Adjusting to university life and overcoming homesickness
Having problems with adjusting to university life and feeling homesick can really spoil your first university experience. Turning it from being one of the most exciting are rewarding periods in your life, into something really quite scary and lonely.
In this article you will find ways you can adjust to university life, gain insight into how other students feel about being homesick. Learn the symptoms of homesickness, and find ways of dealing with the anxiety, homesickness or loneliness that you might be feeling right now, or in the months to follow.
Scenario; so here you are, you did all the hard work, got the grades, researched and found the course you want to be on, maybe went through clearing, and finally got into university. You’ve moved into halls or a shared house or flat, you’ve faced the Fresher’s Week hype and you’ve gone through the induction period. You’re ready to start your university course, meet new people, learn new things, and experience full on university life. Well done! That in itself is quite a big deal and something to be celebrated. Then suddenly all the excitement is over, your family have returned home, you’re around new people and everything seems unfamiliar and scary. You’re a little anxious, alone and starting to feel homesick, and university just isn’t what you thought it would be. Does this sound familiar?
The important thing to realise if you’re feeling this way, is that you’re not alone and it’s perfectly normal! The truth is, adjusting to student life and overcoming homesickness takes some longer than others. It’s all part of you experiencing independent living probably the first time ever, and stems from our instinctive need for love, protection and security. These thoughts and feelings will subside.
The symptoms of homesickness
o Continually thinking of home
o A negative outlook
o Lack of concentration
o Decreased motivation
o Changes in appetite
o Unhappiness and depression
o Finding it difficult to cope
o Difficulty in sleeping
Research into students feeling homesick
A study conducted by YouthSight, released in 2013 on behalf of The Nightline Association (a student listening service), revealed that around a third of students feel some kind of homesickness or anxiety throughout their time at university. The research found 75% had personally experienced psychological distress whilst at university: 65% stress, 43% anxiety, loneliness, feelings of not being able to cope. 1/3 had feelings of depression or homesickness and 29% worried about not fitting in. In fact, you’d probably be hard pressed in finding one student that said they were not aware of anyone feeling like this at some point, while at university.
Problems adjusting to university life?
It’s sometimes difficult experiencing new things, moving from your comfort zone where all your loved ones are around you, into a world that may feel quite alien. Not only are you new to university life, but probably for the first time ever you’re having to deal with things you’ve never had to concern yourself with before. Thinks like paying bills, budgeting, shopping, cooking, doing your own washing and cleaning, maybe even getting a job. You might not know your way around campus yet, and you may have found making friends difficult. All this and studying! The good news is that when we go through new experiences that are difficult to deal with, this is when we develop and grow, transitioning from child to adult.
Tips for getting used to University life and dealing with homesickness
I’ve put some advice together for you, so that you can start moving forward. Hopefully making homesickness and worries about fitting in, just a fleeting memory of your student experience.
Visit your Student Union – if you didn’t get chance to attend Fresher’s Week, drop in and see them as soon as you have time. They can get you acquainted with events, groups, doctors, dentists, internal services, transport, areas of interest, NUS student discount cards, promotions and a whole lot more.
Visit your academic library – introduce yourself to your subject Librarian or Information Specialist. They’re not just there to say shush in the quiet study area. Librarians are research specialists and can help you with your research needs, access online-resources and teach you how to evaluate websites. Most academic libraries have workshops and clinics for assignment writing and academic study skills. They can help you to find what you need quickly, so that you use your time effectively, saving you time and stress.
Money management – It may seem great when your student loan comes into your bank account, but have you worked out the costs you’re going to face? Which university cited 10 things you’ll need remember to budget for. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. Budget now!
Get a routine – If you’ve never really had a routine before, now is the time to start putting one in place. They’ll keep you on time, on track, and keep your landlord sweet. Spend an evening each term working out your study and lecture times, assignment writing days, chores, leisure, social activities, bill paying dates and if you’re in private accommodation, recycling and bin collection days!
Visit the university bar – This may seem a little counterproductive when studying, but when you think about it, you're likely to be going to go to a bar at some point, so why not the university bar? The drinks prices are greatly reduced, there’s always lots going on, there’s plenty of opportunities to meet new people and take part in things. This way you can make new friends, and it saves you money that you might be spending in the pricier in town pubs and clubs.
Connect with your universities social media – By doing this you’ll be able to find out what’s going on at your university, connect with other fresher’s and lecturers. Find out about activities and events that interest you, and maybe even find yourself a student job.
Brush up on your culinary skills – Not only will this save you lots of money, but when word gets out you can cook a tasty meal, new friends will suddenly appear, as if by magic. Nice skill to impress with!
Stay in touch – Remember family and friends are only a phone or Skype call away from you. So setup a time to call every couple of days. They can really pick you up, when you’re feeling low. Probably best to call in the evening when they’re back from work. Also it’s more likely that you’ll be feeling homesick in the evening, when no one's around you.
Talk to people about how you’re feeling – Chances are there’s a lot of Fresher’s feeling just the same way as you, maybe even your housemates. By getting out of your room and meeting people you’ll be able to speak to someone. Remember, a problem shared, is a problem halved!
Get plenty of sleep – You may not have thought about the importance of sleep before, but sleep disorders can play havoc with your mental wellbeing, physical and mental performance, mood, behaviours, diet, cognitive skills, as well as a whole host of chronic health problems. In your teens and early 20s you need around 9 hours of good, solid sleep every night, to keep your body and brain functioning to its optimum. Try to find a few minutes to read my guide Sleep Easy: A guide to getting a good night's sleep. You’ll be sleeping peacefully in no time at all.
Healthy eating – Healthy eating can relieve you of negative thoughts and offer clear benefits to your mental wellbeing. Although research is in its infancy, there’s mounting evidence which suggests what we eat affects the function of our brains. See this article published by Community Food and Health (Scotland), ‘Food, mental health and wellbeing’. A word of advice though, speak to your GP before making any changes to your diet.
Get some exercise – All of us know how important it is for our physical and mental health to get regular exercise. It doesn’t have to be much just as long as it’s regular. Just some light, gentle exercise, nothing too extreme. Maybe a routine walk in the park, a bike ride, early morning swim, or 30 minutes in the gym every couple of days.
Give yourself something to look forward to – When you've something to look forward to, you often feel more motivated. It gives you a reason to do things, making life less boring and predictable. Make sure it’s something that you enjoy or excites you.
Remind yourself of home – Bring things on your next visit from home that remind you of home. This could be family and friend photos for your bedside. Also comforters, you know what I mean, that over-loved teddy, or scruffy old favourite jumper, a favourite read. Smells from home are important too, so why not bring back some homemade food favourites back with you.
Give yourself a break – Yes taking regular breaks are important, but what I mean here is don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember this is a huge transition period for you, especially if you’ve been in a secure, supportive home life prior to coming to university. So try to relax a little and let things happen naturally.
Confidential helplines – If you really don’t feel like speaking to friends and family, but still want someone to talk to that offers absolute confidentiality and anonymity. That will be non-judgemental, non-directional and non-advisory, there’s a service called Nightline.ac.uk. Nightline is a student listening service, which opens at night and is ran by trained students for students. Check if there’s a Nightline service at your university. They cover many UK universities, and are accessible via phone, email, Skype or text. Don’t forget you can also contact your student well-being office or your university counsellor.
You now have a few ideas of how to adjust to university life and understand why you may be feeling homesick and lonely, and some great tips to help you deal with it all. Try to remember this is a transition from childhood to adulthood and is an important process for your personal development. You’ll make friends in time, but don’t get too anxious about it, you have a busy year ahead of you.
The very best of luck to you!
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