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THE UK: Once you arrive

‘When my friends go home... I pretend that I’ve gone home as well’: Coping with homesickness

How do you deal with homesickness when you’re an international student and your friends have gone home for the weekend/holidays? Our blogger Emilia, currently an international student in the UK at the University of Bristol, shares her own

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Homesickness is one of the biggest hurdles for international students to overcome - it's a big reason why many decide not to pursue study abroad (which is a shame). Everyone feels homesick at some point, even domestic students who you'll meet. Emilia talks about her experiences missing home and how she combatted it...


‘As an international student, going home frequently becomes a taboo topic amongst friends. Your housemate who lives in London will moan about perpetual traffic on the M5 — but wait!  You have to get to the airport. That domestic student who comes from another side of the country bought an expensive plane ticket back, but it didn’t cost anywhere near as much as your flight home! Even a simple weekend trip home inspires hushed tones in your presence so as not to hurt your feelings.


During my time at university I’ve learnt that whether you go home or not is both a big deal and not at all. Yes, your plane ticket costs a pretty penny and the logistics of getting to the airport can be exhausting. You probably can’t go home as much as you’d like. You know this and you expect this: that’s why it’s not that big of a deal.


(May I just take this moment to say props to anyone who has to take two planes home or has a double digit flight time? I’m impressed.)


The surprising part is how frequently some UK domestic students go home during term time. With few long weekends and barely a reading week to be had, it would make sense for students to spend the majority of their weekends at university — most likely in the library. Many do, but many go home. What do you do when you’re left with a near-empty corridor in halls? Or when you find yourself alone in your house? It’s an experience I’ve had more times than I expected.


The first time it happened was halfway through fall term my first year. All of a sudden everyone began to feel homesick. Only a couple of friends remained. It was Bonfire night, so we found some cheap fireworks and celebrated. We had fun, but it felt as if the university bubble had deflated partially. The energy that charged the dining hall disappeared. We began to see our new world differently. We saw uncomfortable chairs, no couches and scratchy rugs. We saw small beds, movies on laptop screens and undercooked jacket potatoes. Removing the crowds removed university life’s exciting “newness”.


I learnt that I could take mini-breaks as well. Sometimes this means leaving Bristol for a weekend and other times it means having a pretend holiday within the city.  When my friends go home, I feel a new freedom to set a schedule completely my own, free from social obligations. I pretend that I’ve gone home as well.


Dealing with the times when friends leave requires a positive attitude. If I was in America, would I go home once a month? Maybe, but that’s not necessarily what’s best for me. Living abroad forces you to become more self-reliant. The moments when you’re alone require you to perceive that self-reliance as a comfort. We don’t always need the comforts of home to feel like we belong.


Of course, having a good support system at your university makes it easier to retain a sense of home. Fortunately, my department is small and close-knit enough that I have clear academic roots. Our study spaces have become my second living room. 


I remember the first year rooms of some friends who had attempted to move their large childhood rooms into the small space allotted by halls. They felt cramped with stuff and outdated memories. As an international student with baggage limits to take into consideration, it is nearly impossible to recreate your bedroom from home. Rather, you’re free to reinvent what ‘home’ means. You’re free to discover what it means in this moment.


Going to university abroad doesn’t mean that you’re forced to give up ‘home’.  Rather, it requires you to discover a new sense of home and belonging in the middle of studies, friendships and obligations. This new definition is one you can take with you, allowing you to transport your home to wherever you go.


Note: If homesickness really has got you down, do not hesitate to seek out your university’s counselling service. Most have drop-in hours during which you do not have to make an appointment. Even if you’re unsure about who to talk to, there is always support available.’



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About Author

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Emilia Morano-Williams is a fourth year student of Italian at the University of Bristol, though she comes from New York. When not studying, she writes a travel/coffee blog, works as an international ambassador for her university and works as social media manager for Sweet Lemon Media.