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.

Professional Interactions in Manchester

With the fortunate opportunity Kevin McGann had meeting with business professionals at Manchester on the Student Exchange Program, he shares his observation on how business is different in England compared to the U.S.

While living in Manchester, I have had the opportunity to further understand the English business culture.  Beyond learning about business practices in my classes, I have had the opportunity to network with English business professionals.  My first chance came when I attended a banquet for North American students this past October.  I arrived with other American exchange students who I had met during my first month in Manchester.  None of us knew what to expect before attending the event, and only knew that food would be provided.  When we arrived, we started conversing with other exchange students from all over the U.S. and Canada.  We talked about how we had been enjoying our time in Manchester so far, but were still getting used to the culture.  All of us missed home to a small extent, but were eager to make travel plans.  It was refreshing to find that a lot of the other American exchange students felt the same way I did after being away for a month.

During this banquet, I was able to speak with a couple of University of Manchester recruiters who gave me some insight into English business culture.  A couple of other American exchange students and I started asking them basic questions about restaurants and other attractions in Manchester.  After this basic small talk about things to do in Manchester, one of the recruiters talked about his business trips to America, and about the differences that he sees in the two cultures.  He mentioned that business professionals in England are more reserved than those in America.  He found the young professionals in America to be more outgoing and more likely to strike up a conversation with someone they don’t know.  I think this observation extends beyond business people and is an accurate distinction between the English and Americans in general.  Despite this difference, he mentioned that he believes that business is conducted in a similar fashion in both countries.

I was also able to speak with one of the generous benefactors who makes exchange at the University of Manchester possible.  I did not know this when I had first approached her and was surprised to find out that she wasn’t a professor.  Speaking with her gave me insight into her reasons for donating to the exchange program specifically.  One of the main reasons that she gave was that she believed that global experiences drastically enhance a student’s education.  She came across as very genuine and interested in hearing about my reasons for choosing to study in Manchester.  Although we only spoke briefly, I am glad that I was able to meet one of the people in Manchester who has allowed me to have the best three months of my life.

My business classes provided insight into how important America is to international business.  I realized this when every single one of my business professors mentioned the U.S. during lecture in a positive business context.  What I concluded from this is that the U.S is an extremely powerful force in the business world.  This could be due to the fact that there are many American corporations are operating abroad.  England is not nearly as relevant in my Fisher classes, but it is difficult to say whether this is due to a lack of large companies in England or a more U.S. focused curriculum.  One way in which I was able to see how business is conducted in England is through shopping. Every grocery store that I shopped at charged people for grocery bags.  This encouraged people to bring their own.  Although this is minor, I think that it demonstrates the environmental awareness in England’s business community.  Another small difference that I noticed was that British stores are much smaller.  There are less one stop shop places in England, which made weekly grocery shopping more challenging.

Adapting to English Culture and Travel Advice

Experience navigating though England, Kevin McGann give tips on how to survive in a different culture and country while on the Student Exchange Program.

The first difference I noticed when I first arrived at the University of Manchester was that Manchester’s campus is much more sprawled out.  I am about a 25 minute bus ride away from campus, and I am still considered to live in campus halls.  This says something about English culture because the reason that the college’s administration can justify having student living located so far from campus is due to the fact that public transportation in England is phenomenal.  Although the buses are dependable and arrive at most bus stops every 5 minutes, relying solely on public transportation was a tough change for me.  This is mainly because I had a hard time figuring out exactly when I had to leave my hall to be able to make it to class on time.  It turned out that there was no answer to this question because there is a ton of variety in bus travel time.

Getting acclimated to public transportation was not as big a challenge as adapting to language differences.  A common greeting in England is “you ok?” and for the first two weeks of being here, I thought that my flatmates were asking me this because I was a foreigner.  Although this is a trivial example, there are several phrases that are used that I had a difficult time understanding.  Beyond picking up on common phrases, understanding certain accents was difficult at first.  For example, I could not understand about a third of what one of my flat mates was saying for the first couple weeks. This is partially due to the fact that she is from Newcastle, which has a particularly thick English accent, and that she speaks really quickly. Some people have trouble understanding me as well, so the accent barrier goes both ways.

