Dealing with Homesickness and Strategies to Cope

“Even the worst days abroad are some of the best of your life” as a motto, Nate Hazen shares his experience with homesickness while abroad in the U.K. on the Student Exchange Program, and shares some strategies to help future students to cope with it.

Although most of my time abroad has been a blast, I’d be lying to say that I haven’t had some homesick days. As an out-of-state student at Ohio State, I have dealt with homesickness before, however, while being abroad it feels quite different. There are different cultural aspects that make it far more difficult being abroad than I experience while at Ohio State. It can be a bit harder here, as I am homesick of Ohio State and my friends in Columbus and my family and friends in Minnesota. Experiencing ‘double homesickness,’ as I like to call it, can be challenging, however, I have developed my own strategies to work through it and build my own success.

This is one of my favorite photos I have taken abroad. Studying abroad has given me endless opportunities to explore different cultures and visit places I had never thought I would have a chance to visit, such as Interlaken, Switzerland. While I work on homework, study, and write up final papers, I try to take study breaks and reflect on my experiences through photos and journaling. I have kept a travel journal since high school and love to keep my experiences close.

One of the most difficult parts of being abroad is the time difference. In Ohio, I am only one hour different from my parents, while in England, I am 5 hours different of Ohio and 6 of my family. This can make communicating with friends and family difficult as they are often at work or in class while I am able to talk, and when they finish, I am getting ready to call it a night. If I am busy with homework or class on a specific day, it makes it even more doffing to make a phone call. Throughout the semester, I have often tried to keep up with people even if it is just through a brief conversation. I also try to set aside some time for social media to communicate with people back home. This can be dangerous occasionally, as it can cause FOMO (fear of missing out) if I spend too much time looking at other people’s posts. I also have occasionally been willing to stay up later in order to communicate with those back home, as it is usually easier for me to be up at 1 am than it is to make someone start their day early.

Surrounding myself with good friends is very helpful when I am struggling as it takes my mind away from feeling homesick. Here is an image of two of my friends and I in Prague, Czech Republic on a weekend trip. Kelsey (middle) is from Maryland and Emily (right) is from Canada.

Another stressor that brings on homesickness is culture and language. Although the British speak English just like us, the Northern English accent can be very difficult to understand, as it is far stronger and thicker than the typical London accent many Americans are used to hearing in the media. I often find myself asking people to repeat themselves, sometimes multiple times. I am sure this can be much more exhausting and stressful in a country that does not have English as their first language. Culturally, I often think about American food. British food tends to not be seasoned nearly as strong and tends to be less flavorful. The US also tends to have many different styles of cuisine available. In Manchester it can be difficult to find any food other than English, Chinese, and Indian. I like trying new foods and discovering new things, but I also miss some of my American favorites like Hot Chicken Takeover or the hole in the wall Mexican gem in my hometown. I also really enjoy cooking and have not cooked since being abroad as my residence is catered.

When I am stressed on campus I often go to a coffee shop and order myself a pot of tea. It helps to calm me down and allows me to focus on my work. A pot of tea usually fills 3 cups and costs just £1.50 or about $2.

Some strategies that I have used to deal with homesick are old strategies that I have used in the past, while some are strategies I have picked up here. I have always used working out as a coping strategy, however the University of Manchester does not provide us with a gym membership, so I went and bought a yoga mat and have begun practicing yoga. I have found that this helps me calm down but also stay in shape. It feels soothing and allows me to take my mind off whatever may be bothering me. I also have begun practicing meditation occasionally. One of my classes is a Mental Health course, in which we have learned about strategies for helping patients and different conditions people face, but we have also learned the importance of taking care of yourself. I have found that meditation while stressed provided me head space I need and is refreshing to my mind. Just five minutes of focusing on my own breathing patterns can do me wonders. Finally, I have found that alone time can be both the best and worst strategy. When I am alone, my mind tends to wander off which can lead to worsening homesickness, but it often feels necessary to provide myself alone time, as I spend a significant portion of my time around my friends or in class while abroad. Being able to lay in my bed at the end of the day with a hot cup of tea and Netflix can be one of the most relaxing things I can do.

I have had a blast here at the University of Manchester and am so incredibly grateful to have been given this opportunity to be here. Enjoy this picture of me at one of the gates to Campus.

My time abroad has been incredible, and I would not trade it for the world. I have been honored to represent The Ohio State University in the United Kingdom and am beyond grateful for the opportunity to do so. That said, I would be lying to myself and everyone else if I said that I haven’t had bad days. As the semester begins to wind down and I reflect on my experiences, I now realize that I will likely experience many of my homesick emotions toward the UK when I return Stateside. Before leaving, a friend told me “Even the worst days abroad are some of the best of your life.” I often think about when she told me that and remember that all will be okay.

