In your few first weeks at university, you’re surrounded by confident, outgoing people who are taking everything in their stride. At least that’s how it may seem... But if you’re struggling, the odds are you won’t be the only one longing for the green grass of home. And the good news is, there are plenty of things you can do to feel happier and more settled in your new adventure
Starting university is an exciting time for many people, as they move away from home and take their first steps towards a dream career. However, you might be surprised to learn that a lot of these people will also be feeling homesick – a condition that the National Union of Students estimate affects between 50–70% of new students at some point.
If you find yourself pining for home comforts, struggling to eat and sleep, frequently crying, or doubting whether you should even be at university, you won’t be the only one. While this can be distressing, particularly when you feel you should be enjoying yourself, there are steps you can take to help manage these feelings.
1. Go easy on yourself
Remind yourself that throughout your life, you’ve dealt with transitions before and will do so again. This process is often necessary to make way for positive change, even if it’s difficult at the time. Adjusting to student life brings its own academic, financial and social challenges, which are made easier if you know what to expect.
Recognising this, the Student Minds charity recently launched two guides — Know Before You Go, aimed at school and college leavers, and transitions, for current university students — both free to download from their website. Developed with students, they offer advice including how to get along with housemates, manage money, and find support for mental health issues.
2. A home from home
Whether you’re in student halls or private accommodation, this will be your home for the year, and it’s important that you feel relaxed and happy in this space. Small touches like displaying your favourite photos help to personalise your room. And don’t forget a doorstop – it can be tempting to hide away if you’re feeling homesick, but an open door sends the message that you’re approachable and looking to make friends!
At the University of Liverpool, student representatives arrange regular events such as pizza parties and film nights at their halls of residence to help build a sense of community. If something similar is not on offer to you, why not ask flatmates if they fancy giving this a try.
3. Building friendships
Putting time into building friendships is another way to shift the focus from missing home and to keep busy. Freshers’ Week includes a range of social events (enjoyed with and without alcohol), and opportunities to join societies where you can pursue a hobby you enjoyed at home, or have a go at something completely new.
Getting to know people before you leave for uni can help take the pressure off too, so ask if there’s a Facebook group for your course and introduce yourself. Moving in will be that bit easier if you’ve already (virtually) broken the ice. At the University of Birmingham, their Flatmate Finder app links students with their flatmates or coursemates who’ll be living nearby, and users can choose how much personal information they share.
4. Stay in touch
It’s important to stay in touch with friends and family back home – they know you better than anyone and can really help to lift your spirits. Download Skype and you can have face-to-face conversations, free over an internet connection, no matter how far away you are. But give yourself the chance to develop friendships at university too. You could see a call home as a reward for striking up a conversation in class, or joining a student-led volunteering scheme.
Research shows there is a spike in young persons’ rail travel three weeks
into the university term, suggesting a lot of homesick students. While booking a trip home gives you something to look forward to, going too often means you’ll miss out on opportunities to socialise and make friends at uni. Mix it up by asking people to visit you too, and show them the sights of your new town.
5. Seek support
If student life is still a struggle despite your best efforts, speak to someone; as the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. If you would rather speak anonymously, you can call Nightline — a late-night listening service run by students.
University staff are also experienced in supporting homesick students, so visit the wellbeing section of your university’s website for more information. Registering with a GP during your first week will also give you another option for emotional support, if needed.
If your concerns lie around whether the university or course are right for you, schedule an appointment with your personal tutor to talk this through and explore your options. The important thing is to take your time, make use of the resources available, and be kind to yourself.
Lucy Winrow works on the ProtectED project – the first national accreditation scheme for student safety, security and wellbeing at UK universities. Find out more about the project on Twitter @ProtectED_HEI