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How to beat loneliness when living abroad?

Written by Simran Chhabra
UC CAAS student- Studying at Marist College, BFA Fashion Design with merchandising and product development

Being in college is something we all dream of since an early age. The freedom you and your friends will have, excelling at coursework, enjoying weekends and working along with some amazing co-workers is the ideal college life in our heads. If you find your kind of people immediately, the angels are definitely in your favor but as a general trend, people take time to settle down into the foreign environment and make friends.

When I went to Italy, I was in a group of 40 American children and I was the only international student studying in Europe. Every night I’d be reminded of how I’m living abroad alone. Culture shocks were inevitable and it was extremely lonely to be surrounded by people I had nothing in common with. But I realised it is normal to feel this way. I learnt how different cultures are similar yet different from each other. It was the first time I was away from family and learning to live independently. The process took time, but in my journey as a college student from Italy to New York, I discovered different ways to beat loneliness and actually move toward my dream college life.

    1. My college is right beside the Hudson River. It is the most scenic place on my entire campus and so whenever I want to get some air, find a place with wifi to do my homework as well as find a place where I can find some solace, that is the place I go to. It has a boathouse attached right next to it with a gazebo where you can hide when it pours. It is definitely great if you too can find a place on your campus which is beautiful and peaceful.

     2. When I studied abroad in Italy, one of the things I did immediately was to understand the cultures of the place. Coffee plays a major role in the lives of Italians. The coffee shops are open at 5:00 am and everyone is out and about on their way to work. I actually started waking up specifically at 5:00 am each morning just so I could have coffee and croissants in a coffee shop on my way to classes and enjoy the morning life a little bit more in the storybook like Florence. If you ever get a chance to explore the city or town that you study in, my advice is to seize every opportunity and try new experiences. The more you put yourself out there, no matter how hard it may be for you, the more it’s worth the risk. I met some extremely amazing people with the most adventurous life stories in quaint little coffee shops in Italy. Sometimes, I didn’t even have to pay. It was all in the house!

    3. One of the other best ways to know people is to make your orientations count. They are an amazing way to get to know the people in your class as well as take advantage of the ice-breaker activities organized by the college. It automatically puts you in conversations with other students without actually making an effort on your own. Another big advantage that comes from attending orientations is that you get to meet your seniors who can be great friends, mentors as well as be extremely helpful. Depending on your college location, they can even help you get to know the best spots, the restaurants around and also tell you what to and where to avoid.

      4. Every college has hundreds if not thousands of clubs on campus. They range from sports to theatre to academic clubs. Find something you actually enjoy, not just academically so that you have a source of de-stressing after attending a whole day of classes and finishing assignments.

      5. International students often have a separate club or organization, which is completely dependent on the amount of international students at your college and where they are from. My college, Marist, especially has an international student association as well as smaller clubs for students from Asia, South Africa, Europe, Italian- Americans, Italian, Spanish, Hispanic- Latino and many more. Even if you feel lonely around your roommates or housemates or even people you have classes with, with them, you always have people who understand where you are coming from and you get a group of people who will always have your back. Being an international student, there is nothing better than having a group of people who will never judge you but always treat you like family, they will also expand your horizons with a worldview that can be more diverse than yours.

      6. Greek life is also an amazing way to create connections for life. Fraternities and Sororities will immediately give a family for life, with the people being extremely close, welcoming and making you feel included in every aspect. Loneliness can also take over when people are around but if you have people who support you, encourage you and have fun with you, the chances decrease drastically of that happening to you. I am not a part of one but I know people who are extremely close to their frat and sorority members.

      7. Learn and know the difference between loneliness and solitude. It is one thing to stay in your room, enjoy your alone time, watch shows, cook and be content but another thing to just be in your room the entire day feeling sorry that you are not living the life you wanted. If the situation gets worse rather than better even after you try really hard to feel included, do not hesitate to talk about it. If you are close to your family, speak to them about it and discuss what you can do to solve this issue. If that does not work either, it is always good to talk to specialists that can help you. Every college now has special psychologists and counsellors that are equipped to deal with situations like these.

      8. Try to go to office hours with your professors and Teacher assistants (they are usually students senior to your grade). This will not only help you academically but if the professor knows about you, they can help you get involved in events that you might even be aware about. Teacher assistants can play similar roles but they can be extremely good friends for you.

      9. Attend college-organized events as much as possible. They are usually for the entire student population and can help you meet people that you have not seen before. Even if you do not find your bestie for life, you will have conversations with a plethora of people and of course you get free food which is always amazing from the perspective of a college student.

      10. Try to get part-time jobs or get involved with student government. Not only will this boost your confidence but it will also be a way to bond with your co-workers. Having friends and conversation at the workplace will always be a motivation and a much needed break. Added bonus is that it will definitely boost your resume for the future just because you were having fun and enjoying socialising with your peers.

      11. Fitness is extremely important. Specifically, if you are in the USA, the food can be extremely unhealthy and fast food becomes a norm really quickly! Believe me when I say that the only reason I have been able to pull my all-nighters is because I was able to order from McDonalds at any time. This is definitely the time where you can actually get into the habit of joining the gym or just a Yoga Club. Even if you do not plan on getting muscles or losing weight in general, do not be shy to exercise regularly. It might even give you a few gym buddies in your life and when has that ever been a bad thing? I found some of the most inspiring people in the same way and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Always remember that other students are in the same boat as you or have been in your position before. Keeping this in mind, I’ve also become a Peer Mentor at University Connection to ensure that younger students don’t have to go through what I went through.

Studying abroad alone is a huge step out of one’s comfort zone and there’s always a way to get back into social life. Be open, be courageous and be confident enough so you can go out and be the amazing person you are. Don’t let loneliness be a dead end to your amazing college life. Never question yourself in a way that puts your value down but rather in a self-reflective way which can help you become a better version of yourself. These years should be remembered as the best days of your life. So just have fun!

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