Before I begin, let's make it clear that homesickness DOESN'T discriminate. Homesickness is a very normal feeling that’ll affect everyone who moves away from home whether it’s to another country, another state, or even living just a few kilometres away from their family.
Cambridge Dictionary defines homesickness as ‘the feeling of being unhappy because of being away from home for a long period’, but to me it's a little bit more complicated than that.
It's complicated because homesickness doesn’t have fixed symptoms for everyone. Sometimes people have homesickness without realising it and because people experience homesickness differently, naturally everyone's way of dealing with it is also different.
So, what does homesickness feel like?
Coming to university and moving away from home (for the first time in their life for most students) is an exciting feeling. The excitement of ‘freedom’ for the first time and wanting to be independent, mixed with the envy from hearing stories of other people’s experiences, is what drives most people to study away from home.
However, the realisation that you've actually moved away from your family, friends, and the place you grew up in only really settles once you’ve actually done it. Clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow says that “homesickness has everything to do with attachment”. He noted that when we feel homesick, we’re feeling insecure or uncomfortable with where we are, physically and emotionally. We’re longing for something that, in our minds, is known, predictable, consistent, and stable.
You may think that homesickness is a weakness for people who are not strong-willed or confident. This is the main reason why most people aren’t open about their feelings. A study done by Skyfactor Mapworks shows that an average of 76% of students face moderate to extreme levels of separation homesickness.
Photo credit: Skyfactor Mapworks
It saddens me to see many who aren’t open enough to talk about it, especially the male gender, simply because it's seen as a sign of weakness or ‘isn’t cool’ to talk about it. This stigma only worsens the situation and can affect their lives, impact their mental health, influence the kind of friends made, and also distract them from being productive — all of which can affect their entire future.
The reality of homesickness is this — it doesn’t require a trigger.
Living away from home makes you miss your family, friends, even your favourite restaurant! Moving into a new accommodation with strangers for housemates can also make you feel out of place, causing you to miss home.
At my former university, I’d trouble fitting in and felt alone, ultimately leading me to drop out. I'd to deal with the feeling of not being able to study abroad or away from home. Eventually, I mustered up the courage to come to Malaysia, where, through my experiences, I was able to better deal with being in a new place and can now comfortably call Malaysia my second home.
Upon coming to Malaysia, the biggest trigger was being alone in a new country and having to make new friends as an introvert. Even when you start being comfortable, talking to your friends back home or those around you who live with their family can be a trigger. Of course, over time, you’ll adapt to the change and a lot of positives will come from the hard times faced when learning to deal with it.
With MCO and the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in working and studying from home, there's even more reason to be homesick especially when you’re in quarantine miles away from your family. If you’re living away from home and are feeling homesick, here's how you can overcome it:
Stay in touch with your family regularly: Although this may seem pretty obvious, it can be a bit tricky. Talking to your family definitely makes you feel better when you really miss them. But between classess, doing assignments, hanging out with friends, your parents working, and then possibly throwing time differences into the mix, you'll find yourself hardly talking to them. On the flip side, talking to them every single minute would be counterproductive as it'd likely increase your homesickness if you get too dependent on them. Finding the right balance between adapting to your life away from home and connecting to the people back home is key.
Make your accommodation as homely as possible: Are you the neat, tidy, and minimalist kind of person or do you plaster the walls with posters and family pictures? Regardless, your room's going to be your home for the next few years so make it your own! When you come back from a long day of classes and assignments, being in a familiar and comfortable environment is key to not feeling sad and alone. Keep things you like around you and you'll adjust in no time.
Reach out to a trusted friend or professional: As much as it may feel lonely, you're NOT going through this alone. If you've a close friend you're comfortable talking to, share it with them. You can also reach out to the Centre of Counselling Services or Taylor’s Connect to speak to professionals who’ll definitely be able to help you through it. If you can handle a few lame jokes, feel free to reach out to me too!
Embrace the change: I'm not saying that you should shut down the homesick feeling, but rather, as you get more and more comfortable in your new environment you'll start to feel a lot better and that’s when your new uni experience will start. Remember that homesickness isn’t a one time thing, you can feel it at different points when you start to miss home. Ultimately, focus on how this change will build you as an individual.
Plan fun stuff for yourself: If you constantly keep yourself occupied and excited with things you really enjoy doing, whether it's your hobby, going out with your friends, working out, or even just eating food you really enjoy (which is one thing you mustn’t miss out on in Malaysia), your mind won't be idle and start to think about missing home. The best part is that you’ll reach a point where you do this out of habit to stay positive and not just to deal with homesickness.
Homesickness is nothing to be ashamed of and always remember that you're not alone. To those of you that've moved away from home and successfully dealt with this, well done and keep it going! To those of you that are going through it, you're not alone, and homesickness doesn’t last forever.
In the words of psychologist Tamar Chansky, “The analogy I always use is a swimming pool. It doesn’t feel good when we get in at first. If we immediately got out, we’d think, "Why do people like swimming pools? This feels awful." But if you stay in, you see that you do adjust and you'd feel good.
Ali Moossajee is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Quantity Surveying (Hons) at Taylor's University. He is the President of the Taylor’s SHINE Ambassadors and Taylor’s Wine & Dine Club, a senior Taylor’s Global Ambassador, a Unibuddy Ambassador, and a permanent crew member with Need to Feed the Need.
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