Two thirds of students experience homesickness over the first six weeks at university. Impact’s Jenni Chattaway was one of them. In a deeply personal account, she speaks about her journey from Fresher’s Week Blues to student bliss.
Homesickness. How do you tell people this is what you’re suffering from? How do you cope with it? How do you overcome it? If these types of questions are flying through your head during the alleged ‘Best Week of your Lives™’, then take a second.
You are not alone in this. Most people experience homesickness to some degree in the first few days, weeks or even months of university, yet it is an issue that is very rarely spoken about. You are certainly not the first to struggle with the difficulties of leaving behind friends, family and the security of life at home to embark upon your new life as a student.
It was certainly the last thing I expected to feel. I was so excited to go to university, to make new friends, and throw myself into new activities and experiences. I would describe myself as a confident, fun-loving student, and although I’m very close to my family, I never felt dependent on them. But the moment I watched my parents drive away from my new, dingy, weird-smelling student room, I began to feel nervous, sick and terrified.
My first night was a disaster. I met one girl. The next day, I went to registration – on my own, I went to my medical – on my own, and then I walked back to the flat to eat my lunch – on my own. All I remember from the first few days of Fresher’s Week is feeling stressed, uncomfortable and awkward, while my friends from home were telling me their toe-curling ‘LAD Bible’ stories. I phoned my mum every day that week in floods of tears just wanting to talk to her, to tell her about my day, and to have her comfort me.
There is a bright side to this story, though. It got easier. By the end of the first week, I had made friends with the people in the flat next to me. We had some fantastic nights out getting to know each other. I had joined a society and thrown myself into sport. I was thoroughly enjoying my course and had begun to love my university. The main thing that got me through the homesickness was the knowledge of how hard I had worked to get here. It’s easy to forget that the reasons why you are at university will almost always outweigh the reasons to give up.
It is only now, in my third year, and after speaking with many of my peers that I realise I could have told someone what I was going through. The likelihood is, that many of them were going through it too; whatever gender, age, nationality. Hearing from other students helped me realise that this is a common problem:
“It was hard to keep up the endless enthusiasm for meeting new people. I was constantly trying to be breezy and cheerful with uni friends and hall mates, but quite often just wanted to sit in my room and call home. What I didn’t realise was that everyone else was doing exactly the same. Don’t let appearances trick you”.
Another says: “I felt embarrassed and babyish. I tried not to talk about it. “Boys shouldn’t get homesick!” I didn’t talk to any staff, reps or tutors, because I didn’t really realise I could. I thought it was trivial and something to deal with on my own”.
It’s important to remember that you wouldn’t judge a friend for feeling homesick after the massive changes they’ve made in their life, so don’t judge yourself. Right now, take a breath, pat yourself on the back, and keep going. Believe it or not, fairly soon you might find yourself on summer vacation and wishing you were back at university.
How to handle homesickness
If you fear, as I did, that you could be one of the one in five students who drop out of university because of homesickness then the most important things to remember are:
1. Don’t beat yourself up. Being homesick is often a sign that you have a happy, healthy relationship with people back at your home. It is natural to miss your family, your friends, or just your old routines. Don’t be too harsh on yourself for experiencing something that is completely normal and part of most students’ lives.
2. Process your emotions. Give yourself a day here or there to feel sad – but if you find yourself having too many ‘pity days’ in a row, seek help. Talk to friends, talk to someone in the campus counselling centre. Alternatively, phone Nightline.
3. Be patient. You’ve come a long way. You’ve made some major changes in your life – a new city, new lifestyle, new responsibilities, new academic system, new culture. Any of these changes alone is enough to throw someone off.