My English peers are friendly and are for the most part accepting of Americans. This is not to say that America, as a country, is well received in England because there are parts of American culture that the English despise. For example, when my flat mates think of America, gun violence, lack of health coverage, and pollution first enter their minds. This can get irritating when these topics are brought up in conversation because there is much more to America than a few policies.  This negative view of America has affected how I am treated to a small degree.  When these situations would arise at the beginning of the semester, I would usually stay silent.  As time went on and I became more comfortable with my flat mates, I would usually point out that England isn’t without its flaws either, and that they shouldn’t act like you know everything about America if they haven’t even been there.  My advice to future exchange students would be to handle this situation however you see fit, but that it helps to be prepared.

I have 3 pieces of advice for exchange students who want to travel during their time abroad:

1.) Find other exchange students to travel with. Before I went abroad, I thought that I would be able to meet English people to travel with.  This was not the case because English students don’t have the incentive to travel around Europe because that is always an option for them. Instead, start talking to other exchange students to see if they have similar travel plans.

2.) Book flights in advance. Prices for the airlines that you will be using have been known to skyrocket within days.  This is why exchange students should try to book trips as soon as they find people to travel with. This not only cuts down on prices, but it also allows students to focus on studying without feeling bad about not having enough trips planned.

3.) Be adventurous. Exchange students should not be discouraged if they can’t find people to do some of the things that they want to do whether travel or activities. For example, I traveled to Amsterdam by myself because I couldn’t find anyone to go with, and it was one of the best trips that I’ve taken during my time over here.  The sense of accomplishment and independence that I felt after returning to Manchester is unmatched by anything else I’ve ever done.

Life at Manchester Business School

Kevin McGann sheds light on the university experience at Manchester Business School in England, and shares his top three reasons to attend Manchester Business School.

I am now over half way through my time here at the University of Manchester and have noticed that the classes at the Manchester Business School (MBS) are extremely similar to classes in the Fisher College of Business.  I think that the main reason for this is that these schools are similar in size.  To deal with the large amount of students, Manchester Business School incorporates a lecture and seminar structure that is similar to that of Ohio State’s. There are however, a couple slight differences in the way class schedules are structured. The first being that most lectures in MBS are two hours instead of one.  Fortunately, lectures allow students a 5-10 minute break halfway through lecture to relax and prepare for the second half. Another slight difference is that the seminars in MBS courses occur every other week instead of every week. With both of these differences in mind, it definitely seems like there is less in person class time as compared to Fisher.

Student assessments are a major point of difference that one needs to consider when choosing to do exchange at the University of Manchester. In all of the business courses that I am taking, there is a special exchange student assessment. These assessments have required that I submit a 2,000 to 3,000 word essay by the end of the semester that counts for 100% of my overall grade.  This style of assessment definitely does not benefit procrastinators.

The most interesting course that I’m taking abroad is called Leadership in Action. This class focuses on leadership theory and what exactly makes an effective leader. Probably the best facet of the Leadership in Action lectures is that there is a new speaker every week. Each speaker has his or her own specific cause or topic that they talk about for the entire lecture. A couple examples of the topics that the lecturers have touched on include human trafficking, access to higher education, and climate change. My favorite topic that we covered was climate change because of how relevant it is currently. Students are encouraged to provide their opinions on the lecture topics which makes class time more engaging.  A wide range of nationalities are represented in this course, so class discussions give insight into cultural backgrounds. It was interesting, but also disappointing to hear what British students think of the large percentage of Americans who don’t believe that global warming is occurring. A large part of the student’s grade is based on a group E-Poster project which requires students to work together in a groups of five to create an essay about a wicked problem that is impacting the world right now and what key leaders are doing about it. Every member of my group is from a different country which makes collaboration challenging but interesting. Each of us had a different idea of how the overall poster should be portrayed, so there need to be compromises to adhere to everyone’s preferences. I would definitely recommend Leadership in Action for anyone who is attending the University of Manchester, because of the way it provides students with a more global perspective.

