By Thandi Chindove
There’s something unsurprisingly, but still disarmingly, terrifying about leaving your family behind and travelling thousands of kilometres to study. For some students, home is only a few hours away. For myself home is 18-22 hours in the air (excluding time spent loitering in airports) during which I cross an entire ocean and the Australian continent.
When I first arrived I was like a chihuahua; perpetually anxious and shaking. That faded with time and I adjusted but the homesickness stuck with me. It gets easier over time but the initial months, once the excitement’s died down, can be hard.
After four years of studying at Uni of Newcastle, here are my go to ways of managing when I feel the homesickness setting in.
Maintain a routine
There are certain things you do when you’re home, whether it’s playing sports on weekends or listening to the radio during your commute.
When you’re homesick you often miss the familiarity of life.
Everything changes when you move, especially when you move for university and your life starts to revolve around your studies.
Even the smallest things like streaming your favourite radio station while you iron your clothes, can help bring some normalcy back into your life and help you keep up with what’s going on back home.
Cook familiar food
Okay so I know not all of us have stepped straight out of Food Network but there’s a lot of familiarity in food. These days you can find so many recipes online for different cuisines which you can adapt to make them more like your mother’s home cooking. It’s also an opportunity to share your (sometimes makeshift) delicacies with other people. The major supermarkets don’t always have the most diversity so keep an eye out for your local farmers’ markets, international shops and butcheries. A lot of vendors are super friendly and can hook you up with some great deals. I even struck up a friendship with a pumpkin farmer at the Sunday Markets who would bring me pumpkin leaves (a favourite of mine) in exchange for recipes.
Connect with people
Though we all need some time to ourselves, don’t turn into a hermit. One of the best ways to get over homesickness is to be around other people. These can be your housemates, fellow students or people from your own part of the world. If you speak multiple languages try to find others to have a conversation with and polish up your language skills, which can get rusty if you’re only speaking English. This can also be a chance to share your culture. While I can be uncreative when cooking for myself, as soon as I’m cooking for other people I go all out because I want to represent my culture as best I can. It makes me feel good and I get to teach others that there’s more to Africa than The Lion King.
Stay in touch
The busier we get, the harder it is to maintain our relationships from back home. Sometimes when you move away you want to make a brand new start and redefine yourself or just figure out who you are. This doesn’t always mean throwing out where you came from. Call your family once a week or once a fortnight. Start a family group chat on Facebook or Whatsapp. This helps those close to you stay up-to-date with what’s happening in your life and gives you an opportunity to do the same. However, try to avoid talking to them every minute of every day. Family is essential and your friends are important too but it’s equally important for you to be present to those around you.
‘Get amongst it’
Australia is a melting pot of characters, cultures and personalities and I urge you to go out and meet people. When you study at university you realise just how different other people are from you and how similar you are at the same time. I often warn first years from just staying in their own cultural groups all the time because one of my favourite things has been getting to learn about other people. It’s also opened my eyes to how much or how little I appreciate various parts of my heritage which has made me proud to be Zimbabwean.
Moral of the story is, being away from home is hard but it’s not impossible. Try all or a couple of these suggestions, make your own and whatever you do take each day as it comes. Studying here has been a pretty great experience for me and I know if you open yourself up to it, it can be for you too.