How I beat homesickness, by an international student
It's hard to be at a university far from home – but keeping busy and joining societies can help
"Are you homesick?" my friend asked me recently. To their surprise my response was: "No."
Homesickness, unfortunately, is a real problem among international students in British universities. A recent study conducted by YouthSight and released by the Nightline Association found that a third of all students have felt depressed or homesick at some point in their university lives.
It's understandable too: the academic workload and extra-curricular activities take their toll, and at times you can't help wishing you were back home gobbling homemade food and sleeping among all your stuffed animals. If your home is far away, with oceans between you and your loved ones, it's even harder.
Over the years, I've lived in three Indian cities, the United States, and two countries in the Middle East. Now I've left my family behind and am studying at the University of Edinburgh.
But as a result of all this moving, I've never really been attached to any particular place, so in some ways it's easier for me.
When I first walked into university, I felt independent, like a bird that had flown its nest. But I was also felt terrified at the prospect of being away from my family and friends.
So why am I not really homesick now?
I believe it's because I haven't given myself time. In the six months since starting my course, I've written articles, been involved in societies and done work for my university. My mind has been focused on other things.
Maxwell Greenberg, a third-year politics student and part of the International Students' Action Group at the University of Edinburgh, agrees that staying busy is the best strategy to avoid homesickness.
He says: "I didn't deal with homesickness particularly well and ended up wasting a good bit of my first year being unhappy, instead of taking advantage of the many opportunities university afforded me. But once I started getting involved in various societies and got elected to the student's association, I didn't feel that homesick anymore."
Ann Cheow, another international student at Edinburgh, is more philosophical about her homesickness. She says: "I was homesick for a few weeks in the beginning, but then I realised: no one comes half way across the globe for nothing.
"I told myself that I had a bigger purpose in being here. That missing home was the price I had to pay for the freedom, and the opportunity of an in-depth education."
Some may scoff at my strategy, and consider me to be in denial. But my coping mechanism works for me, and my CV.
Some tips for warding off homesickness as an international student
Check out your university's international students society. Joining could be a way to meet others in a similar position. Talking about feelings of unhappiness with people who are sharing your experiences can be helpful.
- Cooking food that you're used to eating at home with your family can be a fun way to tackle homesickness. Most supermarkets have aisles for "international" foods and introducing your flatmates to a new cuisine can be fun, and remind you of home.
- Do make friends with home students too. Having a broad circle will make you feel supported, and even if there's a language barrier it's good to get out of your comfort zone.
- Spend time with your friends and talk to them about how you're feeling. Many international students say their friends become a surrogate family when they're away from home.
- Schedule specific times for video calls with your family. University can be very hectic, so make time to keep up connections. You want to stay in touch through good times and bad.