Going away for university usually implies moving away from home, from the place you have grown up, where all your friends live, where most of your family resides, and where you have built all of your memories, up until now. I was excited about beginning my Master’s degree at Manchester, but it took a while for me to embrace my new routine, learn how to be far from my family, friends and boyfriend, and get used to being alone. This article describes the difficulties of being away from loved ones, what types of issues can come up, how to tackle these issues, and how people can work on their relationships and maintain them in a healthy way while studying at uni.
Most of you probably think moving out of your parents’ house is one of the pros to going away for university. While this does imply freeing yourself from the many limits and rules parents usually hold up against their children, it also means one of the main support systems you have will be further away. I think this has affected me more because over the years I have grown closer to my parents. I went to Paris for a semester abroad and I know for a fact that my 22 year old self back then did not miss her parents as much as I do today!
Before I left Lima I already had a family Whatsapp group set up with my parents and sister. Sending messages, pictures and videos through the group is an efficient way to keep my closest family members updated on my life at uni. Once in a while, I message my parents and sister individually and although it isn’t always possible, I attempt to Facetime with them every week, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Keep an eye out for things that they will appreciate in your everyday life and take pictures or record videos whenever you can. They don’t have to be masterpieces, just interesting enough for them to be conversation starters.
One of the most common issues that come up while being far away from your family is missing out on special occasions such as birthdays or holidays such as Christmas, especially if they include traditions you have repeated over the years and will not be a part of this time round. On these specific dates you should attempt to plan something with your new friends at uni or try to keep busy in general to avoid feeling melancholic. Starting traditions of your own is a great idea to embrace your new and independent life, and have fun while doing so.
Another issue that could arise is a family member falling ill and you not being able to be close by during this hard situation. I myself face this situation daily because my dad suffers from a degenerative disease that is gradually limiting his physical movement. This means that seeing him after long periods of time could come as a bit of a shock since I will not have been able to progressively experience the changes he is enduring. I cope with this by keeping in touch with my mom who constantly updates me on my dad’s situation, especially when significant changes arise but I have also prepared myself psychologically for living with my dad’s disease by going to therapy for a couple of years before coming to Manchester. For additional support for situations like this, I would advise taking a look at the mental health and well being resources provided by the university here.
Although you will meet many interesting new people at uni, and naturally befriend many of them, I have learned that there’s a special bond that holds you together with old friends, and that it’s important to cultivate these friendships throughout the years. Whatsapp groups can help keep in touch with specific groups of friends from school, uni (if you’ve already been to uni) and childhood, but it’s important to message people individually as well. I have Facetimed with my closest friends several times while I’ve been at Manchester, but I have also found voicenotes very helpful, especially if there’s a significant time difference between where your friends live and where you live. Voicenotes communicate more information more quickly than simply typing messages, and they’re a bit more personal since the person receiving them will get to hear your voice. I have also reused voicenotes a couple of times, which means I have sent a voicenote to one friend, and I have then forwarded the same voicenote to another friend. This can save time and you will be able to reach out to a greater number of people with a minimum effort. Remember it’s easy to get carried away telling your friend about everything you’ve been up to, so don’t forget to also ask him or her about his or her news and updates. After all, maintaining a friendship is all about reciprocity.
There’s no need to explain why being far away from your boyfriend or girlfriend is hard. Even though having some independence is healthy for everyone, moving away from home means that person who was part of your everyday life is no longer a part of it and that takes time to get used to. How difficult it is for you to get used to this and the new dynamics you will engage in as a couple will depend on the stage of the relationship you’re in. In any case, it’s important to have a solid foundation before deciding to engage in a long distance relationship, otherwise any loose ends can affect the relationship later on.
Again, what’s been particularly helpful for me are voicenotes. I have sent my boyfriend at least one voice note every day, with a brief summary of what I’ve been up to and what I have planned for the rest of the day. We have also exchanged selfies several times, mostly goofy ones. Sometimes while I’m speaking to him on the phone I’ll see something that catches my eye and I’ll take a picture of it so that he can also see it at the same time as me. We have also made an attempt to programme Facetime sessions regularly, at least once a week, even if it’s only for 10 or 15 minutes.
As cliché as it may sound, in order to keep long term relationships afloat, you need to always communicate! And if you’re discussing an important topic, try to call or Facetime. Whatsapp conversations are open to a series of ambiguous interpretations that could result in easily avoidable discussions. Finally, it’s important to always have a date to look forward to on which you will reunite with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and that you are both generally planning to come together again sometime down the road.
Maintaining contact with former colleagues is part of networking. I’m still a member of Whatsapp groups with people from my last two jobs and in both cases we try to get together a couple of times a year. In my case, since I choose my Master’s degree based on one of the last projects I worked on, I have sent my former boss and colleagues several relevant articles or links from my classes at uni that will be useful to them and that will prove I’m up to date with the topics. You never know if someday you’ll work together again.