Networking and Making Connections While Abroad

Everyone knows the value of professional networking, but how about student networking? Nate Hazen realizes the importance to network with fellow students, as he was abroad on the Student Exchange Program in Manchester, U.K. While abroad for the semester, he expanded his student network to Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, and every corner of the US! Read how he expanded his global network and how he benefited.

When most university students think of networking, they likely are thinking of career fairs and other professional events that their campus offers. Often students forget about the importance of networking with other students. We tend to get into a rhythm of spending time with the same people, get comfortable with our friends, and reduce our effort in making meaningful connections with the other couple thousand students on campus. I, like most students had fallen into that trap.

Coming to Manchester was a great opportunity to meet people that are my age from all over the world. I did not know anyone when I arrived here, but that would quickly change. The International Programs Society at Alliance Manchester Business School offers many great networking events such as hosting a Super Bowl party and hosting a mini golf event to connect us with students that will be attending our home institutions in the future. They also organized a scavenger hunt for us to take part in during our orientation, which was a massive help in connecting with other students. Another great organization is the University of Manchester International Society. This is a group that is not specific to business students. Through this group I attended afternoon tea along with having the opportunity to go on day or weekend trips around the UK. They also ran most of the orientation week events to help us get settled in. Through both of these organizations, I have made friends and connected with people from Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, and every corner of the US.

I had the chance to go to Edinburgh, Scotland with the International Society. This picture includes (from left to right) students from Toronto, a fellow Buckeye, Southern California, and Maryland!
This is one of my favorite pictures that I took on the Edinburgh trip. I love a pretty sunset.

I have also had various opportunities to make friends in my residence hall and in class. My Sustainable Business course had a group project very early in the semester, which allowed me to work with local students and get to know them. In our seminars, we often have group discussions which can be very helpful for connecting with other students. I also have found that some of my closest friends are the ones I live around. My residence is the only one on campus that has formal dinners on every weeknight. We begin promptly at 6:30 and are served a three-course meal. The dress is casual; however, we are required to wear a black robe. These formal dinners have helped me to connect with people that live in the same building as me. I have been able to befriend people from across Europe. Our residence hall also hosts social events many nights that all helped me to network with students across all majors.

A few of my British friends enjoy veggie lasagna in their dinner gowns!

I haven’t had many opportunities to network with local professionals, but I have been keeping my eye out for events hosted by the Business School and the Student Union. Being able to network and make new friends from all over the world has already provided me with so many cultural opportunities. Whether someone is showing me around Manchester or giving me recommendations of things to do while I travel on my spring break, I have been able to learn so much about everyone around me. I look forward to having more of these opportunities in the future. I also look forward to networking with other students when I return to Ohio State.

In the UK, football is the most popular sport. My friends and I found cheap tickets in the 7th row to watch the defending Premier League Champions Manchester City defeat West Ham United   1-0! Manchester is a city divided as both Manchester City and Manchester United are perennial title contenders.

Although the opportunity to network with professionals in your career field is extremely valuable, students often forget the importance of networking with other students. We tend to join our student organizations, make some friends, and stick with those people, while underestimating the opportunities that other connections can bring. My entire semester has been filled with great opportunities to meet and spend time with people that I never would have had the chance to meet, had I not come abroad. I see many of my friendships lasting for years to come. Whether I am visiting Melbourne, Australia and need a place to sleep, searching for a job in Washington DC, or even just need a restaurant recommendation while in Los Angeles, I will always have a friend that can help me out.

Arriving in the UK and Trying to Adjust

Nate Hazen studying abroad in Manchester, England on the Student Exchange Program, shares his insights, tips, and advice on the first month in the country. To the difference in culture and classes, to the weird restaurants!

As winter break came to a close, and the Student Exchange Program came closer, my emotions were all over the place. All of my friends were back in Columbus starting classes, while I still had three weeks until I began my semester in Manchester, England. I was so excited, but also horrified. I kept thinking about the worst-case scenarios. The “What if I hate it there?” and “What if I don’t make friends?” type of things. It almost felt like the beginning of freshman year happening all over again, except this time I was a little more confident, thinking that it would be easier the second time around. I was wrong.

Moving across the world for a semester was more difficult than the transition into university, even for an out-of-state student like myself, who didn’t know a single person when I first arrived at Ohio State. This time around, there were so many more factors in play. I completely underestimated how jet lag would affect me. I thought I was prepared, but it took me nearly two weeks to fully readjust my sleep schedule. Forcing yourself to wake up and fall asleep at certain times can be a lot harder than it sounds! I also had a hard time meeting people at first. I moved into my hall a week early, figuring it would be a great time to meet some people and make friends. I quickly realized that the students in the UK were still in their first semester exams and not many students wanted to be social. I hung out alone and with the few people that had finished exams for my first week until orientation came the following Friday. I was never made aware of many of the orientation events, but I would recommend asking about/going to any event that the school offers. We had a business exchange orientation that was super helpful to connect with and befriend other students. I made most of my friends at this event and in my classes.

