Overcoming loneliness as an international student

Arifah Badlishah discusses some of the difficulties that face the international students of Newcastle.

Arifah Badlishah
5th February 2020
Image: Instagram @ Hannah_j_g
So, you’ve been given the brilliant, possibly once-in-a-lifetime privilege of studying in the United Kingdom. For the first few weeks, everything is simply amazing - you are fascinated by world-famous football stadiums, red phone boxes, and Harry Potter merchandise everywhere.

Your friends back home insanely jealous seeing your pictures of beautiful sights in a foreign country, telling you how lucky you are. But time passes by, and reality kicks in. Not everything is as lovely as it seems. You yearn to taste the delicious flavours of your home country’s dishes. The time difference between restricts the timing for Skype calls with your family. Worst of all, you never really seem to fit in anywhere and you lack deep, meaningful bonds with people.

If this sounds like you, you might be suffering from the loneliness that often plague international students. Personally, during my first winter in the UK I appeared to be living the life and told my grandmother back in Malaysia that I was doing great - but secretly I was tearing up looking at pictures of the Petronas Twin Towers and intensely missing late night mamak stall (open-air food establishments) sessions with my friends. Also, the bitter cold weather was brutal for someone who comes from a tropical country. Has the UK ever heard of sunlight? 

I feel like we talk a lot about this among ourselves, but not really to other people. Perhaps it is the ego of wanting our lives to seem perfect though we’re dying inside, or just not wanting our parents to worry. But it’s 2020 now and it’s dangerous not to spread awareness about the wellbeing of international students. It’s easy to romanticize studying overseas when fed with scenic photos. People don’t see the slow deterioration of your mental health, the racism and discrimination you face, and the long nights of scrolling through social media - longingly watching Stories of your squad hanging out in your hometown.

Try to connect with people from your home country

There are steps you can take to combat your loneliness. Make friends through events and societies according to your own interests to connect with like-minded people. There’s even an International Society in Newcastle University! Quality comes before quantity, so try to find a few good people who you can open up to. Call your loved ones back home often and try to connect with people from your home country who live in your university’s city.

The University and local GPs also offer support services for mental health

Try to determine the causes of your negative feelings, and seek advice on how to reduce or eliminate them completely. Most importantly, please identify healthy coping mechanisms for yourself (e.g. expressing yourself through art or sports, getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, prayers). The University and local GPs also offer support services for mental health, so be sure to reach out to them. Dealing with adjustment issues often takes time, patience, effort, and an effective support system. Don’t forget to look out for your fellow international buddies who may be hurting in silence as well.

All of this is easier said than done, but we started venturing on this path, so let’s find the strength to finish it. Studying abroad, we get to make friends from all over the world, experience different ways of doing things, and broaden our minds. Best of all, we learn to appreciate the things we took for granted back at home (I was so excited to find out the corner shop near my house sells a local Malaysian snack!). Hopefully, when we return to our home countries, we’ll bring back something valuable and contribute to the nation. 

I slowly removed the toxic elements contributing to my loneliness while focusing on embracing the beauty in studying abroad

So to all fellow international students who feel devastatingly lonely - I see your pain and suffering! You are not alone and you’ll definitely get through this. I used to be like you and there are several others who feel the same way. It took a while, but I slowly removed the toxic elements contributing to my loneliness while focusing on embracing the beauty in studying abroad. Now I am in my final semester and feel so content that I don’t feel like leaving the UK anytime soon! I have full confidence that you are going to be so proud on your graduation day - with a scroll in your hand, a bright smile on your face, and surrounded by loved ones who will be celebrating your success.

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AUTHOR: Arifah Badlishah
Media student | Lover of words, visuals, and ideas ✏️🎨📷

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