I’ve missed home to a lesser or greater extent since I’ve arrived here. It seems that people deal with missing home in different ways, but anyone who says that they aren’t missing home at least a little bit when they go to live abroad is either a liar or a machine!
I’ve often thought that I’m at a significant advantage to others when dealing with homesickness. I went to boarding school when I was eleven years old, and though that isn’t the same as leaving home properly for university it certainly made the transition to university life easier. As a result, the idea of having to be “self-reliant” isn’t a new concept. However, when you are in your own country, the transition is still not as much of a big deal than coming to a country where language and attitudes are different.
That’s not to say that Sweden is like an alien planet, but it certainly feels different to Britain!
I’m not sure that I would have coped quite so well with the culture shock if I’d gone somewhere further afield. At least I’m only dealing with an hour’s time difference, and organising Skype conversations isn’t a matter of juggling timezones!
The hardest thing about leaving your home country is feeling alone, particularly if you are part of a minority group. There are only three other British exchange students that I know of, and I’ve only met two of them! I tend not to socialise with them all that much either. This is not to say that I haven’t met some awesome friends here, but there is still a little disconnect due to the difference in nationality!
No matter how often I fika with my exchange friends, I will always end up feeling a little bit alone once or twice.
That said, however, when talking with one of my German friends, we stumbled upon this very topic. It turns out that he too feels alone in spite of the fact that the Germans are the majority nationality of exchange students. Interestingly, the number of times I feel alone has decreased significantly since this conversation. The realisation that this is a normal thing has made me feel much more like I’m part of a group. I’m not the only British exchange student, I’m one of many exchange students.
How to fix it, and the importance of the ESN and other international student societies / programs
Since we’ve identified that being an exchange student means that you’re part of a group of people, we should make sure that this group sticks together.
This doesn’t mean that we need to get all the exchange students together all of the time for mandatory counseling sessions! As I said at the beginning: “people deal with missing home in different ways”. I’m lucky enough to have met friends who I can relate to in that regard, and have proper conversations with about everything from politics to the weather, and this small group is what is keeping me sane and allowing me to feel happy and part of this group of people.
The important thing to note here, though, is this: I would never have found these friends if it weren’t for the following:
1) The ESN and 2) Beginners Swedish for Exchange Students.
The ESN is the Erasmus Student Network, find them here: ESN Linköping. As their website says “ESN Linköping is a student organization working to make the stay as interesting and fun as possible for international students at Linköping University”. In practice, the ESN is able to facilitate the integration of exchange students into a friendship group via events, activities and, of course, parties. This makes it so much easier for exchange students to set up their own support network, while also having the backstop of the ESN board and volunteers to make sure that basic needs are able to be fulfilled.
The Beginners Swedish for Exchange Students was also instrumental in allowing me to find people like me who I could socialise with. It combined the “getting people together” function of the ESN with providing a common goal to all those involved. This meant that the students were all forced to talk to each other in order to learn the material during the course. This common goal was a uniting force. It meant that students ignored the differences imposed by nationality and focus on the similarities.
If it weren’t for the ESN or my Swedish course, I would have boarded a plane to go home long ago. I’m sure of it.
Above all, enjoy the little things!
I’m having some friends over for fika this afternoon. For no particular reason, I just wanted to relax for a bit with coffee, kanelbullar and good company!
The Barenaked Ladies released this song today. I think it sums up the sentiment that I’m trying to convey. Enjoy!