The concept of home is a funny one. What is home? A sanctuary? A place where you feel comfortable? A place you have grown accustomed to? Or simply a place in which you live? 

For many students, adjusting to living at university proves challenging at first but eventually becomes routine. For them, the home is plural, and living in Oxford simply feels right. 

Having been at Oxford for almost two years now, one would think I would be used to the move from home, to Oxford, and back again. Alas, this is not the case. As each vacation ends, I feel the same sense of dread. I somehow predict that the next term will be as challenging as the last, and my energy will be spent pushing myself to get through each day without caving and returning home. The usual drop-off, a routine that I should be accustomed to by now, constitutes many tears and has always been the same amount of “hard.” 

Every. Single. Time. 

It sounds like a depressing description, one that I am sure you will not be used to hearing, especially from a second year. But the reality is (as I am sure I am not the only one), for some people, living in Oxford just doesn’t feel ‘right’. Of course, being part of such a prestigious university feels like a privilege and not a day goes by when I don’t think about how incredibly grateful I am for the opportunity. Nonetheless, living in a different city remains an emotional challenge. 

Coupled with the demanding workload, being away from the support system you have known throughout your life can be overwhelming. Friendships will (and should) somewhat fill the gap, but it is worth noting the difficulty of discussing personal feelings with people who haven’t known you your whole life. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially for those who may not feel they have found “their people” at university. I recognise that many at Oxford may not have the same connection to home as I do. Thus, I fully understand this is not a universal experience. But it is important, I think, to provide a voice for those who deeply miss home, their family, and their friends from home while at university. A phone call just doesn’t feel the same.

What seems like the constant fleeting between home and Oxford can be confusing. Adjusting to a new environment every few months is a bizarre experience and one that, for many, can be incredibly exhausting. Just as you get into the swing of things at home again, you are taken back to live fully independently in a single room, with (I dare say) faulty heating, dodgy shower cubicles, and walls that are half-painted and half-decorated with Polyfilla.

I have been unlucky in the respect that I haven’t actually met anyone who is feeling this way in my year or above yet. I often feel as though my experience at university is a unique one. I am inclined to believe I am wrong. 

For those of you reading this who feel the same, therefore, I will now let you into a few secrets I have for how to deal with homesickness at uni (not scientifically proven – but useful nonetheless).

Firstly, it is important to note that there is not necessarily a universal ‘cure’ for homesickness. I have been searching for one for two years and have yet to find one. However, there are ways to cope. I promise!

  1. Get yourself a talking book and get someone in your family, family friends from home, etc… to read it at the same time and discuss it over the phone in the evenings. Sounds a bit odd, but when you have an activity that keeps you occupied during the day which you know someone from home is doing at the same time, it tricks your brain into thinking you are doing something with them. Weird, I know, but trust me.
  2. Take up running or walking in nature. This is standard advice, but for homesickness, it can really help. Homesickness can often mean you spend large parts of your day thinking about home or the people you miss. So, instead, running or walking can help distract you and fill up your day with something a bit different.
  3. Schedule calls daily (or whenever suits you) with people from home. Lots of people advise against this so you can take this with a pinch of salt, but it has given me something to look forward to and work towards each day.
  4. Change your mindset around university. This is the last and most challenging advice. Something I have found useful is to stop trying to see university as ‘home’ or ‘a home away from home’. Instead, see it as a brief departure. See university as a vacation from home instead, where you take eight weeks to work hard and busy yourself until you can return to home. Of course, this won’t necessarily work for everyone, but give it a go.

As challenging as living away from home might be, it is not forever. You have support systems around you with ample welfare teams, friends, and more to help you if you need it. If you are homesick and, like me, feel you are ‘abnormal’ I promise you are not! You just haven’t met anyone who feels the same way yet. We are still here!