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My First Week in London - Study Abroad Survival Guide

October 03, 2023
by Julia Caterino

How to Deal with Loneliness and Homesickness while Studying Abroad 

If your first thought when you hear “semester abroad in London” is luxurious weekend traveling, fancy afternoon tea, or living out the Notting Hill dream, you’re not alone—that’s what I imagined too. While these things definitely can be part of the experience, it’s also a romanticized version of studying abroad. Realistically, we’re all full-time students taking classes in a completely new country, living in one of the most expensive cities in Europe. Studying abroad isn’t always glamorous, especially in the beginning. It can feel extremely overwhelming. 

Between navigating the tube for the first time, meeting new people, and starting classes, everyone’s anxiety and mental health and wellbeing is at an all-time high. 

Having participated in a three-week study abroad program earlier this summer in Florence, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I imagined my transition to living in London going the exact same way as my transition to living in Italy. I wasn't prepared for how different my London experience would be, however. In Florence, I was in a small program of about 18 students who were all from my home university, the University of Pittsburgh. Here in London, I’m part of a program of about 50 people from schools across the U.S. I no longer have that instant sense of familiarity with the people around me. I don’t always have the same people in my classes here in London. In Florence, everyone took the same classes, so I was always surrounded by the same girls. Because of the close proximity in Florence, we all grew very close very quickly. It was like my group of friends fell right into my lap on day one! In this way, I’ve learned to prioritize meeting new people and socializing during the past few weeks in London. 

Coping with loneliness

A very common experience for students abroad during the first few weeks is a sense of loneliness. It’s completely normal to feel uncomfortable during your first week (or weeks) abroad – it’s truly an emotional rollercoaster. If you don’t know anybody going into it, you’re not alone! Most people are in the same exact spot. Try to remember that everyone wants to make friends while studying abroad. Because of social media, it may seem like everyone already has established a tight-knit friend group right away. I compared myself to other people a lot that first week, wondering how they did it. It wasn’t until I talked to one of my flatmates that I realized most people feel anxious to make friends fast. It brought me comfort knowing that she (and others) felt the same way.

A person taking a selfie in front of colorful houses

Having a walk around Notting Hill

As a major introvert, going abroad without knowing anybody was intimidating. I left behind everything that’s familiar and comfortable, including friends at my home university. It’s scary to put yourself out there and actively try to make friends. So, if you’re feeling the same way, give yourself some credit for the hard work that you’re doing. Trust the process! 

Don't let fear stop you from exploring your new home

I know how hard it can be to do things by yourself. Some people are naturally very independent, and they can easily do things all by themselves. But that’s not everyone. The reality is, many study abroad students have quite different schedules when it comes to their classes. 

There may be days where you go for long stretches of time without your flatmates and friends. Studying abroad pushes you to be okay with spending time by yourself, and in a city as big as London, there are so many things to do (even on the weekdays after class!). You don’t want to miss out on anything because you don’t have anyone to do it with. Whether it’s a vintage clothes market, a new restaurant that you’ve been eyeing, or a show that you want to see, don’t be afraid to just go by yourself! 

Vintage clothing on racks in street

Vintage clothing at the Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill

During my first week I was shocked when I heard about how my flatmates would just go to see a play by themselves or take the tube to a whole different neighborhood and explore. It inspired me to push myself. I always heard people talk about the Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill, so I decided to hop on the tube and go there by myself on a weekday when I didn’t have any classes. I ended up having the best time by myself walking the market, seeing the beautiful houses, and tasting the delicious street food. If you feel self-conscious in public places alone, I would recommend listening to your favorite music/podcast or bringing a book! 

Colorful pastel houses close together

The colorful pastel houses in Notting Hill

Homesickness is normal

Some people who go abroad are lucky—they may never experience any homesickness. But for most people, it’s simply part of the experience. Sometimes I even feel guilty for feeling homesick. I end up thinking, “You’re in London! Most people would switch places with you in an instant!” But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to leave home. Whenever I feel a sense of homesickness creeping in, I reach out to my family for support. FaceTimeing or even just texting them is extremely comforting. One mantra that I like to tell myself is, “it’ll be there when you get back.” Whatever I’m feeling homesick for, such as my family, my friends, and my home university, will be there when this semester is over. This mantra helps to ground me, and it reminds me that studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am so lucky to be part of. Everything will be there when I get back, but I will never have this experience in London again! This is my new home for the next few months, and I’m learning to appreciate it more each day. 

flowers for sale on the sidewalk

There are so many vendors selling flowers at the Portobello Road Market

Although it may be an emotional rollercoaster, the first few weeks abroad are such a rewarding experience. Learning to adjust to a new home and a new routine are great skills to have. There are days when you will feel like you’re on top of the world, and others when you feel uncomfortable and lonely. I’m learning to embrace all these feelings, good or bad, that come with the study abroad experience. 

Julia Caterino is the Content Creator - Blogger in London, England, and is currently studying at University of Pittsburgh.
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