I would encourage students who are thinking about going on exchange to strongly consider attending the University of Manchester for the following three reasons:

  1. Campus Housing: This immediately immerses exchange students in English culture. I live in a flat with 7 other people and we share a kitchen and two bathrooms. This setup is fairly common in England and has been a great way to make close friends with English students. My flatmates have become my biggest support network throughout my time here and have made me feel at home. Not all university accommodation contains the same layout as mine; in fact, many of my American friends are in halls that are very similar to campus dorms back home. Students should keep this in mind when they are considering different accommodation options.
  2. Location: Manchester’s central location makes travelling simple. I have been able to travel to other European destinations including Dublin, Edinburgh, London, Amsterdam, and Berlin for relatively cheap prices.
  3. The International Society: The last major reason why Fisher students need to make Manchester their top choice is because the international society at MBS makes it easy to meet other exchange students who want to plan events. I have met most of my friends here through international society events. These events enable exchange students to meet peers who are just as excited to travel throughout Europe.

About the Author: Kevin McGann, Rank, Major, Student Exchange Program- England.

Collaboration/Networking

Any student at the University of Manchester will agree that the school is incredibly international.  In comparison to OSU, Manchester seems to emphasize group work and collaboration between students not just for presentations, but for essays as well.  In just one of my classes, our group consisted of two British students, two Americans including myself, a French classmate, and two students from Ukraine.  Several of my classes emphasized not just learning how to work in a group, but also learning how to learn from each other.  The typical weekly assignments or quizzes that is often present at OSU, did not seem to have a strong presence.  I believe that this situation is an accurate reflection of the diverse backgrounds that will occur in the workforce, and business students who do not have some sort of international collaboration training are woefully under prepared.

One of the greatest advantages to studying abroad is the opportunity to network with your peers from around the world.  Life long friendships were made and I truly appreciate the opportunity to have been able to study abroad.  For example, I had the privilege of spending Christmas at the home of a friend of mine in Strasbourg, France. Very few people will ever have the chance to not just travel to another country, but form global friendships and experience a different culture not as a simple tourist.

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A Separation

Our group had the distinct opportunity of being in the United Kingdom at a time when the vote for Scottish independence was taking place. After visiting Scotland, I continue to be amazed by the large cultural differences that exist between said country and England. Despite being only approximately three hours away by train, Scotland still maintains a large sense of cultural independence.

Though the general feeling at the time in England was that Scotland was not going to vote in favor of independence, it was still surprising that the vote was even taking place. The potential results at the time weren’t being discussed as much as the actions that led to the vote itself.  Some felt that England had been a overbearing older sibling that was finally getting pushed back.  I believe this entire situation highlights the complex social and political relationships of England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.  If hypothetically Scotland did vote in favor of independence, the implications would be massive.  The most readily obvious one may be the fact that Scotland wouldn’t be able to use the British pound as its main currency.  They would either have to create their own, or more likely utilize the Euro.

When doing business in the UK, it is important to respect the relationships these separate entities have with each other, as well as recognize the sensitivity of some of these issues.  Regardless, it’s hard to beat the view.

Overlooking Scotland from Arthur's Seat
Overlooking Scotland from Arthur’s Seat

The Past vs. The Future

Manchester, England

The photo shown above was taken in the city center of Manchester, England.

I believe it is an interesting perspective as to the cultural shifts that seems to be occurring. On the left side you can see the more modern architecture representative of Manchester’s modernization and continued growth.  If you turn your attention to the right, the contrast in building design is immediately apparent. The architecture is obviously of much older design, though kept in good condition. We were informed that many buildings in Manchester were originally textile factories built in the early 1900’s, but have been “recycled” as office buildings, hotels, and so on.

With a history dating back to 79 AD, it’s fair to say that Manchester is an ancient city. Despite that, the “Mancunians” (Those who live in Manchester), have kept relevancy remarkably well. Culturally, it should be noted that while the Mancunians have a sense of practicality about them, their respect for tradition and conservation should be noted as well.