University Survival Guide: The Homesick Edition

Written by Ava Moore Hobbis

Illustrated by Ruby Hinchliffe

You’ve done it. You’ve written and submitted every essay. You’ve studied more than you ever thought was humanly possible. You’ve skipped several lunches to sit through various society meetings, all to beef out and tidy up your CV. The exams have been sat. You’re off to university. Or as I now call it, college.

My journey to university in New York City (NYC) was a strange one. I type this sitting in my sophomore dorm, or first year halls as we call it here, in downtown Manhattan with a symphony of sirens and shouting booming beneath me on Third Avenue.

Having no inclination to go to college, I ended up here merely by accident. In what can only be described as a dream, I applied on a whim and somehow secured a scholarship. Months later I got on a plane to New York, somewhere I’d never been before.

Safe to say, it was a lot.

My freshman (first) year was absolutely a year of processing. A total dreamscape for artists and an urban whirlpool all at once, NYC is a hard place to be. What nobody tells you about the culture shock is the incessancy of it.

Homesickness lurked at every corner. Once, after walking into a grocery store to buy a sweet potato at 11pm, I found the oh so British McVitie’s Chocolate Digestives hidden on a shelf and cried in the bread aisle to myself.

A sight for sore eyes indeed. I missed the UK. I missed my family. I was constantly reminded of what I thought was my lack of belonging whenever I spoke in my British accent. This is a novelty which never fails to grow old with my US peers, who look back with surprise and ask the inevitable question “Oh my GOD are you British?!?”.

Desperation to be at home pulsated constantly. I didn’t want a grilled cheese, I wanted a Marmite toastie. I was thrilled when I got to go home for what they call here ‘winter break’ after four months of total physical and mental discombobulation.

I found everything just as I had left it. My mum and dad still sat down to watch Made in Chelsea religiously each week and Twinings hadn’t changed the recipe of its Earl Grey teabags yet. 

Except, something else had changed. It was me. I was different. I had grown. The world had opened up for me.

It was the silly things I noticed at first. Now I ordered “skim” lattes instead of “skinny” ones. Slang words such as “sketchy” and “wack” had replaced “dodgy” and “mad”. All my friends in the UK smoked cigarettes whereas I had been coughing through clouds of Juul smoke whenever I exited my university library. When I went to buy blueberries from Tesco at 6pm on a Sunday, I was disgusted to find it closed. 6pm?! In Manhattan we have delis open 24/7. My mum rolled her eyes. 

Now, in my sophomore (second) year, I have never felt more put together. I have the superpower of tapping into two distinctive continental dynamics. I am so stupidly fortunate and grateful to have lived in two of the world’s greatest cities, and to be expanding my worldview by studying in one of the world’s epicenters for professors.

But there are still times when longing for the UK takes hold, which is why I’ve compiled a little list here to help you navigate the despair that homesickness brings and the dysphoria of being away from the familiar for the first time:

Homesickness comes in waves … 

… and just like a wave, it will break and wean away. When those moments of sheer grief take hold, don’t panic. Home still exists. Home is still there. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, and a new home is opening up for you where you are – you just need to go and seize it. When you think you need something that is only available from what is familiar, I can guarantee you there is something new, exciting and just as comforting waiting to be discovered in your new place. Go and find it!

Get off your phone!

While I spent my first year chained to my iPhone in an attempt to make up for the five hour time difference between myself and my family, I can safely say it made me feel worse. I would strongly advise you to put down your phone and get off social media.

Don’t get me wrong – keep in contact with your old friends. But don’t let your old life eclipse your brand-new experience. University starts as a solo adventure, and your ability to look up and keep your eyes ahead will save you from tripping. Your friends will still love you. There’s no life you’re missing out more on than your own if you don’t bin that phone once in a while.

Univarsity terms are much shorter than you think

Each day at university is long. I get into bed at the end of each day and feel like 8am Ava knew nothing about life compared to 11pm Ava who tucks herself in at night.

The term will whip around faster than you can blink. From studying to making new friends to deadlines to extra-curriculars to a brand new city, so much will pass the time so be sure to throw yourself into it all. You’ll be on a plane or a train home soon, so embrace each moment and make the most of every semester or term.

Try and learn as much about the new culture you’re in as you can 

When I’d feel most homesick, all I’d want to do is curl up on my own and watch The Great British Bake-Off with a mug of tea resting in my hands. Wallow as much as you need, but also try and turn that on its head.

Focus on the forward. Go for a walk. Find a new coffee shop. I giggled through almost all of The Office US with my American roommates last year. Doesn’t that make ME an American then? Still a work in progress…

Don’t be hard on yourself and TALK TO SOMEONE

Talk through your feelings. Find a friend you trust and who can comfort you. Let out all of that emotion. Find a friend from home if there isn’t one right in front of you!

The slightest note of a British accent which wasn’t mine encouraged me to strike up conversations with people in movie theaters, in queues, in elevators. A little piece of home is medicinal, and food for the soul. You’ll be surprised at the degree of Britishness you bring out in others too. I’ve influenced my Floridian roommate to the point where “oh bloody hell” has become part of her vernacular. Probably one my finest accomplishments. 

So with my list at an end, all I can say now is that you’re doing great. Everything is happening as it should. Just take it easy on yourself, and one day, maybe you too will be writing a list of advice for the Internet, rolling your eyes at the naïveté of six-month-younger You and wishing you could go back to tell them it’s all going to be ok. Good luck!

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