At long last, the world is beginning to open up again. Colleges are resuming in-person lectures, study abroad programmes are being kickstarted, and waking up for a 9 a.m. no longer simply involves rolling out of bed in time to make a coffee and shrug on a hoodie over your pyjamas.
While this is certainly good news for most, it does reopen the issue that those just entering college life have managed to avoid during the pandemic: living away from home. Whether you are moving to a different county or embarking to an entirely new continent, your first slice of independent living can prove daunting. Most of us arrive in our new location friendless and overwhelmed, and find that as our college schedule begins to mount we have none of our familiar faces to turn to. This intense feeling of alienation can lead to serious bouts of homesickness.
The term homesickness is one that is often thrown around, but it’s precise nature as a real mental health phenomenon is often overlooked. Defined as a feeling of emotional distress, its primary causes include factors such disruption to lifestyle, cultural distance, difficulty adapting and feelings of unbelonging. Its symptoms are varied. You might lose your appetite, have difficulty falling asleep, or find yourself feeling unsettled and anxious. On an even more serious level, it can also lead to depression.
So how do we combat it?
While different websites will suggest a plethora of journal-related activities to do, from my own experiences of studying on Erasmus in the Netherlands – a country where Irish humour translates about as well as their etymologically dubious Sinterklaas tradition (just look it up) – getting over homesickness involves three core steps.
First? Get involved.
Join societies, student events, introductory meet-ups. Get to know your roommates. Attend all of your lectures, maybe even try to talk to the person next to you. Don’t get caught up in feelings of self-consciousness, or start obsessing over not knowing anyone. This is the time of your life to shed all of the convoluted social entanglements of secondary school and to realise that absolutely nobody cares. The more you involve yourself in whatever institution you’re studying in, the busier you’ll be, the more people you’re going to meet and the less lonely you’re going to feel.
Step number two: stay in touch.
While it’s not a good idea to cling to old friendships and family members to the detriment of making new connections, scheduling regular Facetime calls, or even keeping up through text regularly can help remind you that no matter where you are, you’re never really alone. Friends and family can provide valuable words of encouragement when it comes to putting yourself out there and making new friends. They can tell you that, yes, it is okay to go to the society pub quiz alone, and no, you’re not a sad weirdo for doing so.
And the last and perhaps most important thing: accept it.
Remember that feeling homesick when moving to a new place is perfectly normal. You probably will spend a few Friday nights bundled up in a blanket, watching Netflix forlornly as you wonder why you’re the only person on the planet having a rubbish time in college. But the most important thing is to view everything as part of its whole. This period of time is incredibly exciting. It is your first taste of true independence, a modern-day odyssey, where all of your familiar structures are pulled away and it is up to you to form your own path – and in turn, your own person. That is bound to come with a little insecurity.