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Making friends and dealing with loneliness whilst studying abroad

After the stress of planning, shopping and bleeding money, finally making the move to the country that will be home for the next semester or year is initially a relief. But moving to another country is a monumental moment in life that comes with its trials with loneliness and do not let anyone say otherwise.

In the months leading up to my departure, my mother would constantly joke that she was concerned that I would not make any friends and my experience in Norway would be a lonely one. Whilst I would always laugh, this was a deeply rooted anxiety for me. I have always had difficulty thrusting myself into social situations due to anxiety and the physical exhaustion caused by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and if there is anything I have learned about friendship, it is that the characters in life will constantly swap and change as everyone grows.

Making friends in Norway reduced me to feeling exactly like I did during freshers in Cardiff University in my first year; terrified. I was terrified that I would arrive too late to freshly formed groups or would not find anyone I could get on with. But I had to remember that everyone felt like this. Remembering that everyone most likely felt the same anxiety, at different levels, did calm me into the experience.

I commend the University of Oslo for recognising this situation and creating events to help people connect. The Welcome Party fully engaged everyone and brought people together, as did the buddy group system for Orientation Week. It has been a month since I moved to Oslo and this is how I made the friends who has thus far shaped my experience in Norway.

The biggest social adjustment on this semester abroad has been how different the housing dynamic is. In first year, people are thrown into a random flat with random people and bond through a series of nights out. At least, that is the culture at my Cardiff. In Norway, it is very different as everyone is here to do their own thing. My flat is comprised of eight people, much like my house last year, from all different parts of Europe and different degrees. This means that we do not often see one another and have only managed the one flat dinner so far.

It was a stark difference from last year where I would always be able to knock on somebody’s door and relax, or go to Wetherspoons with the house every week. This is why I am thankful that I met Rosa. Rosa is my Dutch flatmate who was the first person I met when I moved in. We discovered that we also shared a class, the same class I share with Imi, and that we both love a good walk. So we spend most of our time together studying, exploring Oslo or walking around Sognsvann.

I always struggled making friends with people on my course, often because Philosophy is a subject where people can be either too intense or way too aloof. I have already mentioned that Imi and Rosa share class with me which makes it less daunting to go to that class. I also met Reilly and Arianna through the UiO group before I came to Norway and was delighted to discover that we share a class together. The only class I do not have someone familiar is my third and final class, which does make it isolating but the class requires so much concentration that I do not mind it.

The only person I see outside of class is Rosa, but of course, she is my flatmate after all!

Dealing with Loneliness

Though I have just spent most of this post showing that I have made fantastic progress with establishing social connections despite the anxiety of doing so, I feel that it is important to talk about what happens when life here settles for the night. Being so busy with adjusting to life here means that I have little time to stop and breathe; and when I do, the loneliness creeps in.

The loneliness felt when doing the study abroad scheme is something that is not regularly addressed for this is ‘the best experience of your life‘. Whilst this opportunity is very unique, it is important to recognise that feeling lonely is natural. It took me a couple of weeks to fully understand that I had moved and was, in fact, living in Norway and that is when I began to feel this loneliness.

By loneliness, I mean having a form of jetlag from life at home. It is difficult to keep up with the lives of people that I care about at home. There are moments and experiences I have had here where I feel this odd feeling because it would be something I would have wanted to experience with certain people and then I realise that they are not here.

The way that I treat this feeling is to not to overcrowd myself with things to do, as that would irritate my conditions, but to create different ways to stay connected with those at home. I have a daily skype with my family and we have created a WhatsApp group chat so that we can all share what is happening with our lives, I skype my boyfriend once a week and we talk most days as we both adjust to our lives in European countries, and I have mass catchup sessions with my friends at Cardiff when we are both available to. Taking photos and spreading them on my social media has also been a way to stay connected, so that those at home feel like they are with me and vise versa.

Communication is so important to stop isolation and allowing this feeling to overwhelm. I spend a lot of time at Sognsvann for this reason, as a soothing technique for the stress that missing people brings as it is so easy to become overwhelmed in this situation.

Making friends is so vital to have an enriching experience when studying abroad, but addressing that it is not an easy task to temporarily leave the life you have made for yourself at home behind is also a crucial hurdle to tackle.

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