When I first arrived in the UK to start my master’s program, the main thing I did not really expect was the homesickness. I had studied abroad before, I had even lived abroad by myself before, and I thought I had the whole “culture shock” thing down. I could even call my family every day if I wanted, and besides that, I knew the UK wasn’t that far different from the US where I grew up.
Let me tell you, though, that homesickness hits you when you least expect it. In my first week in the UK, I remember going to the grocery store and looking for eggs. I looked by all the refrigerated dairy aisles where I expected eggs to be and found nothing. Getting frustrated, I stopped a worker and asked if he could direct me towards the eggs. He responded with typical British sarcasm:
“Well you see, there are these signs at the top of the aisles, so what you’re going to do is walk down until you see the one that says ‘eggs’ and you’ll find them there.”
Trying to shake off the slight feeling of offense, having had been talked to like I was dumb (did I mention culture shock?), I went and found the eggs—which were not refrigerated at all. I suddenly remembered that I had known that before, but it didn’t do much to stop the feeling of tears welling up behind my eyes. What have I done? I thought to myself. I am going to be here in this strange place for a whole year.
Luckily, that feeling didn’t last too long, and I was able to handle non-refrigerated eggs (although I never did find good Ranch dressing at a grocery store in the UK). But no matter where you come from, when you move to the UK as a student you are bound to feel a bit of homesickness now and then. Here are a few ways to mitigate that feeling and enjoy your time there.
First, establish a routine. It turns out, making yourself stick to a routine is just a good tip to be successful in a lot of ways, including being successful at your schoolwork. I found that making a routine helped me feel more comfortable in London. I would take the same route to and from campus, I would go grocery shopping once or twice a week at the same store, I would wake up at a similar time every weekday, and I had certain events I would go to regularly during the week. I’m not saying you shouldn’t branch out of your comfort zone, but when you are feeling particularly homesick it’s nice to have something familiar into which to fall back, even if it’s just a certain crack on the pavement that you jump over on your way to school.
Second, find some familiar food. I know I’ve mentioned food a lot already in this post; it’s because I’ve found that food is actually a much bigger part of your daily life than you may have considered before. Figuring out three meals a day that you like, can eat easily on campus, don’t cost too much, and don’t take too much of your time can be a challenge. Add that to the fact that you want to cry every time you can’t find something you wanted in the grocery store (okay maybe that’s just me), and food can really be a factor in homesickness. The lucky thing is, the UK has a lot of diversity and no matter where you are from, you can probably find a restaurant that serves something you are familiar with or a store that imports foreign food products. Or you can order something you like from Amazon! The world is an amazing place. When you are craving that little piece of home, make it a challenge to go find your favorite candy bar instead of a frustration. And if that doesn’t quite work, find something new in the UK to try; there is a whole world of delicious British food just waiting to delight you.
Third, notice the people around you. The best way to combat missing your family and friends is to find new family and friends! Get to know the other students in your cohort, or the people in your religious group, or your coworkers if you get a part time job. Beyond that, start to notice the people on the street; I remember after winter break I came back to school and on my way home from campus I noticed the man announcing the platforms on the Underground. “If you expected there not to be delays on the Metropolitan line after the holidays,” he said over the loudspeaker, “then you’d be wrong.” It made me laugh, and from then on I noticed him nearly every day I came home on the tube at the same time. I never talked to him, but it made me happy to notice another human being who was living their life the best way they could. There are lonely people everywhere, including international students studying in the UK for the first time, and we can all do our part to make it a little less lonely for each other.
Fourth, stay connected with people at home. About halfway through the school year, I remember thinking to myself that I hadn’t heard from hardly any of my friends back home. I started to be a little offended that none of the people I considered my friends seemed to care about me anymore now that I was halfway across the world. Well, if there’s anything we’ve learned in this COVID-19 world, it’s that long-distance digital communication is possible, but it takes effort from all sides in order to maintain relationships. Chatting with your friends and family online may temporarily make you even more homesick than you already were, but it could also give you that extra boost to help you get out and enjoy the people and places in front of you. What I found in my time studying in the UK is that I didn’t want to take any of the relationships in my life for granted, whether old or brand new.
Last, stay busy! It’s honestly hard to wallow in homesickness if you are filling your days with things to do. Go out to a museum, go on a hike, find some fun clothes at a charity shop, hang out with friends, or maybe even do your schoolwork. You’ll find that you’ve forgotten why you were homesick in the first place.
Studying in the UK is an amazing experience, but day-to-day it can be a challenge. Do what you can to combat the homesickness you will inevitably feel, and in the end, you will be so glad for the opportunity you had to experience life in such a beautiful country.
If you would like to find out more about studying in the UK, please fill out the “Contact an Advisor” form on the bottom or side of this page.
Published Originally: July 2nd, 2020
by Ellyn Cardon, ATP Student Ambassador
Studying at: SOAS University of London