The feeling of loneliness, for most international students in a foreign land, is essentially the absence of a ‘comfort zone’. You may try to recreate what things were like back home by making friends with people from your country, or by shopping at culture-specific local markets or even by finding accommodation in a culture-specific area. This is what you call a ‘quick fix’.
Being an international student for four long years now, I have come to believe that to be able to deal fully with loneliness in a culture that is alien to you, you must have a clear understanding of yourself as a person.
Here are 5 ways to combat loneliness:
1. Find out what is your relationship with you?
Settling into an unknown territory comes with many tiring demands. From making new friends, to finding a new home and learning a new language, it is easy to get overwhelmed by it all. Take a moment to ask yourself, who you are first. Are you easily adaptable when travelling? What is your purpose beyond academics and career? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? With these questions will come a basic understanding of what you want from life in general, and so you will start to see your environment with a unique lens of self-understanding.
2. Keep yourself away from victimhood
The above statement can mean a lot of things. In a foreign country, it is possible to be a victim of crime, racial tension, difficult weather, difficult landlords or bosses, but more relevantly; loneliness. We may not recognise when we get into our ‘victim-mode’. But, we do from time to time find ourselves in the land of ‘victimhood’. It’s like a temporary holiday destination that we can use to escape from our troubles.
When things are uncomfortable, refusing to be ‘resourceful’ is a good way to become a victim. Slowly we become complaining and crave an easier time that doesn’t exist yet.
Accepting that you are uncomfortable and in a difficult place is a step towards getting help.
Help can be available in many forms. If you are chronically lonely, homesick or say, even depressed; getting help from a university counselor is a good starting point. Keeping in regular contact with your loved ones from home, seeking the company of people who discourage ‘victim-mode’, and understanding that no situation is ever permanent, will speed up your recovery and get you on track with your life.
3. Figure out how you like to socialise
Introverts are people who draw energy from solitude, whereas extroverts are people who draw their energy mostly in the company of others. Understanding where you gain most of your energy will give you a list of resources to help deal with loneliness.
If you’re an extrovert; joining Meetup groups of like-minded individuals or finding the hottest night clubs, university clubs and social activities, can help fill your social calendar nicely.
Humans are social beings, no matter their dominant energy. Even introverts need people at times, but they understand well that solitude and loneliness are not the same thing! If you like spending your free time by yourself; a good book, the art of learning a new cuisine, exploring foreign cinema or just wandering the city by yourself or with a new close friend from university can be very fulfilling.
4. Realise that people are the same everywhere
There is a popular saying, “Magic happens outside your comfort zone.” This is very true, but when you find yourself in a new cultural set-up you will discover something that is very comforting indeed – people everywhere in the world, no matter their race, colour, language, sexual orientation, religion and lifestyle are governed by the very same principles of fear, protection, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, jealousy, affection, kindness, and above all, love. So, it is up to us to recognise our common ground and connect deeply with anyone, no matter who they are or where they come from.
5. Figure out what you can offer people
Being an international student comes with the prospect of having limited resources. But, even in such situations, you should take a moment to ask yourself what you can offer the community around you. After all, why must this life-changing adjustment of yours be a one-way street?
Loneliness comes from the feeling that we alone are trapped somehow. But, you will find that there are always people around you who need more help than you do. Getting involved with local communities and support groups, starting from your university, will expose you to the reality of the world. Offering your time and resources to others can bring you a great sense of fulfillment. You might even be paid to help at some places.
You could be good at gardening, or able to cook large batches of food one night of the week at a local support group, or even be able to write articles that help people combat loneliness. Anything you do to help others will bring you closer to helping yourself and finding your place in the world.
By Sanghamitra Das
Sanghamitra Das is an international student from India. She was kind enough to share this article with us here at Insider Guides.