A comprehensive guide to overcoming your exchange student blues in Edinburgh

The FOMO is real


If you’re here in Edinburgh on a semester or year long exchange, you probably spent many hours creating dream itineraries of everything you’d be doing in and outside the city before you even set foot on the plane.

Maybe you browsed TikToks romanticising the city’s dark academia vibes or even set aside a number of weekends for ambitious flights to continental Europe. However, between the constant rain, a surprisingly challenging course load, and the difficulties of navigating Edinburgh’s social scene, your time abroad isn’t quite the movie social media promised.

I’m sure these feelings of disappointment and pressure have affected many exchanges – they’ve certainly affected me. Now that the initial buzz of Freshers’ Week has died down and midterms have begun, things seem to be moving much slower than before. However, that we should have to wallow in the isolation of our flats.

Don’t be afraid of going solo

The feeling that I hadn’t made enough friends was one of the biggest hurdles preventing me from doing more here. I am here to tell you that being in your own company is never awkward or embarrassing. Take yourself to a café, a museum, or for a walk through the Meadows – maybe even hop on a train to a nearby city. You might not have people with you to confirm whether or not you’ve gotten on the right bus, but you have the freedom to create your own schedule and absorb your surroundings fully.

Keep in touch with home

There’s a common anxiety among international students that life in your hometown is moving on without you.

However, taking the time to call your closest family and friends daily will allow you to realise that they will always be right there regardless of distance. While adventuring in new environments is an enriching and exciting experience, it’s important to remember you will always have a home to lean back on when you’re feeling alone.

Set aside time for hobbies

Whether through societies or on your own, stay attached to whichever activities bring fulfilment. Keeping a writing journal has helped me stay focused and given me a productive outlet outside of my studies. You might find that outlet through sport, visual or musical art, or elsewhere. Balancing creative, productive hobbies and more passive, consumption-related pastimes is essential. Binging an entire television season on Netflix will make you feel like you’ve wasted your day, though sitting down with an episode of your favourite comfort show can also be valuable in recharging your thoughts.

Socialise, but don’t burn yourself out

I’m sure the most common advice people have given you has been to “join societies!” They’re a great way to form sustained relationships centred around a shared passion. However, attending every social imaginable simply because you feel like you should can be exhausting and the same can be said for going out – staying out until 3am clubbing every night can throw off your sleep patterns and concentration in lectures.

I recommend involving yourself in being choosy and only selecting the few societies you especially enjoy. Additionally, keep your nights out to three a week at most and get home early enough to give yourself a solid block of sleep.

Develop healthy habits

It’s unrealistic to keep a perfect routine. However, it’s also easy to fall out of balance with diet, sleep, and other important things. Remembering the little things is essential to keeping order and balance in your life. Do your laundry every week. If working out is integral to your well-being, set aside time for that. Preparing my own meals is a therapeutic way of keeping my eating patterns consistent. Even the tiniest tasks, like watering a houseplant or making yourself a cup of tea in the morning, all contribute to improving your well-being.

Stay focused academically

Getting caught up in the thrill of your new environment is easy. However, you shouldn’t forget your main purpose in being here – to be a student. Regardless of how easy or difficult you find classes here compared to your home institution, attending lectures daily and keeping up with readings will give you a much-needed backbone for your exchange experience. You don’t need to huddle away in the library studying 10 hours a day – in fact, I highly discourage it – but you should be keeping a healthy school-life balance that allows you to be on top of your course while still feeling like you’re making the most of life in Edinburgh.

Let go of the pressure

To some extent, we’ve all been in our own heads, thinking about how we should be spending our precious time and what we think everyone else is doing that we aren’t. However, there’s absolutely no right or wrong way to do things. The “right thing to do” at any given moment is whatever makes you feel good about yourself, which can mean as much or as little as you want. Everyone’s exchange experiences differ, and I promise no one is perfect. If you had a bad day today, feel comfort in knowing there’s always tomorrow and many more days after.

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