Saturday 6 January 2018

Homeless Homesickness

Elise writes about how she manages home sickness at university. 

- Elise Jackson

Before I came to university, I can only remember experiencing homesickness once. It was a week-long residential trip at an activities centre and I was 10 years old. So, getting to university and feeling that feeling again was not only a throwback, but extremely disconcerting.

My parents have always let me be independent. They not only allowed, but encouraged me to socialise, to travel, to have new experiences. I think this is why I never got homesick – I was raised to be self sufficient and to find comfort in meeting people. University, then, should have been a breeze.
Flash-forward to summer 2015. Life goes topsy-turvy. Long story short, we had a death in the family, my mum and step-dad moved out of my childhood home to somewhere half-way across the country, I got in to the University of Nottingham and my friends got in to places all over the country. Within the space of a few months, my life was completely displaced.

As I mentioned, this shouldn’t really have been a problem for me. Aside from the grieving, everything else was well within my emotional capabilities and comfort zone. I love new places and new people! But I hadn’t taken one thing into account: I didn’t have a home anymore. The place I knew as home – the house, the bedroom, the walk into school – didn’t exist anymore. Someone else lived there now, and we knew no one in our new village miles away from a train station.

Homesickness is horrible. But when that option to go home and quell the sickness isn’t there anymore, it becomes something else entirely. Learning to manage that feeling was one of the hardest parts of coming to uni, and one of the achievements I’m most proud of.

So, how do you deal with homesickness when you don’t really have a home anymore? Step one, don’t say you don’t have a home. Instead, think of it like you have several new ones! You have where your parents live, where your friends live, and now, where you live with all these lovely new people. Count your bedrooms – what kid wouldn’t be psyched to learn that one day they would have 3 bedrooms to their name?

Step two, make it comfy. We all know uni halls can be gross and smelly and damp, but in my opinion, there’s nothing some good soft furnishings can’t fix. I got a thick old mattress topper for my uni/camping bed, with a fluffy duvet, blankets and several cushions. I strung up pictures, fairy lights, and put net curtains over my window to make it all feel a bit cosier. My room was (and remained to be in my new houses), the comfiest room of all. Not only will this make you feel more chill, it will make people want to be in your room for cuddles all the damn time, which is a great distraction.

Step three, make new memories. One of the things I did in first year which changed the game completely was have my friends to my new house in Norfolk. As soon as I did that, I went from feeling entirely isolated there to absolutely loving it. After a Christmas, a couple of summers and that wonderful mini-holiday with my friends, that new house has become more of a home for me than my old one had felt like for many years.

And lastly, let go. I once joked with a close friend before that I was over-attached to locations. He told me that I wasn’t attached to the places, I was just attached to the memories and the people I loved that populated them. He’s right – home isn’t a place, it’s people. Visiting friends at different unis showed me this – they’re in an alien city in some strange, draughty house but just being with people you love can make any grotty student haunt feel like home.

Build a home in the friends around you. They’ll be doing the same in you. Once I did that, the homesickness completely dissipated. Now, the idea of coming home means people. It means I wake up with my home; I have breakfast with my home; I go to lectures with my home. It also means that, no matter what, I can pick up the phone and hear home in the voice of any friend, any family member. Home is now something I carry with me, everywhere.

Hello! I'm Elise. I'm currently in my final year studying English Language and Literature at the University of Nottingham. My writings for Student Minds will range from pieces about depression and DPD to coping with loss, bereavement and change during your studies - all the while remaining mindful and getting the most out of university life. Thanks for reading!

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