Dealing with homesickness

by Alix Leonard

Hi there! I’m Alix, one of your Digital Content Ambassadors this year. As the days get shorter and colder (and the weather gets… miserable, for lack of better words), I always find the period between November and February to be the toughest of the year. So, I thought I’d share some tips I’ve learnt along the way to deal with homesickness, which I hope some of you might find useful!

This is my third year living in Lancaster and, as an international student, I don’t get to go home or see family very often – so I’ve had my fair share of homesickness. Living in halls in my first year meant that the week felt too busy to do anything, and then campus became much quieter on weekends. One extreme to the other. And with my friends from home and family being so far away, I know it’s hard to organise a catch-up or get some comfort when you’re feeling low.

This is something that isn’t really talked about enough – and I’ve known a few people who have dropped out of University because of this. Though there might be other reasons for it, in most cases it is preventable; I was close to dropping out myself in first year, but found some coping mechanisms to help me persevere, and find ways to enjoy my time here (despite the cold!).

1. Don’t spend too much time in your room

I know. It’s cold, and the last thing you want is to spend time outside freezing yourself to the bone. I still get moments where all I want to do is hibernate. But as tempting as it is to curl up in bed with a hot drink and Netflix distracting you from your to-do list, staying in too much will only make you feel worse. Being isolated, no matter how cosy you are, can make you feel more homesick because it gives you more time to mull over the things you miss from home.

So my advice would be to organise day trips (whether it be into the city, to the lakes, or even to the library), make yourself go to that social event, or ask your flatmates if they fancy a walk outside – all of these small things will take your mind off homesickness.

2. Home comforts!

OK, so not all of us arrived at University wanting to hoard all of our old rooms with us. That was something I struggled with, because I wanted to start afresh, and didn’t want to get too sentimental looking at things from home. But the longer I was in Lancaster, the more I realised the importance of having home comforts with me. This can range from photographs to stuffed toys of small knick-knacks from your room. You could even ask your parents if they could send you a home recipe for you to whip up in the kitchen – all these little things will really help in the long-run, and make you feel at home away from home.

Williamson park, Lancaster

3. Talk to your close ones regularly – but keep it scheduled

Something that really helped for me was to set a specific time during the week where I would sit down and FaceTime my mum. Being able to let go, tell her about my week, and ask for advice was something that was incredibly valuable, and an hour I looked forward to every week. But something I found was that the more I called, the more homesick I’d feel – and I know that this is the case for quite a few people. So my advice would be to keep it to once a week, so you have a lot to talk about, but enough to feel connected to your close ones. Unless there’s an emergency of course! Once a week worked fine for me; it all depends on you, your circumstances, and how often you feel you need to connect yourself back home. But it’s important to set healthy boundaries and not get too caught up with what you think you’re ‘missing out on’.

A neon light that reads - Enjoy it all

4. Stay positive

I remember a real turning point for me at University was coming back from holidays in my first year, with a fixed intention on making the most of my time in Lancaster. Of course, this can be a lot easier said than done – but I personally found that setting yourself clear objectives and maintaining a positive mindset really helped. And these goals don’t have to be very ambitious. For me, it was only to ‘do at least one social thing per day’. By ‘social’, I just meant talking to people, going outside for a walk with someone, or going for a quick coffee with a friend before or after a lecture – that’s how bad my isolation got! But it’s important to wait out the storm and persist – and taking small steps by focusing on all the positive moments is honestly very helpful.

My final tip for this: try to make a list of good things that happened throughout the week, and read over them when you’re feeling low. This really helps to make you realise how far you’ve come, how much you’ve accomplished by yourself, and validates every small moment that made your days better.

5. Be kind to yourself

Last but not least, remember to give yourself time. Despite everyone looking like they settle in relatively easily, it’s probably all just as bad for them too. And if not, keep in mind that different people settle in at different rates. So you haven’t made your new best friends in the first term – that’s fine! For me, it took almost a year to finally settle with a group I felt happy with. It’s so important to give yourself time for these things and to not be hard on yourself.

Keep your expectations realistic, and, if you feel you need to, look into counselling, chat with your mentors or student welfare, and seize every small opportunity to discuss how you’re feeling. I can’t stress how important it is to be open about what you’re going through and to stay emotionally open. There is support out there – you’re not alone

Students sitting in front of disco lights