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Loneliness for dummies

Everyone knows this feeling, yet no one talks about it: loneliness. 

Personally, I have been travelling ever since I was eighteen, sometimes not staying longer than a couple of months at a place. There is always the time where you sit in your new room in a new country with the new people you just met. Maybe I was surrounded by others or maybe I was on my own. Yet I always felt the same type of emptiness. Saying goodbye to people you care for and having the strength to let new people into your heart, is a hard thing to do. In a fast changing world, you make new friends and leave the old ones behind over and over again. I am an open and social person with usually multiple groups of friends. However, the feeling of loneliness is not something you can see right away or even at all in someone. This is what often makes people think that they are the only ones experiencing it.

Still, this loneliness is not something I am scared of. It’s a driving force that makes me explore and go out of my comfort zone. And this is what makes my life so colorful. A human is not designed to be on his or her own and no matter how isolated you may feel at the moment, you will always find a way out of it if you really try. 

woman sitting on tree log facing at body of water

Especially during your study and stay abroad, your friends and family tell you how this is gone be the time of your life. University should be the beginning of adult life, where you expand your universe, reveal your potential and create friendships that last a lifetime. However, just because people say so… it doesn’t mean that it is the truth (yet). Creating expectancies like that is just hard for any reality to live up too. The deadlines, exams and enrollments that we have to handle as students, can be extremely hard to handle and it is not a shame to say so. It can be true that you have the best time of your life, however, the time at university is not only partying and making friends… it can be really tough too.

Maybe you just moved here and maybe it is weird to you to be on your own. And you know what: this is normal. We all have been there. Leaving your friends and family behind, moving to a new city or country is a brave step to take. Be proud of yourself. You are basically transitioning from one life to the next and everything you know changes, starting from the most basic things like food. Even as a German it took me multiple weeks to understand how this country runs (e.g. where the hell does the rubbish go in these tiny bins?!). 

In a study from June 2017, ESN Netherlands found, that one out of three international students reports feeling isolated. And this is not only a Dutch problem; a global report by Sodexo determined that almost half of the students (!) in the UK feel depressed. Another at this point commonly known fact is that students feel more stressed and anxious than ever before. 

The only thing we know for sure is that we don’t really know anything. Loneliness is a taboo topic and not often addressed. When you see your friends and less good friends on social media you may feel like you are the only person who’s life is not Instagram worthy. However, you are not alone and one of many that feel this way. 

Here is what you can do to get out of the feeling of isolation:

Get out of your room!

Go out and explore even if you don’t feel like it. Say yes to a night out or an ESN pub quiz! Also, get yourself busy – make a list of what to do and follow it! This can include exploring new interests, where you could meet new people. Common hobbies are a natural base for friendships to form. 

people gathering on a picnic

Don’t feel like you are stuck with one friend group and surround yourself with positive people, people you trust!

The relationships you begin during the first few weeks are often forced and coincidental.

You could get stuck up with a group of people you don’t really connect with, but you may be too afraid to be on your own to leave and make new friends. Fact is, it doesn’t really matter if you are alone or if you’re surrounded by people you don’t really like or that don’t support you.

You can have an amazing time during your study, filled with people you care about, but who happen to care about you too. You just need to be brave enough to find them.

two men leaning on fence

Catch your thinking 

It is important to reflect your own thinking. Negative self-narratives will drag you down. Reflect on your past, what helped you before? Try focusing on positive things. For example, you can start a diary where you write down three positive things that happened during your day. This will help your mind to be more focused on happy thoughts. 

Attend classes and find study groups or buddies

After all, you chose the same study, creating the first common interest with your fellow students. Go to the classes (yes, I know there are at 9 a clock in the morning, get your lazy a.. up) and you will meet new people. From there, just be brave, step up and ask them to form groups or be your study buddy. Studying together connects and may help you to get good grades as well. 

three men laughing while looking in the laptop inside room

Do internships or volunteer

Go online and find things that interest you! There are many interesting possibilities out there, just choose one.

A man from a relief organization helps rebuild after a disaster in Uganda

Join a student association

There are many different student associations in Groningen, almost all faculties even have their own. You will meet new, like-minded students and hopefully participate in one of the many fun activities. Possibilities to be part of ESN can be found under ESN projects in the beginning of the magazine. 

four person hands wrap around shoulders while looking at sunset


Go out and do sports! Exercise is proven to increase your mood, it’s healthy and you may meet people in the fitness study or in one of the courses. A great possibility is for example the open hours at the Aclo. What connects people more than sweating together?

men's black leggings

Sleep and eat well

Take care of yourself! I know this old wisdom of ‘you are what you eat’ sounds lame, but like many sayings, it’s based on the truth. You will feel better if you eat healthy and have a healthily sleeping rhythm. That means having a regular sleep cycle and NOT binge watching that latest Netflix series when you have a lecture at 9 in the morning.

woman holding two bowls of straberries

And finally the most important thing: Recognize that your feelings are common and normal 

It can take a while to get used to a place – usually a year or two. This is normal and you are not on your own. Loneliness is a feeling, not a fact!

Love signage