A packed suitcase. An empty room. A final cuddle with your pet. A last glance back at your family waving goodbye as you are walking through passport control at the airport: Leaving your home for the very first time to embark on a journey into the unknown can have many faces.
Maybe, you are more excited than nervous to start university, to leave your hometown, and to dive into something still undiscovered. Maybe you are sad to leave behind the people and routines that have shaped your entire life and who you have been with so far. In fact, it does not matter how you feel when you first move out – almost certainly homesickness will eventually sneak up on you and shamelessly kick you in the gut.
London is the third place I have moved to after leaving my hometown, my family, and my oldest friends behind; my first year of undergrad lies a while back now. Today when I reminisce about that first year of leaving home immediately after finishing high school I have to chuckle. All those packet soups I ate instead of learning how to cook, and all the newly gained independence I wasted on being anxious because everyone else seemed to fit in better, and have adulthood figured out! But the temporal distance to that turbulent first year of independence, also allowed me to reflect on some practical ways to deal with that pang of emptiness in my stomach, as soon as the excitement of all the new impressions wane.
Below is a suggested plan of action to manage Homesickness:
No matter how much you may miss your people and your hometown, your pet, and your favorite dishes cooked by a beloved person: moving away from them may be terrifying, but it is also an amazing opportunity. It is a challenge and an invitation to build a home for yourself. And in order to call a place ‘home’, you have to get to know that place, its people, and its vibe. The first step to defeating homesickness therefore, is this one: Get out there and explore!
Learn a new skill. Get the fuzz out of your comfort zone; this will a) distract you from the worst parts of homesickness, and b) help you develop a facet of your personality that you will associate solely with the new place you moved to. Allow yourself to make the most of “starting afresh!” On that note: It’s never too late to join one of Queen Mary’s wonderful societies and connect with people who are passionate about the same things that you are!
Form routines. When I moved to London, I certainly didn’t feel as lost as the first time I moved to a new city. But all three times I packed up all that’s dear to me (at least materialistically), I started feeling at home in the new city as soon as I began to regularly meet up with a new friend for runs, a pre-lecture coffee, or to simply chat for a couple of minutes every day. These new constants in your life will slowly build the structure you need to feel direction and security in the mess that figuring out your new life can be.
Surround yourself with people who never judge and who also inspire you. They are the real gems in the pile of coals that life can sometimes be. When you move away from home after high school, you are about to begin that part of your life in which you start to figure out how to adult (or how to fake it, which is what everyone does), and to find out who you are and what you want in life (scary, but thrilling!).
Bring mementos. A friend told me she stole one of her dad’s pens, and whenever she writes something down with it, she thinks of home. Photos obviously do their part as well; to have your family and friends’ loving faces smile down on you while you’re hammering out your very first college essays on your laptop can be very calming. My personal favorite: a loved one’s hoodie or t-shirt. Nothing will keep you as warm at night as that tactile hug of home.
Stay connected. And by that, I don’t mean obsessively sending a flood of meaningless WhatsApp messages: Barely anything can brighten up my day more than receiving a pep-talk postcard with a feminist icon on it by my thoughtful sister, or that yearly home-baked loaf of coarse rye bread (you won’t understand the hype until you’ve tasted it, trust me) that my grandmother bakes for me and sends to wherever I am during the weeks leading up to Christmas. To send your loved ones in other places around the globe similar little hey-I-miss-you-and-I’m-thinking-of-you’s is a way to feel connected without losing sight of where you actually currently are.
Learn how to cook a meal that reminds you of home, and cook it with your new flat mates and friends! Nothing makes for a better bonding experience than setting off the fire alarm together, and / or (depending on how badly you burned said meal) feasting on self-made food.
Homesickness will never be something you can overcome in its entirety. In fact, as soon as you are lucky enough to find a new home, or make one for yourself (metaphorically speaking, unless, hey, you’re a complete badass and built an actual house), you will only add one more to the list of places you are going to miss when you leave them. And that’s okay. With every new home you are going to miss, you have a place you will love to return to.