Embracing the Inevitable: Homesickness at University

Blog 2

Being homesick is horrible. Lying on your bed, weeping into your pillow, and almost like a toddler, crying just wanting to see the presence of your parents. You feel overwhelmed, lost and alone.

I have tried my best to make this post as concise as possible. But as I expressed my feelings and advice, there is just so much. So I have split this article into two sections: the first about my experience and a general background to homesickness, and section two dedicated wholly to advice, hints and tips.

To say that everyone at university gets homesick would be misleading. But it’s a good estimate to say that the vast majority of people do. After writing my first blog and discussing people’s individual experiences and so-forth, it surprised me that nearly everyone I spoke to (bar one or two) has felt homesick either over their current university experience, or with hindsight when looking back over their degree. You are not alone in feeling how you are.

 

SECTION ONE: My Experience of Homesickness and a General Background

The easiness of home life for me was never fully exposed until the second week of university when I realised that: 1), after much resistance, I had to do washing, and; 2) I’m just bloody fed up of attempting to be good at cooking food (something, I can assure you, I’m shit at – pasta and pasta sauce and microwaves are my only specialties, plus the whacking of a pizza in the oven if I’m feeling adventurous).

Yet this is only one side of being homesick – the home comforts. Whether you like it or not the second half of homesickness, and perhaps the worst, is that you just want a hug and for someone to tell you everything is going to be ok, creating the overarching sense of just wanting to be back home. This may be down to circumstantial reasons, or just simply missing home life and everything that goes with it. It is the home life that provides simplicity and easiness that university seems to strip away; I now truly appreciate my parents like I have never done before.

At home, you have a routine, you have friends, you know what to do. Life is straightforward and easy (to a certain extent). Uni removes this. But don’t dwell on the past. Look to the future, concentrate and enjoy the present. This simple attitude change will help get past the first barrier. But don’t worry if its difficult, or if you feel like you are taking steps backwards.

It is fair to say that I have definitely had over my fair share of feeling homesick, and at least a couple of times in the last few weeks. From experience, homesickness particularly peaks in the middle to the latter end of term, which also coincides with deadlines (yay). Or with the occurrence of a personal grievance or circumstances. Sometimes homesickness will just creep up on you for no apparent reason. So if you feel like any of this, you’re not alone.

Perhaps the worst time for me personally was during my first semester exams. To be honest, I cried pretty much every day, morning and night. Everyone morning I would phone my parents, head off to revise full of motivation, sit down at the in the library and like a sailing boat on a windless day, all motivation and drive would disappear. Worry – procrastinate – completion of little work – regret – cry – repeat was pretty much my routine during exams.

What was so strange for me was that I had never felt like that before. Prior to university I was incredibly laid back, even with the presence of exams and coursework. With hindsight there was two reasons for this dramatic shift in the presence of stress. Firstly, I was putting too much pressure on myself, which ultimately had nothing but a negative impact. As I mentioned in my last blog, the impact was similar to that when I aimed for a first. Don’t get me wrong, it’s vital to be under pressure but not so much that you become ill and explode in tears to your mum over the phone because the radiator was making a subtle background noise (true story, ridiculous I know).

Secondly, and most significantly, for it exacerbated the aforementioned factor, was that I was just incredibly homesick. Being out of my depth back at uni after finishing a relaxing holiday of four weeks, reminding me of the simplicity and luxury of home life, was tough. After one week of uni, I was ready to go home.

—–

What is so strange about homesickness is that in the last week, especially when constructing my last blog post and the beginning of this one, was I felt settled and really believed that my new chapter had properly commenced. I felt ready to move on, leave all what I had behind and make a new life for myself. Yet, this week that motivation has seemed to evaporated, yet not disappeared. As I am now editing this blog my positivity returns. It’s hard to let go of the past, but as will be discussed later, it is so important that you move on. In simpler talk, and really the main point of this paragraph, is that homesickness, like positivity, fluctuates considerably. Don’t be so harsh on yourself if you feel have taken a step backwards. Just look to the future. I can honestly see myself staying in Leeds after university, I love it here, but I still have times, like at times this week, when I just want to go home.

So, with all that in mind then, I have devised some coping mechanisms, that personally worked for me, to help guide you out of negativity and feeling down. Homesickness leads mainly to four things: anxiety, loneliness, isolation, therefore resulting in mild depression, and getting out of this trap is hard.

 

SECTION TWO: Advice, Hints and Tips

Tip One

In the first semester of year one, if possible do not go home (with the only exception being if you have a reading week). Yes, forcing yourself not to return home is horrible and will result in tears and pain, but I cannot emphasise enough how beneficial this will turn out to be in the long term. It’s a crash course to settlisation (yes, that is not a word). If you feel homesick the worse thing to do is to return home, it will only make enhance your emotions and remove everything you have already achieved. By all means, your parents can come up and visit you as many times as required, but do not go home.

Not going home will force you to explore, make friends and overall improve your university life for the present and the future. In basic terms, make the most of the first semester to explore, find a core group of friends, so you can go out and enjoy the second.

Tip Two

The best cure by far is busyness. Don’t do what I did, sitting at home, alone, feeling sorry for myself. Yes, like I always say, it’s ok to feel rock bottom, however the only way to improve is get out there. I know this particular piece of advice is quite harsh and hard hitting, but it’s so important. I spent a good week or so just staying in my room every evening and heavens above it was horrible. I did it at the beginning of term, during exams, and briefly during my five-essay marathon. I cried, I wept, I wanted to go home. But now in semester two, I am out all the time. Literally. And my university experience has been transformed.

