight sitting on my chest that I couldn’t shift. This wasn’t helped by the fact that after three years together with my boyfriend we were now living in different countries. Before this, the furthest we had ever lived apart had been me in Spiddal and him in Galway city – a mere 30-minute bus ride away. I desperately googled articles on how to cure homesickness, how to make a long-distance relationship work, how to cope with the fact that I had moved to a new country without a single person that I knew from home.
Slowly but surely, I began to settle in more, until one day I woke up and wondered how I had found it so hard in the first place. At the moment, homesickness can feel impossible to get through. If you’re struggling with this, I can give you all the typical advice I garnered from my obsessive googling when I first went through it – keep in touch with your family, soak up new experiences, put yourself out there. And it’s true, this all helps. But the thing that made the most difference me most was being patient with myself. Erasmus can be an isolating experience and it’s important to be kind to yourself throughout it. Once you make it through the rough patch, you’ll open yourself up to amazing opportunities – after a while, you mightn’t even think of home at all. And if all that doesn’t work for you, indulging in home comfort, like a cup of Barry’s tea, is sure to make you feel a bit less far away -just don’t forget to buy the milk.