A few of my friends from the Business Exchange took a weekend trip to London. Students are on exchange from all over the world. I now have friends in Maryland, Southern California, Toronto, and many more places. As you can see, Big Ben was sadly under construction.

It was nice that the Alliance Manchester Business School had an orientation program solely for business exchanges. We got more specified information and were able to connect with other students that we would be in classes with. This event also allowed me to meet quite a few lasting friends. Although they had activities planned for the entire day, most of the day was spent with all the students socializing and trying to get to know one another, along with making plans for the evening. At the end of orientation, the International Society told us that they were all going to a pub nearby and invited us to join, along with informing us of other good events to connect with more international students.

Moving to a different country on your own is scary. Even in an English-speaking nation, there are a lot of cultural differences. For starters, in my short time here so far, I have almost been hit by three cars, as they drive on the opposite side of the road. Many of the stores here also close very early, around 5 or 6pm. There are not as many large grocery stores, as many of the urban locations are more similar to a gas station or convenience store. Public transportation is used heavily, and you can often catch a bus every 2 minutes on the busiest streets. Another difference I noticed early on was the use of coins for the 1 and 2 pound rather than paper bills. I have also picked up that British cuisine relies heavily on potatoes, red meats, and a strong connection to Indian food. They also have way too many restaurants with strange varieties of food, such as fried chicken places that also selling pizza?? I love food and could talk about it for days.

Adapting to many of these differences was not super difficult, however I still get very confused with traffic and continue to have close calls. I get bored of the blandness of the food, but I try to find creative ways to add flavor such as adding hot sauce or spices. Stores closing early can make things difficult, especially since I have class going into the evening, but you are usually able to find something similar that is open late or 24 hours. Sunday business hours are very short, so I try to avoid shopping on Sundays. Many other differences are pretty helpful. I really enjoy how accessible public transit is and the use of coin money. For students studying in Europe, especially England, I would recommend using Apple Pay, as contactless payment is commonly used and some places will not accept foreign chip-cards that need a signature. This is also handy when travelling, as you do not have to worry about carrying a card and potentially getting pick-pocketed.

The coursework here is also quite different. I am enrolled in a Sustainability in Business course, along with a Team Management & Personnel Selection and Mental Health courses. I am most looking forward to the sustainability course, as I think it will present exciting material regarding the future of business. Many of my lectures only meet once per week, which leads to a lot of independent study. This allows a lot of flexibility to students, but it also makes students accountable for their own studies. The overall teaching style seems similar, but the assessment format is different. In the States there is a significant portion of most courses that includes homework or weekly tasks. In the UK most of the assessment comes down to either one final exam or final paper. One of my courses has a small portion that is marked on a group presentation, but the rest of my grades come from final assessments. This puts a lot of pressure on just a few assignments for the term. I enjoy this a bit because it makes every assignment feel like it has a purpose. I often feel that homework in the US is given and doesn’t always have much effect on learning. It often feels like busy work. Here, it is easier to focus and give your all on assignments because they are more infrequent.

Some of my favorite things about my time here include the ease of traveling, the friendliness of the people, and the historic aspects of the UK. The UK and Europe are both super accessible and cheap to travel. I have been to Leeds, London, and Edinburgh in the UK, along with Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Nuremburg, Germany abroad. Being able to fly cheap and take trains most anywhere in the UK is very exciting and allows us to see so much more of the landscape and culture. The people here are also very friendly and often go out of their way to help out if you are lost or struggling with nearly anything. This seems to be a Northern England trend, as those in London were much more to themselves. The UK has so much to offer for history. London, a 2 hour train from Manchester, is a global, multicultural city that has endless museums and historic museums. Manchester itself was the home of the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and created veganism. The buildings here are also very old and there are many beautiful historic government buildings and churches. I know very little about architecture, but there are so many impressive structures to take in.

As the semester kicks into full gear, I look forward to exploring Manchester and the United Kingdom more, along with seeing how the different style of education alters my learning ability. I am excited to see what material is presented in my courses, as well. The semester is young, but I’m sure it will fly by faster than I expect. I can’t wait to see what is at store.

This photo was taken at an old abbey called Kirkstall Abbey near Leeds, UK. Now a ruins, it was originally built in the 1100s!
This is the Manchester City Hall. The architecture of many of the government buildings is extremely intricate and impressive.
The view from our Airbnb in London was especially incredible. I caught this during sunset!