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Living abroad, troubled mind and troubled homes: why the ‘just go home’ philosophy doesn’t necessarily work for everyone

Have you travelled home during the so-called ‘student travel window'? Are you holding on to the last few days of living in Bristol? Are you dreading going back to your family home? Alex Berry explores the difficult reality of why some students can’t easily return home this Christmas holiday.

By Alex Berry, Third Year Ancient History

Have you travelled home during the so-called ‘student travel window’? Are you holding on to the last few days of living in Bristol? (Despite Tier 3 gloom and cancelled Christmas Markets…)  Are you dreading going back to your family home for reasons you can’t even share with your closest friends? Or are you not allowed to travel home safely to your home country due to the pressures of the current pandemic? Alex Berry explores the difficult reality of why some students can’t easily return home this Christmas holiday and what that means for them.

With the news coverage surrounding government’s efforts to get students back to their homes for Christmas, it has become apparent that there is often an assumption that most 18 to 21 year-olds will be able to, and are in fact keen to return to their family homes for the holidays.

In addition to this, one of the classic responses to students generally having a tough time at university, is just to go home, see their family, get a good fix of home comforts (usually taking the form of roast dinners, central heating and dogs) and then return to the uni world, miraculously cured with a new outlook and appreciation for supposedly the best years of your life.

At-home COVID-19 tests that students can take before returning home. | Epigram / Molly Pipe

However, you don’t need to meet too many students to soon see that this is not the case for everyone. For a variety of different reasons, the idea of going home during/after the academic term will be either unattainable or unattractive for many students, and it is important, particularly with the challenges of this year and with the Christmas season upon us to recognise these people and attempt to shed some light on the stories behind so many of our students who maybe feel alienated and on all levels, isolated.

Perhaps one of the more obvious groups of students who generally struggle with the difficulty of going home, let alone during a global health crisis, is the international student population in the UK, comprising of just under half a million people, some of whom study thousands of miles away from their families and homes. Needless to say that this requires a certain degree of strength and resilience against homesickness and dependence on family, however there should be consideration and sympathy during this time for those students not legally or physically able to fly to their home countries, possibly causing those who celebrate Christmas to miss out on the festive season with their families.

The Chair of the International Students Network here at the University of Bristol shared the regular struggles of herself and her peers, mentioning in regard to the lockdown and a period of self-isolation within her student accommodation that, ‘Not being able to go out, not socialising and not being able to study outside of my room was rough to say the least.’

Furthermore, she recalled the conflicting decision of whether to head home before the second lockdown despite productivity levels declining at home, the challenges of different time zones when trying to speak to family and her experience of being ‘stuck in the UK for about 4 months after being denied boarding at Heathrow.’

It’s hard to imagine the possible feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and entrapment that was felt by students in this position, and it’s something which is so often overlooked by the universities themselves and our government. Luckily, groups such as the International Students Network and many of the university’s halls of residence offer support to students who won’t be returning home for the holidays, and it is encouraged that students who are feeling isolated or indeed bored, join groups of people who are in the same boat and take part in the SU hosted virtual events.

On top of all that, we have the other severe health crisis that is facing so many of our generation: the critically concerning poor mental health among many university students. It’s no secret that this term has been horrifying in terms of declines in mental health, with the shocking statistics surrounding student suicides and poor welfare funding. It is for this reason that there should be sufficient recognition and support for those students feeling completely disheartened, unmotivated and low, feelings and thoughts they can’t necessarily share with their friends, flatmates or family, and struggles which can’t exactly be fixed by a long weekend at home.

What’s more, the comfortable loving family home environment is simply not a reality for all students, with many students coming from difficult, tense and sometimes abusive households, to which they may not want to return. Rather, many would prefer to stay at university with their friends and flatmates, a sense of normality, comfort and ease which may not be available for them at ‘home.’

Something which may seem more trivial than mental health but is important for most students (particularly finalists) is the lack of a sufficient working environment. While the current situation with university libraries (booking a seat prior to arrival and a maximum of 14 hours in the study area) is not ideal, for lots of students this may be considerably more desirable than returning home during or after the academic term and attempting to revise, write essays and navigate the strange online learning experience we are all involved in.

It’s hard to imagine the possible feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and entrapment that was felt by students in this position.

A dark reality which sweeps through all UK universities, there must be an improvement in the recognition and support for vulnerable students, and a safety net for those who don’t feel they have a comfortable and accessible home to escape to when everything at uni gets too much. However, we are of course grateful for the student-led support networks for these people, and it is strongly encouraged that if you are someone who is not able to go home, or feels they cannot go home for this upcoming break that you seek the guidance and company of these groups.

There should be reform in the acknowledgment and consideration for students during this time, but in the meantime it is always important to remember you are not alone and there will be light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully Bristol will serve you well as a place to call home this Christmas.

Featured Image: Epigram / Lucas Arthur

Bristol SU is putting on social events and wellbeing support services for students staying in Bristol throughout this winter holiday period. Find out more about what events and opportunities will be running here: