Homesickness is by far the largest difficulty a lot of students have had to face during first year. After nearly two years at UAL, things have become noticeably easier, though there are still days I long for the familiarity and comfort of the place - and this is perfectly normal. When you have been working for years towards one thing, there’s bound to be some sort of degree of collapse when you finally get there. Sometimes starting out somewhere new can feel like too much and too little at the same time, and nostalgia for the security of the past is not a sign of weakness and failure.
Some students breeze into university life, straight from school without giving what they’re leaving behind a second thought. But I for one was never going to be one of those people. I spent two decades in my small, rural hometown in Essex, living and working and learning. My friendships date back to nursery; a childhood’s worth of memories rattle around the house I grew up in. Tearing myself from the world I had built up over the years was never going to be easy, though that isn’t to say it would be impossible.
So here is some advice I have acquired for those struggling with homesickness at university:
• Set yourself milestones
This has been a key coping strategy for me over the past couple of months. A thirteen-week term seems much less daunting when punctuated with flashes of familiarity: book yourself a weekend at home, visit a school friend at another university or keep in mind the imminence of reading week or the holidays. I understand that this may be difficult for international students or those who live further away, though even having something going on here can be a huge help, be it a cinema trip, night out or visit to a nearby place. Always have something to look forward to.
• Make your room feel like home
Halls rooms can be miserable if left impersonal, so make the most of your noticeboard space and decorate with photographs, posters or postcards of things that interest you or make you smile.
• Keep relationships with those from back home alive
If I am honest, I wouldn’t still be at university if it weren’t for my family and friends from home. On days where I have questioned whether I want to be here they have been at the other end of the phone or online messenger to calm me down, cheer me up and offer their words of wisdom. No matter how many friends you meet here, keeping in touch will always be hugely important – especially when it come to parents and siblings who too are coping with a change of living situation without you there.
• Stay occupied
This is something you will probably hear over and over when it comes to settling in, though this is because it really is effective. Get out of your room and do something, even if it’s just cooking a meal with your flatmate and catching up on each other’s days. Keeping your mind engaged on things and people other than yourself is a great help when missing home.
• Take care of yourself
Getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet is difficult as a student but it is important to try. Establishing yourself in a new place takes a lot of energy and it is not best to approach it feeling lethargic or unwell (though even the most robust amongst us contract freshers’ flu at some point…)
• Don’t expect too much of university life
This might sound like a negative or discouraging thing to say, but it is vital to bear in mind that university life is just that: life. There will be inevitable bad days, moments of stress and doubt, arguments and discomfort to counteract the high of new experiences and opportunities. It is easy to feel isolated or guilty when being reminded from everywhere you look that you should be having the time of your life every hour of every day, and accepting that this is next to impossible can make an enormous difference to how you adjust.
• And finally…don’t beat yourself up for being homesick
Any change takes some getting used to and feeling frustrated or ashamed of your reaction to it is not going to be of any help. Remember that in starting university you have most likely moved to a new place miles from all that you are used to and anyone who knows or loves you, and this is tough. It is tough, and you are doing great.