Have you ever felt anxious, scared, or paralyzed for days, weeks, or months, all because you were separated from your loved ones?
You stare at the phone, waiting for a text, a call, anything that allows you to acknowledge their existence. But you know about the time difference. They’re busy with their own lives. The last few calls went unanswered, and the first few were cut short by them heading out.
You know they love you; after all, they are your parents, your guardians. But your lives no longer follow the same rhythm or routines. You get messages early in the morning and calls in the middle of lectures.
You don’t mind. You’ll just return to your dorm room and stare at a fridge full of junk food, the occasional precooked meal from your local supermarket, and your latest kitchen experiment, as you tried to replicate your favourite dish from home. You try to get some sleep, to shake off that feeling that has been gnawing at your stomach. You twist and turn; your bed is a lot tougher than the one you have at home. The place you wish you were right now.
But who can cure an ailment as serious as homesickness?
I am an introvert, so I thought I could handle loneliness. But I didn’t expect to miss my family so much. Some days were bearable, and I was able to do my work. Other days, all I wanted to do was call them. When I couldn’t, I drowned myself in binge watching shows. Yet I managed to survive the ordeal.
I’m no pre-med student. But after being away from my parents and siblings for two months and living in residence, I’ve compiled a few tips that may numb the pain.
Accept it and keep contact
There is nothing worse than living in denial about how you feel. If anything, pretending that you are okay will only lead you down a dark spiral to more isolation. If your roommates or others in your dorm make fun of you for it, ignore them. Moving away from your parents is a hard transition, especially if you are used to living with them and seeing them every day.
After admitting it to yourself, be honest with your family. Let them know that you love and miss them, instead of keeping your feelings under lock and key. You don’t have to be all mushy about it either. Schedule a call each week to maintain contact, either over the phone, via video calls, or even in person. They are your family, so take the time to hang out with them!
You can also distract yourself. It is okay to miss your family, but being apart for a while is also healthy. The best way to do so is to find friends and study buddies, people you can hang out with. If you are an introvert, don’t worry, there are ways to socialize without going to a giant party, like joining a small study group, having a picnic among friends, and visiting museums — the main idea is to find fun pastimes between studying and classes so that you can overcome the loneliness and homesickness.
There are many ways to distract yourself. They include a good book series, a TV show you need to binge, or going to the movies. My sister and I scheduled a time every day to catch up while watching Stranger Things. Sometimes we were in person with a giant bucket of popcorn between us. Other times we were online on Scener, an app similar to Netflix Party.
You can even take the time to explore campus. After living in residence, I had such an urge to explore Toronto, go places, and try new foods like mochi, Korean hotdogs, and Korean BBQ. Having an agenda each week really helped me adjust to living on my own.
You can also distract yourself by getting lost in productivity — not too much of course, but feeling productive can raise your spirits. Course work is always there for you to do. You can also find other meaningful work opportunities by joining clubs, councils, and organizations.
My roles as the online editor and podcast coordinator of the Innis Herald, a member of three councils, as well as president of the University of Toronto’s Accessibility Awareness Club always keep me busy! I always love a good challenge. The work I do may be rewarding, and it also distracts me from feeling lonely or homesick. I keep my focus on what is in front of me.
Ultimately, I still have hard days. Living away from home made me realize that I am no longer a kid who is floundering about, wondering what her future may hold. Next year, I will be graduating from U of T, and who knows — I might find a job in another city and will have to live by myself.
While it may be a scary time, I’m not worried, because I know how to cope with homesickness. I have friends and family who I can always reach out to. I also have obligations that will keep me busy.
So the next time you come down with the homesickness bug, remember not to be ashamed, to tell those you miss how you feel, and to find other outlets for your energy.
Catherine Dumé is the president of University of Toronto’s Accessibility Awareness Club as well as the online editor of the Innis Herald Newspaper and the producer of the Innis Herald Podcast. At The Varsity, she mainly writes deep dives on disability-related issues, aiming to spread awareness.