Settling in to university and coping with homesickness

Starting your university career is an exciting time! Many students will have a good idea of what to expect after seeing friends or relatives embark on their courses. Others will be discovering it all for themselves from scratch. Either way, there is an enormous amount of information to take in and the pace can become hectic at times, with loads on offer socially as well as academically.

Here are some tips to help you through the initial weeks of your first term.

Pace yourself!

Build in some time every day to just chill out rather than bouncing from one event to the next constantly. It is important to get enough sleep, but also to relax with music, the paper, in a hot bath or doing whatever you like doing. Spending time like this will give you time to reflect on your new experiences. You may wish to use it to consider decisions about your course, who to spend time with or what to get involved in.

Expect it to be nerve-wracking, occasionally!

It's not because you’re not doing it right! Remember everybody is finding their feet, however cool and confident they may appear. You are surrounded by people from different backgrounds and of different nationalities, but the one thing everyone has in common is that they are surrounded by strangers and do not want to be rejected! Anxiety at this stage is totally normal and if you don't find your lifetime friends in the first fortnight, you’re not the only one!

Maximise the chances of finding people you get on with by going to things that you know you’ll enjoy, even if your flatmates won't go with you. Don't feel you have to keep in with the crowd at all costs, being a brand new face to everybody has great advantages too! If you have longed to explore different interests or change your image, but not had the chance, now is the time!

When you have made a few friends and found interesting networks to belong to, you will start to feel settled and secure in this new city. Don't beat yourself up if you are not always at ease socially, or if you say or do something you later regret. Learn whatever lesson is there for you, then forget about it and move on.

Don't be pressurised into doing things you don't want to do

Whether it's spending more money than you can afford, using drugs, having sex or even just going out when you're knackered, you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to.

It's also important to avoid risky situations, even if you are having a brilliant time, e.g. not walking home alone at 3am. It’s important for your future that you don't have unprotected sex. If you are sure you are ready to commit to having sex with a partner, make sure you use contraception (for details of where to get free condoms see the Student Health Centre).

Don't bottle up problems

Tackle minor things as they come up, whether it's somebody always ‘borrowing’ your stuff or grabbing you for a gossip when you need to go somewhere. Explain what you want clearly and give people a chance to change before you lose your rag. Ask fellow students or the hall warden for support if you feel someone is behaving badly towards you.

You may have worries to do with your family, your partner or friends. You may have a problem such as depression, panic attacks, an eating disorder or worries about your sexuality. For all of these problems there are people here to help. The Counselling Service, University Chaplains and your Course Tutor are all available. They will listen to you and keep what you say confidential and offer advice if they think you need further help. Remember, you are not alone!

Be organised from the start!

University life demands a high level of self-organisation because you have so much freedom. Thinking about how you divide up your time and getting clear how many hours a week of academic work you need to put in will help you to make the most of your free time.

It is never a good idea to study all the time and miss out on fun opportunities. Equally you need to participate in your course because deadlines are being set and exams are approaching! If you leave all your studying until the last minute you are setting yourself up for exam stress and sleepless nights! Getting the right balance is the key. This balance, however, will differ from person to person and course to course.

Coping with homesickness

For many students this will be the first time you have experienced living away from home for a sustained period and you may find yourself missing family and friends. This is simply because you are naturally attached to familiar people and places. The problem can be compounded further for international students by the culture shock of discovering a new country.

Homesickness often dissolves away naturally in the first few weeks of term as you invest your attention and energy in the new challenges of your course and social life. The University environment can become familiar pretty quickly, which tends to give a sense of calm and control.

Your homesickness may continue if you are struggling to find your niche, or if there are problems at home that you are worrying about. If you still feel homesick after a few weeks, don’t lose confidence that you can adjust to living independently from home.

It's a good idea to put up photos and ring home or even pop home for a visit. You may want your family to visit and see your new base too. Daily phone calls or returning home every weekend, however, may just keep the wound open and deter you from adjusting to university life. Try to reduce phone calls and visits over a few weeks and provide yourself with as many enjoyable distractions as possible.

You may have difficult points, but this is part of the huge transition process that you are in and your mood will lift given a chance. Congratulate yourself for sticking with it! Try to get involved with things that you can talk about when you do ring home, things that your parents, siblings and friends can encourage you in and feel proud of. They probably miss you too and are also going through their own adjustment process.

If you really think you've made the wrong decision...

For a small minority, the first term is a wake-up call! You may begin to feel that you’d like to switch to another course or university. If so, approach Student Support Services or the Admissions Co-ordinator of your preferred course to investigate your options.

You may, however, feel that going to university is wrong for you at this point in your life. You may have come here out of a sense of duty, or from seeing no alternative, but now you’d much rather be working full-time or travelling etc.

This does not mean you are a failure, it just means you want to live another way. Make sure that you talk to your family and friends and remember that the Student Support Services (including Counselling Service) are here to listen and help you work out what to do.

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