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Leaving Family for Studies: Coping with the Emotions

So I took a pause from blogging - because, Life. And some huge career changes.


... Like resigning after working for ten (yes, I am also horrified) years! Between getting married after university, becoming a mum, and trying to progress in my career, I hadn't realised time had started to blur and really, REALLY fly! That particular stage in life, of 'emerging adulthood' (Arnett, 2014) between 18-29 years, is a huge rollercoaster though - so if you're there now, do as Dory sagely advises - and 'just keep swimming'.


My 'swimming phase' started when I began feeling unchallenged and a little stuck in my job, and decided to apply for an Australia Awards Scholarship to pursue further studies. As a sponsored student, I will write more in other blogs, about what I'm learning while studying, but I will say this - there is nothing better than knowing you are being paid (there is a fortnightly stipend) to study subjects you love.


If you are also at a similar place in your life, I highly recommend you look into the Australia Awards, and other similar scholarships available in your country.

Leaving home and family for studies is a significant milestone in a student's life. And it is not an easy one to make at any stage in life - whether you are fresh out of high school, or mid-career with a family (like where I was), or just looking to up-skill.


For one thing, you will be leaving the safety net and security of home, family and friends - which is already super daunting. But you are also moving to a new country - and if English is not your first language - facing the twin-fold challenge of navigating a new country and people, and understanding them. In a separate blog, I will write out the steps I took to settle into my new home, as a new student.

Looking out from a plane window, at plane's wings and islands in sea below

On the flip side, it is an opportunity to explore new horizons, meet new people, and gain valuable life experiences.


However, it can also be challenging, especially for those leaving their families behind. Coping with the emotional challenges of leaving the family for studies can be difficult, but with the right mindset and support, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience (I promise).



After a year of going through all this, here are some tips to help you cope with the emotional challenges of leaving your 'safety net':

Hand touching window with raindrops

1. Acknowledge your feelings:

Feeling sad, anxious, or even scared is normal when leaving your family for studies. Acknowledge your feelings and allow yourself to experience them. It is okay to cry or feel homesick. Remember that it is a natural part of the process and will improve with time.


I left behind my husband (after his own stint on Chevening), with my seven-year-old son - and that was the most heartbreaking goodbye I've had to make. At the airport departure lounge, I had to repeat almost audibly to myself that this was for the betterment of my family's collective future... it really is the hardest part of this process.


Iphone, mouse, earpods, speaker and macbook

2. Stay connected:

Technology has made it easier than ever to stay connected with your family. Make use of video calls, messaging apps, and social media to stay in touch with your loved ones. Regular communication can help you feel connected and supported, even when you are far away.


I stay in touch regularly with my family on WhatsApp, and my son on Kids Messenger (on Facebook). We have a set time for calls (before dinner, and on the way to school) and try to stick to this as much as we can. Ahhh, the fights when my husband forgets to at least message me in the morning, because of the chaotic morning rush for school and work... REMEMBER to be kind, and forgiving when this happens (also talking to myself).


3. Build a support system:

It is essential to build a support system in your new environment. Join clubs, societies, or groups that interest you. Attend social events and meet new people. A support system can help you feel less lonely and more connected to your new environment.


Friends are essential here. I was lucky in that I had friends in Australia already, which helped ease me back into the student life. But if you're going somewhere completely new, reach out to your alumni network, your 'wantok community' - or make new ones! As a mature age student, re-entering the education system after being in the workforce for so long, I struggled to adjust to the fact that I sometimes knew no one in the room - or that I was the only Pacific Islander (no, Solomon Islands is not Somalia - big sigh). My default introvert setting would sometimes want to disengage in conversations, but thank goodness (for my sanity's sake) I have some very persistent classmates; not to mention, engaging lecturers.


I joined two university clubs, relating to my degree, when I started - and the niche opportunities they have presented, have been the building blocks my career did not know it needed. I also joined the university's mentoring program and the regular check-ins from my mentor helped me stay focused. From expereince, the support system and networks you build at university, can be the most beneficial to you later on in your career, so never underestimate them.


Various people doing a group hug

4. Stay busy:

Keeping yourself busy can help you adjust to your new environment. Focus on your studies, explore your new surroundings, and engage in interesting activities. Staying busy can help you feel more productive and less homesick.


Since arriving in Australia, I've tried different things, like immersive theatre for example (highly recommend Love. Lust. Lost), rock climbing (with my son - we tried Urban Climb), seeing the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers show in September, and visited the Queensland Air Museum in Caloundra. I've also gone back to my love of crocheting with a vengeance (so much free time!).


When it's something completely different from something you would do at home, it is much more interesting, but even just the simple routine of going to church every week, or taking a walk every day to keep busy are all good ways to keep the homesickness at bay.


If you're like me, and you're just dead-set on over-exerting yourself, you could also get a part-time job. I joke about it, but my little nerd heart is so happy with my newfound working student routine. I would encourage you if you're also looking for something else aside from a hobby, to look for a job relating to your career path, so you always have your 'finger on the pulse' so to speak.

Massage oils and flower

5. Take care of yourself:

Above all else, it is essential to take care of yourself first - both physically and emotionally. Eat well, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. Take breaks when needed, and don't hesitate to seek help if you are struggling emotionally.


I've adjusted my #selfcareSunday routines (that usually involve a reset at home with my boys), to one dedicated to cleaning up my spaces - my study/work desk, my makeup table, my bedroom, my kitchen - and of course, the weekly sheets change and laundry drill.

Leaving family for studies can be a challenging time, but it can also be a rewarding experience. By acknowledging your feelings, staying connected, building a support system, staying busy, and taking care of yourself, you can cope with the emotional challenges and make the most of your new environment. Remember that it is a natural part of the process, and with time, you will adjust (and thrive!) in your new environment.



References:

Arnett, J. J. (2014). Emerging adulthood: The winding road from the late teens through the twenties. Oxford University Press.


Chickering, A. W., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and Identity. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 350 Sansome St., San Francisco, CA 94104.


Cairns, D. (Ed.). (2021). The Palgrave handbook of youth mobility and educational migration. Palgrave Macmillan.

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