I moved from Vancouver to the East Coast for university

Should I have thought it through a bit more?

I think that the top question I am asked when I tell someone I’m from Vancouver is: “So like, why are you here [Toronto or Montréal]…?” It has gotten to the point that I, myself, am not even sure. I frequently wonder if I was too hasty with my decision to move for school… Was my choice based on a whim, simply because I wanted to be independent?

I grew up a good seven minutes from the University of British Columbia (UBC), and I always thought that was where I would end up, not only for the convenience and how the name would look on future job applications. Two of my cousins went to UBC, as did my dad (who is now their archivist). Naturally, it was assumed that I would further my studies at UBC.

Upon contemplation, though, I realised that I had lived in Vancouver for 18 years and had done everything I needed to do in Vancouver for that period of my life. I had frequented the Aquarium, gone sledding at Grouse, and called the Island my second home. If I moved provinces, I would be independent… That intrigued me, especially since I’m an only child and have no family out East. 

So, I packed up my life, migrated east, and lived independently. I was entirely self-reliant and I loved it. It would be so hard for me to go back to Vancouver, simply because I have gotten used to my independence and know I would not be able to backtrack. 

I have only found two cons that came with moving away for school. First, my grandparents—I am either the youngest or the only grandchild on each side. I went from seeing my Nani and Opa two times a week, to seeing them both twice a year. I do not like that at all because I miss them the most. This one also became very apparent to me this past December: the harsh reality that my parents are ageing (I know they’re reading this right now and are probably feeling slightly insulted). Especially since I’m not there to see the progression of that, it is so much more apparent to me whenever I’m back. 

Second comes the change in energy from city to city. Going from the mountains and ocean on my doorstep, to looking out the window and only seeing a flat metropolis really took a toll on my mental health. The atmosphere and vibe of a new city can sometimes make (or break) an experience. I might’ve moved twice now for university, but since Montréal is much more similar to Vancouver, I’ve felt more at home. 

I love the independence and adventure of being a few provinces away, but sometimes, I’m mad at myself because I think that my decision to pursue this independence is selfish. It is hard to be completely happy somewhere else when, though by no means forced, there is a sense of familial obligation a ways away. What possessed me to move away from my family and a familiar city, not to mention a prestigious university? It can be quite a guilt trip sometimes. 

From time to time, I find myself feeling whimsical and dreaming about B.C., mentally driving down that precarious loop that turns Broadway into Lougheed, or speeding down south west Marine Drive. When anything to do with B.C. is mentioned in class, I perk up a bit. I know that I’ll never truly be home again, so it is bittersweet when I visit Vancouver, especially since I’m not totally sure where I’ll end up… Only time will tell.

Student Life

Dealing with homesickness in university

Two Concordians open up about their experiences with homesickness

Concordia is home to thousands of out-of-province and international students. The university welcomes students from more than 150 countries. For many, coming to Concordia means living away from their friends, family and home for the first time—something that isn’t always easy.  

Homesickness is a real problem for university students. U.S-based psychologist Christopher Thurber co-authored a study on homesickness in university students in 2012. The study published in the Journal of American College Health, found up to 10 per cent of students suffer from serious homesickness, which can actually interfere with their productivity.

For Elaine Genest, a first-year Concordia journalism student from Toronto, the end of her first semester away from home was hard. Genest was living in residence and, as rooms and halls emptied while she finished up her exams, she felt alone. All semester, she said she felt like she was part of a family thanks to residence, but when people started leaving for the Christmas break, she was hit with a wave of homesickness.

“I felt like I needed to rush back in case I lost it all, even though there was no reason for me to believe it. Every single one of those days, I dreaded being alone in my room, hundreds of kilometres away from home,” said Genest. She said the homesickness took a toll on her, mentally.  “Managing emotions in those situations can be extremely difficult, as this is your most vulnerable state. You feel like a kid who just wants to go home,” she said.

Diana Tapia, a Concordia film animation student from Mexico, said her homesickness kicked in after a few months of living in Montreal. “I wanted to stay home all day and sleep, and I didn’t even want to talk to my family a lot because it made me more nostalgic,” said Tapia.

While homesickness didn’t affect Tapia academically, it made her question her decision to move. “I felt really sensitive about everything—I cried really easily watching TV. I also questioned if it was the right decision for me to move at times,” she said.

Tapia’s and Genest’s advice to students experiencing homesickness is to get involved on campus and talk to people. “Take advantage of the Montreal and Concordia community,” said Tapia. “There are a lot of free events on campus happening all the time. Although it can feel a bit awkward or discouraging going alone, if you make the effort of going, you can make some good friends and start building your own community,” she added.

When Genest started to feel homesick in late December, she tried to focus on good memories from the semester—times when she didn’t feel so alone. “The first night in residence, my [residence] assistant came to my rescue and pulled me out of my room and into one of the meetings—everyone who lives on the floor gets together and talks about anything and everything. Now I have a big, loving family right down the hall,” she said.

The students also recommend that international students feeling homesick join a club that reminds them of their country, or play an on-campus sport. Essentially, they suggest any activity that gets the mind off anxious thoughts and loneliness. Genest stressed, above all, to not be afraid to speak about homesickness.

Students feeling homesick or lonely can also reach out to Concordia’s Health Services.  Their offices are in the GM building on the downtown campus and in room AD-131 at the Loyola campus.

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