If you’ve recently arrived in Australia to start studying but can’t shake that homesick feeling, you’re not alone.
While many students say the opportunity to study overseas is exciting, Australian reports show that homesickness is not only a very common experience for international students once they arrive here, dealing with it is one of the biggest challenges they’ll face.
“It’s common for students to miss everything when they move to a new country to study, from their family and friends to their culture and just their day-to-day lifestyle,” says the Cairnmillar Institute’s Dr Alexa Kambouropoulos, a psychologist with more than 25 years’ experience in the tertiary education sector.
Survey results back up what Kambouropoulos is saying, finding that it’s often the little things about home that international students miss, like the atmosphere of local markets, the sounds of native wildlife, and hearing people talking in their language.
“The other factor at play is loneliness,” says Kambouropoulos. “Students arrive on their own, without any social or support networks. Combined with missing a lot of things about home, that’s really bewildering.”
There are also physical signs that can point to signs of loneliness, such as tiredness, feeling sad, difficultly sleeping and more.
You can learn more about loneliness, including how to better understand and deal with it, by engaging with Medibank’s We Are Lonely resource.
What’s the best way to deal with homesickness? Here are five suggestions.
Explore your surroundings
It might be learning how to navigate the city or being introduced to a particular aspect of university life. Kambouropoulos says if the university you’re enrolled in provides these opportunities, it’s a good idea to take part. “Some universities do this better than others, but if you’re offered the chance to be shown things that will make your day-to-day life easier rather than having to figure it out yourself, do it. This can help your new environment seem less unfamiliar more quickly.”
Finding and enjoying your local park or café and making a conscious effort to look into activities, groups and clubs you can take part in, may also help you feel less homesick.
Try to make friends
Kambouropoulos says meeting new friends is an effective way to feel less isolated in a new country. “And particularly if you’re able to meet and spend time with people who have called Australia home for some time, it’s also a way to learn and become familiar with the local culture.”
Connecting with and talking to other international students who are also experiencing and dealing with homesickness can be helpful, too.
Keep in touch with loved ones
Even though it’s important to create new routines and make new friends, communicating regularly with friends and family back home is important, too. “This will also help you feel less isolated. And, thankfully, being able to make video calls not only makes this easier than ever, but it also helps you to feel more connected to people.”
Give it time
“Homesickness is a little bit like grief in the sense that it’s a shock to begin with, but it does get better with time.” How much time might that take? Everybody is different, so don’t feel as though you should feel better by a certain date. “Some students will settle in really well within the first semester, but for other students it could take a little longer”.
Reach out for help
While feeling homesick is common and will likely get better, Kambouropoulos recommends using the student counselling services at your university. “If you’re not coping or feel like you need some help, reach out sooner than later. It’s a bit like when a car gets a flat tyre – you attend to it, rather than waiting for all four tyres to go flat before doing something about it. So, don’t wait until all the wheels fall off completely before you seek support.”
And remember, if you’re a Medibank or ahm OSHC member, you can also phone the 24/7 Student Health and Support Line for counselling services and more. The service is available 24/7 on 1800 887 283 if you hold Medibank OSHC or 1800 006 745 if you hold ahm OSHC.