Moving Halfway Across the World for University: A Few Tips from My Experience

Now that I’m in my fourth year at McGill, I reflect on all the things that got me through the difficulties of being suddenly removed from everything I know, as well as the things that I know now I could have done that could have made things easier. If you’ve come recently to McGill or any other university abroad as an international student, this article might help you navigate your first years and hopefully minimize the pain of homesickness.

  1. 1.  Friendships

    When alone in a new city, or country, it may be easy to meet people and not notice that you are trying to mold them in your mind into friends you were close to back home. Or, you may feel like you want to hold onto anyone you become friends with and keep them close because of the natural loneliness that comes with moving so far. This is normal, but try to still be vigilant about who you allow in your inner circle. Not being vigilant may make it easy to trick yourself into excusing toxic traits of people because you want to so badly to avoid loneliness, but a little bit of patience to meet the right people can save you a lot of pain in the future. In other words, be as selective of the people you allow to get close to you as you would have been back home. This definitely is hard to do when all you want is to create a family around you that is anything like the one you had, but patience is key.

  2. 2. Find friends you can talk to

    This one may be obvious, but it is so important that it needs to be stated. When meeting new friends, make sure you hold onto the ones you know you can talk to when you're feeling down—everything else comes second. During this time (especially the first few months), you may find yourself feeling down often, and a present support group can help those feelings a lot. Even if you still have the support of people back home, it helps you create a home in this place too.

  3. 3. Be proactive in your friendships

    Once you find someone you genuinely want to be friends with, be proactive about it! Ask them to go out, go on a study date, or get a meal with you. Even if you feel too pushy, you probably are not. Chances are they’re also new to the city (or at least the university) and want to make friends too, so don’t wait! The faster you build a community around you, the better you feel. However, as mentioned in my first point, make sure it is someone you really believe is a genuine person and not somebody you are forcing yourself to like because you want to make friends.

  4. 4. Phone calls to home

    Many people have a really hard time dealing with homesickness.  I remember feeling even worse because it seemed like everyone else had gotten over it except for me. Thay wasn’t the case. Everyone has their moments and their own ways to deal with sadness. Moving so far and knowing nobody is not an easy thing, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re having a hard time navigating it, even after a while. A habit that really helps is creating a schedule of when to call your friends and family. Often times, when someone is overcome with homesickness, they feel that nothing will help except them being at home, but just making a call home can improve your mood exponentially. It reminds you of how close you are, and that things aren’t as different as they made seem. Even if you initially feel like a call will not do anything for your sadness, give it a shot! I guarantee it will soothe your homesickness, even temporarily.

  5. 5. Attachment

    During my first year, I remember discussing every little event and decision I made in my new Montreal life with my friend group back home. I sometimes found I spoke to them more than I spoke to the people around me in Montreal. Looking back, I believe it was a way to cope and convince myself that not much had changed, and that everything was the same as when I was still home. This hindered me from developing my new life as quickly as I could have. Staying in touch is vital, but not to the extent of taking your old friends input on every decision. Because I was so attached to my friends at home, it sometimes clouded my reality. My mind was still back home, and if it were to stay that way, I wouldn’t have ever gotten over my homesickness. You need to create a life and a home in your new city, and if your mind stays behind, this will never be fully possible. You have to realize that decisions and choices have to be made by you, rather than relying on advice from friends who aren’t experiencing it with you. Talking to your friends at home may be a quick relief, but you need to understand that everything is not the same as it was before your move, and that that is not a bad thing! It is important to believe that your life here is growing and you will find it just as full and beautiful over time. It is a very difficult thing to do, which is why we jump to keep everyone we knew connected with everything about our new life, but remember that you need to navigate your new life the way you see appropriate from your perspective, which your friends and family at home don’t have.

  6. 6. Patience

    Even after following all the tips you can find, nothing can really eliminate feeling homesick once in a while. But trust me when I say, it does get better. Even if you think it’s been going on for too long, one day you’ll wake up and feel like you’re home in your new city. Being hopeful and giving things time are the most important things you can do to make this experience easier.

Moving away is hard, and probably always will be. Remember to give yourself credit for how brave you are for making the decision to do this, and how far you've come in your journey. Looking back, I see how much stronger it has made me, and the incredible growth my personality has gone through while navigating my new life. I am certain that one day you will look back and smile proudly at everything you've gone through, just as I do!