By Olivia Hamilton, Second Year Politics and International Relations
The Croft Magazine // Travelling to university for the first time is rarely a seamless transition. Olivia shares an honest account of moving to university and her evolving idea of home.
As an only child, I wasn’t entirely shocked that I started to feel homesick when I first went off to uni. During the first term, in every quiet moment I got, my thoughts would drift to what my home-friends and family might be doing without me. And as I sat in the abyss - also known as a room in University Halls - I wished for a way to snap out of that feeling and accept that my new home was now Bristol.
In retrospect, I wish I could tell my little freshers self that homesickness can actually be an incredibly beneficial thing and not something we should necessarily rush to overcome. When moving or traveling, sometimes your sense of home comes with you, and sometimes It doesn’t. Sitting in the discomfort of homesickness taught me a lot of things about myself (and not just that I had no idea how to use a washing machine) that I wouldn’t have learnt without having to question what ‘home’ really means to me. Especially when ‘home’ is packed into boxes and suitcases and hurtling down the M25.
Sometimes Two Homes Are Better Than One.
Traveling can stir up lots of emotions. The trip that you take on moving day can bring overwhelming nerves, and the fear of not knowing what’s to come can make you doubt yourself. However far the trip to uni takes you from your family and friends, the distance can feel like worlds apart.
When I started at Bristol I had adopted the mindset that once I moved out of my childhood home and into halls, that was it. The way I cried in my room, avoiding meeting my flatmates, you would have thought I'd just been exiled to Siberia - not that I was going home for a roast in a couple of weeks. What I didn’t realise is that going to Uni just adds to your sense of home, it doesn’t replace it. As a settled second year, Bristol now represents for me the freedom and fun that I don’t get to experience at home. After a few months in either place I miss the other. Because I now have two homes, two places where I feel like I belong.
If you’ve had one home for most of your life it can be hard to travel to a place where you have to re-learn the streets and discover your favorite places all over again. Being pulled between two cities is a completely normal feeling, it comes with the territory. Just remember, you shouldn’t act the same way you do on a Wednesday in Gravity at your local country pub. (Or maybe you can) You’ve just got to be yourself and let that shape how you define your sense of home, and not the other way round.
Going Home Isn’t Always The Solution – But It Can Help.
Traveling home for the first time also brought up Its own set of emotions, just like the journey down; nerves and self-doubt had been replaced by pride and self-confidence. But there was still the knowledge of my return ticket looming.
Something is always better when you’re missing it. It’s cliche but it’s true. Don’t get me wrong, coming home from uni for the first time is an unparalleled feeling: a mattress where you can’t feel the springs, food that doesn’t come from the freezer and not everything being drank out of a mug. When I came home from uni for the first time, I didn’t stop crying for 24 hours. I would see a stray hair from my cat or our perfectly working shower and be overcome with such gratitude, my mum thought I was having a breakdown.
But the more often I came home, the more that feeling wore off (and the less I cried). Until one day it was enough to know that if I was having a bad day, I could just think of home, instead of needing to get on a train. You eventually start to realise that it isn’t as good as you make it out to be in your head. You remember that the last time you went back, all your gap year friends were on motorbikes in Vietnam, so you had nothing to do, and someone posted a picture in Steam that gave you serious FOMO. The grass is always greener and all that…
Don’t Feel Guilty About Enjoying Uni And Still Feeling Homesick.
When you tell someone that you’re feeling homesick, a lot of people’s immediate response is to ask what is wrong with your life at uni. Obviously, missing home and feeling like you don’t belong is a lot easier if you hate your course or your flat, or you just haven’t found anyone you gel with like your school mates. But sometimes nothing is wrong. I have loved my time at Bristol since the start. I’ve been really lucky with my course and my friends. (Fingers crossed I’ll still be saying that this time next year!) But I did feel homesick, and almost guilty because of it.
What I didn’t understand is that you can miss somewhere while also enjoying where you are. Realigning your sense of home and belonging after a big change of location, like going to uni, is always going to be complicated and you should never beat yourself up for feeling one way or the other…or both. This applies even if traveling is something you’re used to. You might be a confident traveller but that doesn’t mean you’re always immune from homesickness. Coming to terms with the fact that you’re not just visiting your new city can take some getting used to.
The Times When You Feel Like You Don’t Belong Are When You Find Out Who You Are As An Individual.
If I could give one piece of advice to freshers struggling with homesickness it’s to remember that all the important things in life, you bring with you wherever you go. And I don’t mean the things that you can fit into a carry-on suitcase. If you surround yourself with people who you don’t have to be in the same city as to call your friends, it won’t matter where in the world you are. Changing your sense of home isn’t as easy as getting on the train at one station and getting off at another.
Figuring out your place in a uni city can be utterly terrifying but start with who you are outside of your hometown. Go crazy, shave your head, or whatever it is Bristol students do for fun. Be grateful for that feeling of homesickness because it means you’re figuring out the place you want to take in the world around you and before you know it, your parents will be telling you off for referring to Bristol as ‘home.’
Featured image: Finnuala Brett
Where do you consider to be home?