Care packages are the best! And if you've ever run down to your mailbox and discovered a heavy box from your family or friends back home you know the feeling.
It’s that mix of surprise (because they almost always come out of the blue), excitement and curiosity (because you can't wait to rip it open and find out what’s inside), and love (because someone thought of you enough to send you a little piece of home).
And if you’ve ever been homesick, you know care packages can really do the trick.
Homesickness After Study Abroad is Normal
Now that you’re back from living abroad, you might experience a little (host country) homesickness. You might daydream about experiences you had abroad. You might get frustrated when you can’t find or don’t have access to things you'd gotten used to. Or you might just miss parts (or all) of the home you *created* when you lived abroad.
That’s perfectly normal!
According to psychologists who study homesickness, missing your study abroad country is just a sign that you developed strong bonds and really integrated yourself into your community. So… yay! And… awwwww!
There are a lot of things you can do to help with the more uncomfortable parts of homesickness. But as you might have guessed our favorite suggestion is care packages!
Your host family probably won’t randomly send you one. (In fact, you might want to consider making THEM a care package now that you’re back as a thank you for letting you live in their home.)
In the meantime, here are our tips of how to make your own care package.
Step 1: Find a box.
Step 2: Decorate it.
Step 3: Fill it with things that remind you of your home abroad.
Now, here are 10 suggestions for things you can put in your care package.
The goal of a care package is to give you a little piece of the place you love. Luckily for you, that can take a couple of forms. Do you want to go back to a fond memory from abroad? Do you want a new experience? Or do you want to do a little bit of both?
#1. a book or a movie
If you love movies, and spent a lot of time in the theaters, get a copy of one of the movies you saw while you were abroad. Or get the entire DVD set of your favorite TV show or drama.
Is there a book or short story from a famous author you’ve been meaning to read? Or did you take a literature class in you foreign language and come across some really great work from the country? Even if you didn’t read it while you were abroad, if it was written by someone from your host country it counts.
Find things you think you’ll enjoy watching and re-reading in the future. Or find new books and movies you think you'll love when you finally get around to them.
#2. a special music playlist
Either download the songs and upload them to a special mp3 player that you use only for your care package OR write out a playlist. (Just in case you unsubscribe to your favorite streaming service, you’ll want a back up on hand).
A good playlist might include: that really catchy song that was always on the radio (but you’re going to miss not hearing it all the time in 3 months); songs with lyrics that perfectly describe your experience; songs you loved while you lived abroad; popular songs at home (that you missed out on because they weren’t on the radio where you lived); and so on.
Or ask your study abroad friends for new artist recommendations to check out later. That's counts for two because you get the song and a warm fuzzy reminder of your friend.
#3. food or a recipe
The biggest staple item of a care package is usually the food. If you can find non-perishable products and snacks, add a few of those to your care package. If that doesn’t work, find a recipe of something you really loved (and that wouldn’t been too difficult to cook or source the ingredients for).
Then, when you start feeling a bout of homesickness coming on, you’ll have “comfort food” available at the ready.
(But don’t forget to replace what you eat. It’s going to be really awkward for you to reach into your care box and for a snack only to realize you’ve already eaten everything.)
Want more ideas? Just get digital: Think about creating an ultimate book, movie, music, or recipe list using Pinterest. We show you how in our free course:
If you're a sentimental person and you love photos, videos, and tactical things put those in your box. It's sometimes fun to have them out of sight and out of mind for a while. When you look back on them and all of the memories flood back, you can remember your experiences with joy.
#4. a photo or a "home movie" from abroad
Did you go camera happy while you were away? Are your friends sharing some cool pictures that you wished you could get framed? Digital photos are great, but sometimes going old school and printing out a few of your favorite pictures can be a lot more powerful for your memory and for processing your experience.
Or if you have a lot of digital media like movies or audio recordings, you can create a DVD of all your travel media. Organize it, edit it, and label everything so they are easy to come back to when you're ready to reminisce.
#5. cool souvenir from abroad
Hopefully you bought a few extra souvenirs (just for yourself) while you were living abroad. Use one of these bonus gifts as a happy memory in your care package.
This could be a souvenir that reminds you of your host country, but doesn’t fit well with your room’s decoration scheme. Or it can be something you can’t bear to throw away (because of the memories associated with it), but that wouldn’t fit in your daily life.
If you want your care package to have that handmade touch, you can create something special out of the thing you brought back with you.
#6. homemade mementos
If you love to create things by hand, make your own memento out of your travel leftovers.
You might decide to turn your flight boarding pass into a pillow. Or you might frame a city map. Or you could make a guitar pick out of a foreign coin. (You’ve got a lot of random options.)
And if you’re not a crafty person, find a shop (probably online) that sells something that’s all “[host country] pride.” This could be a shirt with the name of your host country in some clever phrase. It could be a sports jersey. Or it could be something with the flag pattern on it.
#7. memory books and scrapbooks
Did people send you postcards while you lived abroad? Your care package would be a perfect place for them to live! You could also print out email conversations you had with people and store them in here.
Another idea is to create a scrapbook or smash book and store all of your favorite photos and reflections from abroad.
Need some creative inspiration? Read our article on after travel DIY and tips on how to turn your souvenirs into really cool room decorations. Just pick things you don't mind storing away until you feel homesickness creeping in.
A care package doesn't just have to be about things you picked up while you were physically staying abroad. If you want to keep your relationship to your host country going, spend some time (and some money) connecting with businesses that are connected to your host country. Here are two ways to do that:
#8. products from an (immigrant owned) company
This one might be a little tricky depending on where you live (and immigration patterns). But it’s really common for immigrants start businesses.
Find a store (online or brick and mortar) that sells one or more products made, invented, or sourced by an immigrant from your host country. This could include anything from buying a bar of soap on Etsy to taking a visit to a local mom & pop shop in an ethnic neighborhood.
Bonus: try to strike up a friendly conversation with the store owner and learn something new.
#9. something you ordered from your host country
This could be literally anything you want.
Order something from an online store or through a friend or some other channel that makes sense. Once it arrives, no matter what it is… it becomes your proof that you can stay connected to (at least the economy of) your host country where ever you are.
#10. ANYTHING THAT GIVES YOU THE WARM FUZZIES
Beyond that, you can really add anything that was unique to your experience that you think will ease your homesickness.
- Was there anything that has a lot of sentimental value for you?
- Want to write yourself a letter about how you felt right after study abroad?
- Got any newspaper clippings about things that happened while you were away?
This list is endless.
Physical vs Digital care packages
If you want, you could create a "digital" care package of sorts. Maybe you'll create...
- a special folder with text files for recipes and copies of photos, videos, and so on, or
- an after study abroad Pinterest account where you hoard links to movies you could stream at a moments notice, or
- a digital scrapbook where you add all of your multimedia
All of that is totally doable. However, we recommend going old school and making it the old fashion (physical) way. There’s something incredible about being able to dig out a box and hold things in your hand every once in a while.
(The big picture) Elements to Make Sure You Have...
Your (self) care package is part memory box (because it has cool things from abroad), part culture and comfort box (because of the books and songs and food), and part future/reality box (because it has proof that you can maintain your ties to your host country now and in the future).
So, anytime you start to feel like you miss people, places, or things from your time abroad, pick up your box and use it wisely. Watch the movies. Listen to the songs. Eat the snacks. Give your self time and permission to ride the way back machine. And remember that you can always continue to create new memories even though you’re back home.