As you are reading this article, I am a month or so into my year abroad in France. It still feels new and unknown, but at the same time I feel like I’ve been here for a lot longer than I really have. One thing I’ve encountered here in a way I never have before is loneliness. It almost feels wrong saying this publicly because it’s seemingly an unwritten rule that you don’t admit to feeling alone or unhappy, especially when you’re trying to get to know people, but for any freshers reading this (and probably most of us at some point) loneliness will be something you can identify with.
The first and most important thing I want to point out, which is ironically one of the first things we forget when we move somewhere new, is that everyone feels this way. No matter whether they appear to be having fun, are constantly surrounded by people or bombard your Facebook news feed with their endless social activities, you can rest assured that they have moments in their day when they will worry about making friends and feeling settled.
Why is this a comfort? Because it means that instead of fighting this emotion like there’s something wrong with us, we can accept that this is how things should feel for the moment and be reassured that it will pass.
This being the second time I have moved alone to a new place since becoming a Southampton student, I would like to share three lessons I learned this time round which have vastly improved my happiness and wellbeing.
- Do not be afraid of spending time with yourself
It’s something I took for granted back home, having people to accompany me pretty much any time I wanted, and a large part of me was tempted to latch onto the first group I met here so we could do everything together. I could’ve done that, but I didn’t. And I’m the better for it. Exploring markets on my own and setting up a bank account with only myself to rely on meant that I was able to go at my own pace, and ultimately learn about myself. When I eventually make good friends we will do things together, but I know that I have the confidence to go it alone and not to be held back by a need to be with people.
- Build your ideal lifestyle
Since moving away from home, what I love most is doing the weekly food shop. It might sound dreary to some, but being in charge of everything in my kitchen has made me far healthier than I ever was before. Deciding how to spend your money and time, and not have to compromise with others can be a great advantage! In a month in France I’ve gotten through two books, which it took me three months to do at home in the summer surrounded by friends and other commitments. It may only be for a season, but take the opportunity to enjoy the freedom of having only yourself to consider.
- Appreciate the little things
Coming from nothing is a great way to rediscover the subtle things that make life beautiful, the kind of things you might overlook with a busy social life in a place you know well. I’m living in halls here in France, and one of my daily goals is to say hello to every person I pass on the stairs throughout the day. There are about 200 people in my building alone so that makes for quite a few ‘hello’s! Little good deeds and conversations with people remind you that strangers (generally) are not scary and distant, but are just waiting to be engaged with. I may not have any close friends, but I have my fair share of moments that restore my faith in humanity.
So whilst it’s easy to dwell on the negatives, my loneliness has become a chance to really take a look at who I am, how I like to spend my time, and what makes me happy. Yes I miss my family and friends, but I am determined to make the most of my time and to leave wishing away the days in my past.