Tips for living away from home
Your suitcase is bursting at its seams. Maybe you have two of them. Your eyes are bloodshot from bawling like a baby at the departure gate despite stares from strangers. Or maybe you held back your tears and cried on the train or plane instead while everyone else slept, oblivious to your misery.
Hours later, you arrive at a new place - another city, or even another country - your heart filled with an exhilarating mixture of excitement and apprehension. Living alone for the first time! Freedom from curfews is now yours, but so is the responsibility that comes with your new-found independence.
From Singapore to Melbourne
I was born and bred in Singapore, where it’s summer all year round and life was pretty sheltered. Like many, it was a dream of mine to spend my university years overseas. So I packed my bags and boarded the plane from Singapore to Melbourne alone.
Hovering a few thousand miles above the ocean, regret crept into my previously confident and excited heart. Why did I tell my parents it was okay to let me go alone? I knew no one in Melbourne, a city that I'd only visited as a tourist when I was a kid. Were my uni days going to be harder than I could ever imagine? Heck, I didn’t even know how to cook rice!
But with much preparation, a bit of research about Melbourne, and a deliberate effort to abandon my shyness about asking strangers questions, my transformation into an international student was pretty smooth. Here’s what I’ve learned these three years of being away from home.
Learn How to Cook Something From Home
The most common complaint from people living by themselves for the first time is: "I miss the food back home!" Perhaps it's your mum's special pie, or a dish so unique to your culture you can only find it in some dingy restaurant that makes a watered-down version of it.
So learn to cook a dish or two that soothes your homesickness. It's best to learn before leaving, but it's also never too late to pick up that cookbook!
Also, YouTube has a wide variety of cooking videos. The answers to life’s problems can always be found there. I learnt how to slice a mango from a YouTube video, after my previous attempts ended up murdering the fruit. I’ve also learnt how to whip up excellent Laksa.
Learn How to Budget
You don't want to be out on the town and realise there is no money in your bank account. Learn to keep track of your money. You don’t have to be an accountant for that.
Find out when your rent is due every month and make sure you have enough money during that time. For your first few weeks, try recording what you spend on everyday items to get an idea of how much money should be set aside weekly for food, phone credit, transport, etc.
For smartphone owners, there are some useful budgeting apps you can download to help you track your spending.
Develop good budgeting habits early, and you’ll thank yourself in the future.
For more tips about budgeting, check out the Managing Money section here on youthcentral.
Stock Healthy Food at Home
A friend of mine used to make peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches on a daily basis to ease midnight hunger pangs, because she lived a long way from any supermarket and didn't have a car. Within a year the doctor told her that she had developed an allergy to peanuts and chocolate. True story.
Instant noodles are not good alternatives either. Another friend attributes his baldness to eating too much MSG, and he's not even 30 yet.
Stock up on healthier options, like bags of apples, mandarins, dried fruits and nuts.
Want something more filling? Pan-fry some chicken breast slices and store them in the fridge. You can then use it later in sandwiches, or toss them into your salad.
You can also keep dried pasta and a jar of pesto sauce in your pantry at all times for a healthier alternative to your two-minute noodles.
Your mother isn't there to nag at you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to take care of yourself.
For more information about healthy eating, check out the Food & diet page here on youthcentral.
Find Out Where Your Nearest Doctor Is
It sucks to be sick. So make life easier and find out where the nearest doctor is. Find out what your health insurance entitles you to, too (especially if you're an overseas student).
Your university or TAFE will probably have a clinic on campus, but if you don’t live near your campus, you can usually find the nearest doctor using the Yellow Pages, or simply searching for "doctor" and the name of your suburb, town or city.
Also, remember to stock up on Panadol, Asprin, Vitamin C, band-aids, etc. It's all about being well-prepared when disaster strikes.
For more information about finding a doctor, check out the Getting Healthcare section here on youthcentral.
Don't Be Clingy
When you're away from home, it is natural to want to hang out 24/7 with the few friends you've made.
Resist that urge. When you're a tight clique it's more difficult to meet new people and make friends. Broadening your circle enables you to establish wider networks and find people you can really connect with, as well as good friends you can come to trust.
The best way to meet people on campus is by joining clubs and societies. It’s a great way to meet people with the same interests while doing something you love, like painting or soccer. Otherwise, you can always attend short courses or enrichment classes to broaden your social circle.
Volunteer at art and music festivals.You'll get to meet a lot of interesting and outgoing people that way. Force yourself to go beyond your comfort zone in terms of socialising. You won’t regret it.
Have a List of Emergency Numbers
You can be the most careful person in the world, but chances are you'll still get into trouble from time to time.
In such cases, the first person you call can't be your parents anymore. You need to have a list of people who live in the same place as you do, preferably people you trust. A good example would be a housemate/roommate, or a trusted friend or adult.
Create an emergency contact list, both in your phone and on paper. Keep the written one in your wallet. Phone batteries can die when you need them most. That’s technology for you.
Take Care of Yourself
Independence is really just about taking good care of yourself. Homesickness becomes stronger when things aren't going well. But persevere, stay connected to friends and family back home, eat well, sleep well and you'll be fine.
And don't forget to enjoy your newfound freedom (don't go too crazy, though). Good luck!
Articles Written by Jing Wei
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