Dear homesick international student at Harvard College

Category Student Voices


David, HFAI Coordinator
David Class of '25
Authored on April 05, 2024


It felt strange at first. It really did, and if you felt strange, or still do, just know that you are not alone. No one was speaking Swahili, Sheng, Luo, or Abasuba around me. 

It was Fall 2021, and I was only used to the vibrant street markets of Kisumu’s lakeside, the flowing left-hand side traffic pattern of the Nairobi metropolis, and the constant beautiful weather with yearlong moderate temperatures. In short, I was homesick upon arrival. As weeks passed, I even became more homesick. The beautiful colors of fall started waning, and I started even missing how I used to spell “color” as “colour” in my favorite Commonwealth English: Kenyan English. But after three years of being here, while the homesickness may still come intermittently, I have learned better how to deal with it. After three years in the game, I hereby write with a little more experience on how to deal with it.
Take time to get updates on the domestic news of your home countries. I take my time to read the daily newspapers of my home country, and when weeks get busy, I read the weekly newspapers in digital form. I also like to know about my home country from an international lens. Harvard College students can activate a free digital subscription to the New York Times. Social media has also made it easier to get almost instantaneous updates from the homeland, including the latest comedies, politics, and celebrity drama which makes me feel less homesick. HOLLIS, Harvard Library's main search tool, also gives free access to billions of documents of all types – most of which are otherwise expensive to access – which can help you learn even newer things about your home country and help ease the homesickness by enriching curiosity.

Entertainment is an important release valve for the pressure of homesickness. Listening to classical Swahili music or poetry while walking to class makes me feel like I am strolling in the streets of Mombasa. Similarly, you can also utilize the discounts that come with having a Harvard College email to access entertainment or streaming services where you may pass some time and even get entertainment specific to your home country or region. Some good music or movies from home can be a reprieve. 
It is always a fun time with fellow international students. For the incoming first-year internationals, consider applying for the First-Year International Program (FIP). There, you will likely meet your best friends in the international community and get a head start that may ease any potential homesickness. While on campus, take time to have meals with fellow internationals in the dining halls. It can be a good way to take a break and speak your home language. Woodbridge International Society is your home on campus as an affinity organization representing Harvard College students from 100+ universities. They organize fun events and informal lunches. In the same vein, join other affinity spaces that you are comfortable joining. I have had some of my best experiences in the events hosted by the Harvard African Students Association, and gotten a taste of home from the cuisine and from the performances, and forgotten about being homesick. Additionally, feel free to explore other people’s cultures by honoring invitations to events by cultural organizations that you may not be part of. As a student of Arabic, some of my favorite memories are from the Society of Arab Students since I have been fortunate to integrate myself into the culture through a study-abroad program in Jordan and memorized a number of songs while practicing my Arabic with my friends. This made me feel at home.

A photo of students in the First Year International Program (FIP)

A photo of myself and my 2023 family in the First-Year International Program (FIP) David J. Aboge

East or West, home is best is definitely true. However, Cambridge can also be a very beautiful home as you’ll be spending at least four years here. You may want to walk along the beautiful Acorn Street or Day Boulevard in the fall, have a picnic or a stroll along Charles River, or go have a snowball fight with friends in a snowy New England winter. In the spirit of making Cambridge and Boston home, seek help from your peers on matters you’re comfortable sharing. Meet the international Peer Advising Fellows (PAF) if you’re a freshman and want specific advice from an international PAF. Additionally, the Harvard International Office (HIO) can be very helpful with more technical questions. The has mindfulness and meditation programs which can help in times of homesickness. I have personally found the Smith Campus Prayer and Meditation Space an ideal place to just meditate and feel at home. While making Cambridge your home, make constant communication with friends and family back home. Catching up with loved ones is a great way to ease homesickness. 

A photo of smiling students below a banner written "Africa Night"

A photo of myself and other Kenyan college students at Harvard during the 2023 Africa Night Harvard African Students Association (HASA)

I strongly advise that you get close with your professors by going to office hours or just emailing to set up an informal appointment. For incoming international freshmen, I advise that you consider taking a Freshman Seminar as it is a way to bond with professors. I was lucky to have a Kenyan professor teaching my seminar, and he has been a highlight of my experience at Harvard. Similarly, professors can introduce you to other professors who share similar interests as you, and it may be the beginning of a life-long bond. The busier you get with interesting stuff, the less likely you are to be very homesick. 

Two individuals sitting in a restaurant.

Myself and Prof. Ali Asani for a dinner in Harvard Square David J. Aboge

Harvard College is a place of countless opportunities and therefore, be on the lookout for opportunities that you may easily ignore in your house mailing lists. Some of the opportunities might be in your home country either with student organizations or departmentally funded programs. You may get a chance to visit home for free and be close enough to home with peers. Therefore, look through those emails and apply to the interesting opportunities that come your way. If you come from a country that uses the metric system like me, you may find a way to escape the imperial unit system. Personally, reading my temperatures in Fahrenheit and gauging distance in miles or feet is usually a big source of homesickness hence, I will always pounce on any relevant opportunity that has an aspect of international travel for me to use Celsius and meters again. Of course, I also encourage domestic opportunities since there is so much to explore in the United States as well. They do help with homesickness.
Finally, it may look trivial at first, but it is a good idea to have a flag of your country(ies) in your dorm room. I hang mine proudly on my room’s wall, and whenever I enter my room, I feel like I am entering a different world. I have a desk flag for my study as well, and looking at it has always served as a Biblical bronze snake for the occasional malady of homesickness. 

A selfie in my room featuring a Kenyan flag on the wall David J. Aboge

Dear homesick or prospectively homesick international students, you are loved and know that there are many ways to deal with homesickness. I hope my advice to you is helpful and that you are not alone.



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David Class of '25

Habari zenu (Hello everyone)! My name is David and I am a junior in Adams House from Kenya. I concentrate in applied mathematics (government honors track), with a secondary in global health & health policy, and I’m on track to earn a language citation in Arabic.

David, HFAI Coordinator