Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving Abroad to University: Pandemic Edition

Tuesday, February 02

By Meghan Kane

Leaving everything you know behind to move to another country is hard enough as it is, but doing it all during a pandemic is a whole other ballgame. My university told its students to come to campus in the summer, so expecting a somewhat normal school year, I did. I packed up my little life in Massachusetts, flew to Dublin, and took a bus up to Belfast. I’ve been an independent girl all my life and thought I could handle the huge change, but adjusting to life away from home in the midst of the world going to hell in a hand basket has been so much harder than I thought it would be. 

Homesickness

As much as I hated certain things about my small American town, I came to find that I would miss it dearly when the gravity of my decision finally hit me once I settled in my Belfast flat. I’m very close to my friends and family, they make up the roots and branches of the tree that is my life. Having to go on this journey by myself has been much harder than I anticipated. I got used to being alone in a new city within a few months, but there are still days where I get hit by waves of sadness and a deep desire to be back home. I thought that all of my problems would be solved by just picking up and leaving, but I now know that the grass is greener on the side that you water. I truly do love Belfast and the lovely people I’ve gotten to know, including my incredible flatmates, friends, and my boyfriend and his family, but the warmth I was met with here just doesn’t fill the gap left by leaving home. I don’t think it ever will, but what’s important to remember is that things won’t just work out magically, you have to make it work by building your new life from the ground up. It’s much easier said than done, but I know that I left for a reason and that everything will settle eventually. 

Loneliness

Going along the same vein, I didn’t expect to be as lonely as I am now. I knew that making the decision to move away during a time of lockdowns and quarantining would render a considerable amount of alone time, but the loneliness I’ve experienced without in-person classes has shocked me. Being alone and being lonely are very different things, and despite having friendly flatmates that I see in the kitchen, we’re all busy with our studies and are usually locked in our rooms working. I have one friend from university and a few outside of Belfast, so my social interactions here have truly been limited. I’m lucky to have my boyfriend, without him I think I’d go insane from isolation. I’m totally guilty of calling my mom at least three times a day just to ask how everything’s going at home, but it’s not the same as talking in real life. I’ve kept myself busy with schoolwork and growing a wee fleet of plants in my windowsill, but I can say with absolute confidence that the loneliness of the pandemic has really taken a toll on my mental health and has made my anxiety worse. 

Pack light!

On a less serious note, you absolutely don’t need as much as you think you do when moving to university. I not only packed up my warm clothes and toiletries but also two large boxes full of fake plants, books, and other decor that now litters my shelves. In fairness it does make my room look warmer and more homey, but thinking about putting everything into storage gives me a headache. If I could give you one piece of advice if you’re moving abroad, bring what you absolutely need and then build your way up when you arrive at your destination. As much as I love the books, I don’t think I needed to pack The Lord of the Rings series and a copy of The Hobbit

Dinner and laundry suck.

One thing that never crossed my mind as being difficult is having to come up with what to make for dinner every night. My mom always made it look easy, pretty much every night we would have something delicious on the table. I swore to myself that I would try my hand at loads of different recipes, but as it turns out I’m no different from any other student in that pasta is my best friend. I look at my recipe board on Pinterest every single week and somehow come up with nothing new and exciting. I’ve nailed down a few staple meals, like the beloved pesto pasta (I add a twist with feta and tomatoes), but I didn’t anticipate dinnertime being so difficult. You know what else is unnecessarily difficult and expensive? Laundry! Most of my fellow students in the UK have encountered the scamming menace that is Circuit laundry at least once. I pay around five quid to do a load so I can only afford to do it once a week, which adds up fast every month. If and when you move to university halls, a drying rack is a necessity! Even though I feel like a 16th century peasant woman sloshing my laundry around in a large bin with a ladle, it’s worth saving the extra fiver. 

Everyone is in the same boat!

It’s so easy for me to feel alone in whatever I’m experiencing. Whenever I was going through visa application delays and anxiety over moving away in the summer, I felt like I was the only one on the planet going through those things. That’s a ridiculous notion, of course, with millions of international students enduring such hardships every year. I’ve been like this all my life and it hasn’t gotten any better with the pandemic. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who’s experiencing a lack of passion or motivation and that it says more about my laziness than it does about the chaos around me, which is also ridiculous. I still have a hard time conceptualizing the fact that literally everyone is going through life-altering events right now and that enduring worsening mental health is (unfortunately) becoming increasingly common. It’s really, really important to remember that virtually everyone is in the same boat and that you're never alone in how you're feeling, there’s always at least one person who is going through or has gone through the same thing.

Don't let any of this discourage you from taking the leap and moving abroad, despite everything it's still one of the best decisions I ever made. My biggest issue is that I glamorized the idea of being in a new country too much and wasn't as prepared as I thought I was for the difficulties involved. The saying that you can't have sunshine without a bit of rain applies so well to this scenario because while I've experienced intense emotional hardships, I've also met some of my best friends, found the love of my life, and have loved all of my classes so far. Leaving the country is definitely hard and some parts never get easier, but if you can and you really want to, go for it! 

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