Travel writer Evangeline Hunt is studying abroad in Canada. In this article, she shares her feelings of loneliness and addresses the challenges she has faced.
When people think of the word “travel”, pictures of white sands and rose-coloured skies often come to mind. While these pictures, of course, come from somewhere (often Instagram), a lot of the day-to-day aspects of travel are sugarcoated. I have been lucky enough to travel a fair bit and am currently on a year abroad in Canada, and I know from experience that this glamorous image of travel is not my reality. I had a fairly scary experience recently while studying abroad which left me feeling a little bit lonely, and I know from talking to my friends abroad that I am not alone in feeling like this.
I think there is always a big expectation when you go abroad for prolonged periods of time that you must be having the absolute best time of your life and you are so lucky and everyone is so jealous etc etc. I find it funny, because I think this about so many people who are abroad from looking at their photos on Instagram, and I noticed all of my family saying it to me when I went home for Christmas. I also remember feeling like this when I went travelling a few years ago – I felt a fair amount of pressure to be having the very best time of my life when of course there were some very bad and down times (constantly ill, covered in insect bites that could be malaria/dengue fever, sleeping in dirty hostels, not eating healthy food). Whenever I was feeling down while I was travelling, I did not want to let my friends and family know in case they thought I was ungrateful for the opportunity to go travelling. The same can be said of my year abroad, and I believe a lot of other people’s too.
Over the weekend, my housemate and best friend here, Suzi, was diagnosed with meningitis. That can be very serious, even fatal – she has the viral kind which is substantially “better” than the bacterial kind – but still, we were scared. Not only is it extremely upsetting and traumatic to see your best friend in such a bad way (there were lots of tears and I was not sure if she needed to go to hospital), but Suzi is the person I would rely on if this happened to one of my loved ones; except it was happening to her.
Thankfully, Suzi will make a full recovery within a few weeks, which is great to hear. But there have been a few moments in her absence where my lip has been a little wobbly. Although I had lots of messages from our friends here, it was strange having no one to talk to while I ate my breakfast or got ready for bed, especially because two of my housemates were not around while this was going on. It made my life here seem very small, and I noticed how much I rely on Suzi’s presence around the house to keep me company.
Studying abroad in Ontario is so much harder than I thought – that’s not to say that I don’t have amazing times, or the “highs” aren’t amazing, but I can confidently say that the “lows” are lower than I expected. Being someone who spent a year travelling and of course, spent two years away from home for my first two years of university, I was surprised with how homesick I felt and still do feel. I think this comes down to the fact that when I was travelling/in Birmingham, I was either doing amazing things or surrounded by my best friends and my boyfriend. The Monday to Friday of studying abroad is hard, because not only do you have to deal with the normal stress of university, but you don’t have your best pals doing it with you.
In North America, the quantity of assessments is much higher – for each class I have a final essay and a final exam, as well as two or three midterm exams or essays. This isn’t something we have in the UK, so adjusting to the constant work was tough for me. I didn’t realise how much I relied on my best friends from home, Lois and Carrie until they were not sitting in class next to me. Sitting in a classroom surrounded by strangers is probably one of the hardest parts; at Laurier, people don’t tend to socialise in class, which is fair enough, but very different to what I am used to. It makes it hard when it comes to writing an essay, because you have no one to bounce ideas from, and even sitting on my own in class is unpleasant. I am more used to it in the second semester, but I do dread my Tuesday night 7-10pm class where I know no one and have to sit on my own.
On top of this, it is absolutely freezing outside. Thankfully I live opposite my university so I only have to walk for two minutes, but it means on really cold and snowy days, I can’t really go out unless it’s to my class. Little things like doing a food shop are hard in the cold – I have to either walk for fifteen minutes or get the bus, neither of which are pleasant when its -15 degrees on the regular. I did not realise that this would affect my mood so much, but spending all day every day inside can be a little claustrophobic.
My point of this post is not to moan, but rather to perhaps let other people abroad know that you are not alone in feeling alone (insert song: The Police – Message in a Bottle). Although at times it can be hard, the weekends where we get to travel and the few but very special friendships that we have made make it worth it. Without going abroad, I would have never met Suzi, even though she is from my home university. If you know someone who is on a year abroad or has moved away recently, perhaps ask them how they are. I know from experience that picking your life up and moving it 3,000 miles across the globe is no easy feat, despite what my Instagram says.