I hate being alone, so for me I have to busy myself. As of yet, in semester two, I’ve had something on every evening for over three weeks (as I write this blog). Yes this isn’t normal, far from it. The nights I’m usually free have been filled up due to different events such as Mum’s birthday weekends, university friends birthdays and uni friends returning home to Europe etc. The point I’m making is that busyness will help you settle.

This is exponentially more difficult at the beginning of uni. You have just started and you know literally no-one. As difficult as it is, get out there. Go to societies. Busyness is the cure to settling in and reducing homesickness. Go with your flat, go with a neighbour, or even go by yourself – just get out and explore. Uni only happens once so make the most of it.

Tip Three

Stay on top of your work, but don’t let your social life suffer because of it. Yes, you might have some seminar work due in a couple of days, but don’t turn something down because of it. If you do this all the time – like I did – it leads to nothing but isolation and further procrastination. Have evenings off, work in the day. Have something to look forward to, whether it be going out on the sesh or going to a friends to watch a movie (I personally prefer the latter).

Staying on top of your work doesn’t just allow you to enjoy yourself, but will in itself reduce homesickness. The times where homesickness peaks for me, and indeed for most others, is during times of essays, increasing further if I’m behind. Get it done in the day, enjoy the evening.

There is a vicious cycle: cancel plans for evening – loneliness and isolation – homesickness – procrastination the following day – cancel plans – repeat. Having plans for the evening will make you more productive in the day. Get your work done and have something to look forward to in the evening.

Tip Four

Organise events to aim for and put things into perspective. Having something to look forward to will help you get through the difficult days, and make you more productive during the week. This will help you get out of the cycle listed above.

One piece of advice my mother gave to me was a wall chart. On it I write when I’m going home, what I have on at the weekends, any special events like Birthday’s etc. and when the holidays are. I also put essay deadlines in red on, helping my organisational skills. This will help you put things in perspective and help you to look forward to events, giving you something to aim for.

On that note, personalise your room! Make it more like home!

Tip Five

If you do have an evening free, relax, maybe phone home/friends or watch a light hearted feel good movie, or just something that you enjoy. Pop next door, socialise with your flat. If you do not get on with your flat members, that’s ok, you’re certainly not alone. Don’t do what I did and sit, do nothing, and then feel sorry for yourself. Not only is this horrible, but it’s detrimental in your university journey and prevents you getting out of the cycle of homesickness. Use your power to solve this problem, with the help of others if needs be (that’s ok too).

Tip Six

After a distressed call on the phone to my Aunty the other day, I learnt what was the true source of my homesickness. The method I devised to cope was: don’t dwell on the past, concentrate on the present and aim for the future. Yes, I say this a lot but it’s true. When I feel most homesick is when I look back at Year 13 and the summer holidays. I loved upper sixth: I had the best set of friends anyone could ask for, a girlfriend, work was (relativity) straightforward and manageable, I had a job providing a stable income, as opposed to spend, spend, spend. I just loved my situation. At university, most, if not all of this, evaporates. Your friends are on their own adventures, you may or may not have split up with your partner, and thirdly the work does go up a gear. It is when I crave to have this returned is when I feel most upset.

It sounds harsh, but learn to let go. Yes, stay in touch with your friends (I do because they’re bloody amazing), but go out there and make new friends, and maybe if something happens, a partner. It’s important to make friends that will also stay with you for life. As my Aunty said, in life you ultimately have to move on no matter how hard this may be. Letting go is the first step of this. It’s hard to accept that your taking on a new chapter, but once you do and get out there, it is highly beneficial and is the key to enjoying your university life. What is the point of being at university and always looking forward to go home? You’re at university! It only happens once! Go out and enjoy yourself, live in the moment and find another bunch of friends that will you retain for the rest of your life. Yes this is difficult, but however you feel, you are not alone.

Don’t dwell on the past, aim for the future, concentrate on the present.

Tip Seven

Speak to people! Whether it be boyfriends or girlfriends, mums or dads, friends or acquaintances. Being homesickness is not a sign of weakness. You’re not alone.

Personally, I spoke to my parents, whom gave amazing advice and filled me with spirit. I also talked to my cousins, both university graduates, and it was so amazing to speak to people who felt the exact same as you. Speak to friends, or other members of your family, or even a counsellor. Everyone is there to help and to support you. You are not alone and it’s completely normal to feel how you are.

 

But it’s bloody difficult…

I agree, the above is far easier said than done. If anyone would have told me the majority of the tips shown above either in the whole of semester one or even the beginning of semester two, I merely would have replied, ‘you don’t understand!’, ‘you don’t know what it’s like to feel this shit!’. The amounts of times my parents would tell me these tips I would just get cross and say that it’s not that easy. But they’re right. Get out there and busy yourself. Comply with these tips. Things will get better, it may take days, it may take the whole year, but just remember there are so many people out there who feel the same, and there are so many people who you can speak to and discuss how you’re feeling. Moving away from home and what you know is f***ing hard. Stay positive, it gets better, promise.

Thanks for the read,

Jacob

 

Useful websites

Some other hints and tips written much more eloquently then what I have just incoherently written down!

Oli Gibbons, ‘7 Tips for Coping with Homesickness at University’, Student Life https://www.whatuni.com/advice/student-life/coping-with-homesickness-at-university/48326/

Kea Kgomongwe, ‘9 Ways to Deal with Homesickness’, Save the Student http://www.savethestudent.org/international-students/tips-to-deal-with-home-sickness.html

 

 

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