Thursday 19 September 2013
Leaving home, going to a new city, or even country, and starting at university involve huge change bringing excitement, new opportunities and freedoms. However, because any change involves a loss of what’s gone before this can also be a time of mixed emotions, with some sadness and anxiety too.
To manage any major transition it’s important to be prepared for how we might respond and to take some time to reflect on the impact. While this is particularly true for international students, for whom everything can be different, including language, learning styles, food, climate, behaviour, values and social roles, at the Advice and Counselling Service we find that home students can also feel overwhelmed by all the newness. Change can be a challenge to our identity and require a process of letting go old ways of seeing the world and old hopes and expectations.
In general there are recognisable phases in how we deal with change that can take some months to work through:
- Honeymoon phase
Most of us feel excited by the changes and exploring a new environment.
- Crisis Stage/Culture shock
After a while we may notice we feel nervous and uncertain. We might experience physical problems like headaches and stomach upsets or find it difficult to sleep or concentrate on work. We may feel lonely and homesick, missing the easiness of our familiar relationships. We can become tearful or irritated by all the newness around us and want to withdraw from other people. We struggle with the contradictions between the hopes we had and the challenging realities of our new situation.
- Recovery Phase
Differences and similarities become more known and accepted and we gain confidence from our experience and coping with the challenges.
- Independence/Autonomy Phase
This phase brings renewed enthusiasm and an integration of our new experiences with the old as we develop trust in our capacity to function well in the new situation. This can be a time of energy and creativity with our widened experience bringing fresh opportunities as we start our next life phase.
Being self aware and prepared for these phases provides protection. Too often students’ expect that they should sail through challenging experiences without any response. This is unrealistic, so think ahead and look after yourself:
The Basics (important at any time but especially during transitions)
- A balanced diet with fresh fruit and vegetables. International students benefit from finding shops that sell familiar food as well as trying new foods. Exercise will bring opportunities for making friends as well as burn off the adrenalin from a life filled with nervous stimulation triggered by constant change. This helps to calm the system. Being out in as much daylight as possible is important especially for some international students.
- Be in touch with people from home as well as working on making new friends
The first trip home can be an important transition point. It can trigger homesickness but students often feel reassured when they find that all at home is ok. This frees them up to focus on their own life with more confidence. If home is not far away, avoid returning too often, even if it is tempting, but don’t stop yourself altogether. It’s not an endurance test!
- Put reminders of home around you in your room
Your favourite duvet cover or pillow can be a great comfort. Photos of friends and family can also help you to still feel connected and remind you that you are loved.
- Social activities
Doing something you enjoy reduces stress and depression as well as providing opportunities to make friends. Get to know the Stewards in your residence who organise social events and know the area. Check out the Students' Union website for more information on sport and fitness and for a list of clubs and societies.
- Take part in community activities/volunteer
See Students’ Union website for opportunities. You can also visit the Chaplaincy to find out about community activities, faith groups and volunteering.
- Take care of your mental health
Learn to notice how you are feeling without too much self criticism – it is likely to be a normal response that will pass in time. Speak to people you trust and others in a similar position. There is also useful self help information on our website: www.welfare.qmul.ac.uk and in the self help section in the library.
All this newness is enriching, fun and stimulating but our bodies are designed to recuperate through physical activity and in the quiet times. To support this we need to prioritise some recreation in a busy timetable.
Sort out the practical and financial problems
Some students avoid asking for help with problems like finance and debt until they are in serious difficulty. There are experienced Welfare Advisers in the Advice and Counselling Service who are there to help you. See the Advice and Counselling Service website www.welfare.qmul.ac.uk for useful information and follow us on twitter at QMUL_ACS.
Talk to someone
The negative effects of change will pass but if your mood seems constantly low or if it is worrying you that you are finding it difficult to settle down, you may find it helpful to speak to a Counsellor at the Advice and Counselling Service.
To arrange to speak to a Welfare Adviser or Counsellor contact the Advice and Counselling Service on 020 7882 8717, email via our website: www.welfare.qmul.ac.uk or come and see us on the ground floor of the Geography Building, Mile End Campus.