The Homesickness Factor: Managing (Family) Expectations

Apr 25, 2018

I have worked and traveled with thousands of students and educators on international tours all over the world. One common factor?

From time to time, they all miss home.

For many students, the thought of going on a tour with their friends and classmates is exciting. Many feel a sudden sense of independence. Many are more than ready for a break from their daily routine, regardless of the length of their tour.

Yet you might find it surprising that, in my experience, a greater number are anxious about the unknown.

They may be worried about the unknown destination.

What will I see?
What will the food will be like?
Will I like it and have fun?
Will I have trouble communicating due to the different language spoken?

Their families, who have worked hard to ensure their child goes on a trip, may be just as anxious—if not more. Their concerns and anxieties can be varied. Will their child:

Be well looked after?
Have a good time?
Manage their spending money?
Be warm enough?
Listen to their chaperones?
Eat well?
Contact home?

One factor I see not really being taken into account in pre-trip preparation and homesickness discussions is recognition of the pressure students sometimes face to make regular contact with home, while they are on tour.

Whether through a quick phone call, What’s App chat, text message, Skype or other social media platform, it’s important for students to share their excitement and adventures with home. In my day, sending a postcard was “the thing” to do!

Students stress about making sure they call home or post on Facebook, but that pressure doesn’t typically come from themselves; it comes from their families—who, wanting to share in the experience, have created an expectation that they will have regular contact with their child.

Families forget that students are on a busy schedule filled with wonderful, life-changing experiences. It can sometimes be sensory and information overload, and the experience is sometimes overwhelming. Requiring them to check in daily—or inadvertently creating an expectation—creates a great deal of stress for students and reduces their ability to enjoy and join in the tour effectively. Students feel a sense of guilt if they can’t live up to these expectations.

Given that a great deal of effort has gone into getting them on the trip in the first place, the guilt factor is unfair. It can have a negative impact on their entire trip.

Contact with home is an important part of travel. But it’s important to allow students to experience things in real time. I’ve had students on tours who are in tears about going to a special dinner or event, because they were expected—by their families—to call every evening at a specific time.

The family hasn’t taken into consideration that the group might be involved in an activity or has had a long day of travel. Daily contact may not be possible due to time zones, travel, activities and access to Wi-Fi.

How can you help remedy homesickness and keep communication with home in check?

Talk about it before the trip.

I cannot encourage you enough to talk with your students’ families about expectations of communication while away on a tour, and how they might deal with it. Many families I’ve worked with didn’t consider the pressure they were placing on their child prior to the tour. Once I pointed it out, a large number would thank me for reminding them. I’m positive they would never want to make their child feel guilty about enjoying their time away.

Encourage journaling.

Sometimes, it helps for students to keep a tour journal or go the old-fashioned route and write a letter to their family. They might not necessarily send the letter, but at least are expressing their feelings.

Check in with the student.

It’s important to check in regularly with a homesick student on tour. Anxiety or sadness at being away from home can have a negative effect on the student’s tour and even on the rest of the group.

It’s OK to miss the comforts of home. That’s normal.

What isn’t normal is the pressure to make daily contact with home. The routines of home cannot follow students on tour and families shouldn’t expect routine. Let the students enjoy their travels.

Traveling anywhere can be the most wonderful experience.

Traveling internationally may bring some additional challenges, which can be minimized with good preparation that includes open dialogue about the “homesickness factor” and ensuring your students know it’s OK.

Shannon CarterWritten by Shannan Carter, Global Business Development Manager at Live Travel and Tours, SYTA Past President, industry consultant and mentor.