Rachel Goh - “Coping with homesickness”

Rachel Goh

Rachel has travelled from Singapore to study Psychology at the University of Otago. She is often seen running around campus juggling various commitments. 

The year 2017 signals the start of my 8th year in Dunedin. Time really flies by, huh? It feels like yesterday when I was this shorthaired little girl wondering what a cheese roll tasted like and not knowing how to get to places. And now here I am, shoulder length hair, inhaling cheese rolls (and every food in sight for that matter), and also knowing the campus inside out.

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Lots of things have changed since 2010 - Hoyts has been replaced by Reading Cinemas, the bubble-tea shop “5o9” I used to work at is now a Student Flight Centre, Otago Foundation School has moved to the stadium… Some things remain consistent though – Chopsticks is still present and good, the International Food Festival is going strong, and I still get bouts of homesickness.

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“Wait a minute.” You may ask, “you still get homesick after 7-8 years?” 

Yes, I still do, and it sucks. It happens to the best of us sometimes, even to someone who has been here for as long as I have. Because, at the end of the day, home is still home and certain characteristics are irreplaceable.I miss my family and their comfortable presence, I miss my best friends and our ability to speak without words, I miss my Archie Comics collection just right next to my comfy childhood bed, I miss the glorious Singapore food that you can get within walking distance, I even miss the Singapore heat during the cold Dunedin months…. I miss a lot of things about Singapore even

I miss my family and their comfortable presence, I miss my best friends and our ability to speak without words, I miss my Archie Comics collection just right next to my comfy childhood bed, I miss the glorious Singapore food that you can get within walking distance, I even miss the Singapore heat during the cold Dunedin months…. I miss a lot of things about Singapore even till this day.

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I know I’m incredibly lucky to be able to go back to Singapore every summer, but one tends to forget when you are feeling miserable in another country.

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Skype and FaceTime are great and all, yet there are days where a face on the screen cannot compensate for the overwhelming missing piece you feel.

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Thankfully it gets better with time, and there are ways to lessen the blow. It may or may not work for you, but here are 5 ways I do to cope with homesickness:

Stop, breathe, and tell yourself how blessed you are to be here

Coping strategy 1 may sound like a real cop out, but this psychology student knows what she is talking about at times. I know it is easier said than done but sometimes redirecting your thoughts can do wonders. Your mind is a really powerful tool and you will be surprised at what it can do.

For me, the first thing that comes to mind is one of the greatest lessons my parents have taught me which is to never ever take your life for granted. So I always tell myself that not many people have the chance to study overseas and to experience such a beautiful country. You made a choice to be independent from home, and it is going to be a fantastic learning experience.

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 Cook your favourite dishes and share it

When asked about what they miss about Singapore, every Singaporean will definitely have food in their top 3. New Zealand-style food is pretty great and all, but sometimes all you want is that plate of chicken place, a slab of roti prata, and lots of ‘black’ carrot cake (it exists, trust me). Unfortunately, it is difficult to find Singaporean-style dishes in Dunedin so you do the next best thing: learn how to cook it.

I admit that in 2010 all I could do in the kitchen was fry an egg, but after many years of learning and experimenting, I can make chicken rice, laksa, and other dishes that my 2010 self would be scared of.

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It probably does not taste like the real deal, but it is close enough. Plus it is fun to create new things and to share it with your friends. Thankfully, I have an awesome Singaporean flatmate who eats my food with gusto and who spoils me silly with her own local creations. Thanks, Andrea!

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Get your fix with the International club on campus

If you have been reading my previous blogs, you just know that I am going to mention something about International. When I was new to Otago, I really appreciated Otago Singapore Club (OSC) for taking care of me, giving me my dose of “Singlish”, and helping me feel at home. And this caring culture has never changed as the years go by. Even if you are not from Singapore, never fear because Otago has a vibrant International culture with so many International clubs to choose from.

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I mean where else is the most convenient place to get your fix of your fellow countrymen?! So make your way to the OUSA Clubs and Societies website and find a club that you would love to join. Furthermore, you will not only meet people from your hometown but you will also meet people from other countries and cultures.

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Take a trip

Sometimes the best way to get your mind off your homesickness is to have something exciting and new to look forward to. So if you have some extra cash to spare, why not travel to somewhere new and exciting? After all, you are only present in New Zealand for at least 3-4 years and it is a big country with pretty amazing sights.

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My favourite places to go are Queenstown, Wellington, and Abel Tasman. There are so many activities to do (bungee jumping! Kayaking!) and stunning views to marvel at to take your mind off things. Better yet, make it a road trip with some friends and you will have an awesome time. (I will be writing about some of my travels in the next blog so wait for it.)

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 Find something you are passionate in

I know we are here to study and attain that degree but I am a firm believer in a solid work-life balance. I reckon having a hobby or something fun to do will keep you sane during your academic year. It could be trying out food at every café, playing World of Warcraft, or volunteering. For me, it was working at International or exercising that really helped me through moments of homesickness and boredom.

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It took my mind off things and it helped time pass by quicker. But as my mum would say, your first priority is your studies. Having a break now and then is good, but do not forget what your main purpose is too.

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So these are my 5 coping mechanisms for homesickness. Guaranteed it may or may not work for anyone but I hope it gives you a clearer insight into what you could do. However, if you feel like you are unable to cope with homesickness, please know that it is okay to ask for help. Services like Student Health at Otago, the Chaplain and his team, the International Office, and OUSA Student Support Centre are more than happy to talk through things with you and provide support. Here is a pretty good resource done by the Otago Tertiary Chaplaincy Team if you need more information. Till next time!

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Photo Credits: Maple Goh, Max Chan, OSC