Student and lonely (1): ‘I had no idea what to do’

18 Jun 2019

One of the biggest problems in modern student life is loneliness, also for internationals. It is much talked about by university officials and student representatives, but what is it like for students? Vox interviewed some of them about being lonely. This time: Sameera Sandaruwan, from Sri Lanka.

Moving to a foreign country to pursue higher education is a huge decision. Yet, it’s an easy one to make these days. Especially with the amount of information available on the programme you are planning to follow, the university, country and its culture.

But one thing that becomes painfully obvious after moving, is the difference between knowledge and experience. Even with the aforementioned information, getting adjusted to a completely new culture, people, or study structure can take a significant toll on you, especially mentally.

Psyche

Sameera Sandaruwan is from Sri Lanka and is a master student in Artificial Intelligence. ‘Reading about a different culture and experiencing it first hand are two very different things. The difficulties pile up when this fuses with the high level of education in the Netherlands,’ he says. ‘So, after moving to the Netherlands, getting adjusted to its lifestyle and the study environment took time. All this was leaving an unpleasant taint on my psyche.’

For Sandaruwan, this led to depression. ‘Even though I had a lot of friends, my connection to them was not close enough to open up about this stuff,’ he says. ‘I had absolutely no idea what to do in this situation. Therefore, I automatically let the depression take over my life. I had absolutely no motivation to do anything. Even just waking up felt like a huge challenge that I did not want to deal with, which led me to sleep until late in the afternoon.’

When this depression led to the first failed exam in years, Sandaruwan decided he had to do something. ‘Since I was all alone in this, if I wanted to get out, I had to actively do something about it.’

Huge relief

He turned to the Chaplaincy: ‘There was a meeting organised for international students who were not doing well. In that meeting, I met a lot of people who had experience with situations such as mine. One of them told me about the student psychologist at the university. I immediately arranged an appointment.’

He met with the student psychologist every 3 weeks for a few months. ‘Speaking out loud about what I was going through was a huge relief. Furthermore, I decided to go back to Sri Lanka for a few weeks during the summer break, because spending 2 months without any friends didn’t seem like such a good idea, given the past.’

Sandaruwan’s advice? ‘Talk about what you are going through with someone. Taking that initial step as soon as possible is very important. It will be a huge relief.’

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