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Returning home: A survival guide

Written by Isabelle McIntyre

According to a quick Google search,‘Home’ is defined as ‘the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or a household’. A seemingly harmless interpretation, which may have rang true to us as children, but becomes extremely complicated as we grow up.

Whilst everyone has their individual connotations and perceptions of ‘home’, it is fair to say that this idea of home changes dramatically over the year. Major life events like parents divorcing, moving houses, or going to university can all impact this long held belief we have about our homes and what they mean to us.

The reality for most people is that families are spread out across the globe, and that home has been several different places throughout our lives. For me, home is a feeling, more than a place. We should try to appreciate all the different forms and meanings of home, but it can still be exceedingly difficult navigating how this feeling changes.

As Easter approaches, many university students are facing a long break at home over the holidays. After spending nearly a year creating a new idea of home in your uni town, it can be extremely daunting to find yourself back in your childhood bedroom for nearly a month.

I’ve put together a survival guide to help anyone returning to a version of ‘home’ that might not make much sense to them anymore.

‘I’m bored – there’s nothing to do here’

Chances are you’ve just moved from a bustling university city back to a quiet town in the middle of nowhere. My advice here would be to appreciate your hometown for what it is and embrace the differences in lifestyle that it has to offer whilst you can. The nights out, hungover mornings, and chaotic evenings at the pub will be there when you get back. Until then, make the most of the countryside on your doorstep, a kitchen that’s not shared with nine other people, or even the unique attractions your local area has to offer – Bettys tea room anyone? Just think, once exam season starts you’ll be wishing you could lie on the sofa with no responsibility again!

‘My family are driving me crazy – I can’t wait to get my freedom back’

It can be quite stifling to go from living your life on your own terms back to the rules and routines of your parents. I would say to just humour them: it's only for a few weeks, and usually isn’t worth the stress that comes with starting an argument about it. In time, they’ll realise you’re growing up into your own person and trust that you know how to look after yourself. Indulge them in the parental roles they want to play in order to keep the peace. Letting your mum fuss over you for a few weeks or pretending your dad can still boss you about isn’t too hard, but will mean a lot to them.

‘I miss my friends and my uni life – everything’s different now’

Most people change and develop over their time at university, so it can feel strange to come back to your hometown and sense that you don’t fit in or belong in the same way anymore. This sensation is exacerbated when all your home friends have been away doing their different things and have changed as people too. Instead of pining for your uni life, try to reconnect with your home life and school friends - meet up to have a giggle over stories from school and catch up with everyone. It’s so important to maintain these friendships and keep in touch as you grow, even when it’s hard. It’ll be like the good old days in no time!

‘I feel like my life is on pause – I’m not moving in the direction I want to be’

Coming back home for a quiet few weeks can feel like we’re regressing back to a past version of our lives, which can be worrying for some people who want to move onwards and upwards. For some, it might bring up bad memories or cause them to feel like a failure for taking ‘time off’ from the path that they are on. Whilst it is completely understandable to want to feel like you’re progressing in your studies, career, and general trajectory of life, there’s nothing wrong with taking healthy breaks. In fact, I’d say it would be beneficial to take the free time to relax, reflect, and check in with yourself. Focus on self care and wellness so that when you return to your normal routine, you can hit the ground running, refreshed and rejuvenated.

‘I’m not enjoying the holidays like everyone else – no one understands me’

Social media can create false expectations of what our holidays should look like and how our families should act. It can feel isolating and lonely if your experience is different to what you perceive others as having. Tensions can be particularly heightened if your family disagrees with aspects of your lifestyle, like your political leanings, religious beliefs, sexuality or gender identity, or lifestyle choices. In this case, I’d recommend trying to communicate and set boundaries with family members over problematic topics or behaviour. If you’re really unhappy at home, then there’s nothing stopping you leaving! Head back to uni earlier to reclaim the holiday for yourself, and celebrate with friends who accept you for who you are.

It seems odd to need a ‘survival guide’ for going to a place where we once spent every day of our lives for some 18 years, but things change as we enter new phases of our lives and begin creating our own conceptions of home. It takes effort to put a positive spin on a time which can be tricky and upsetting for so many people. However, remind yourself how lucky you are that you have somewhere to come ‘home’ to in the holidays. Equally, be thankful if you have built a life somewhere that you want to go back to afterwards! Home really is whatever and wherever you make it.

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