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How does DClinPsy trainee feel about being far away from home?

Moving to the U.K. is a life-changing experience, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

For some of us, this can feel exciting yet overwhelming at the same time. Here, we provide a glimpse into the highlights and unique needs of international trainees while completing their DClinPsy. These are the stories they shared and that all trainees have chosen to stay anonymous(*). 

We decided to highlight homesickness - an important experience and aren’t usually talked about enough, so we want to let you know that if you also feel the same then you are not alone in this journey.

How would you describe your experiences of feeling homesickness?

“Homesickness sometimes feels like a physical illness… I feel fatigued, unmotivated and moody. It appears out of the blue. The strange thing is, the longer I stay in the UK, the more I romanticise home. I think a lot about whether I would have been happier staying home.”

Jing’s* wistfulness stems from various racial micro-aggressions she has encountered. “I feel like sick to the core when people were surprised that I have a good command of English and I don’t sound “international”. People always operate around a subconscious set of preconceptions when they see the colour of my skin”. Jing further describes an associated feeling of guilt when she questioned her decision to pursue a doctorate in the U.K. “I miss home… the safety and social support I had.” There are times when I ask myself, ‘Why am I here? Why am I not at home?’ But questioning the choices I’ve made is always tricky, especially since being in the program is such a privilege. It does not help that the course constantly tells us that it is a privilege to get into the program… as if I shouldn’t feel unhappy or homesick.”    

Jing’s experience is echoed by Aanya*.

Homesickness is like a gnawing emptiness, always bubbling underneath the surface. It’s worse when I am feeling stressed.” 

Aanya found her experience alienating as most of her fellow trainees from the UK could not resonate with how she felt, especially when she did not know anyone in the UK and experienced her first microaggression at placement. “Admittedly I had a privileged childhood. My culture is more classist than racist; thus, I am not too sure what it feels like to be subjugated as BAME in the UK. My advice to any new trainees is :

"Do not be afraid to question things and bring it to the course’s attention if you sense something is not right. The course is supportive and quick to action if there you have any concerns. Peers from the course have been a strong pillar of support which helped me to adapt to the UK."

“Social media helps to bridge the distance between home and London. Reading news about home made me feel connected to my loved ones.”

For Ming* home never feels too far away. “Reading news always made me feel connected to my loved ones’. Ming adds with a grin, “Sometimes when I feel stressed or lonely, I will call my friends from home before they start their day.” Being in London helped Ming become attuned to cultural distinctions. “I’ve learned to appreciate the small talks that I have with my peers and colleagues.” People seem to be more polite and open here: you can have a chat with a tutor about their weekend, which is something that would be frowned upon back home.  

“Homesickness hits me once or twice a term, it usually spikes when I have had a tough day at placement or a food craving that randomly triggers an old memory.”

As Amira* reminisces about her home, she adds “I am also grateful to be studying here. There’s a beauty about my home, but the U.K is also home for many others, and I want to see the beauty that they see.” Amira is determined to return home after qualifying to work with disenfranchised ethnic groups and war refugees. It is the knowledge of her return that has encouraged her endeavours to see the U.K as home and to soak up as much experience as possible. “As soon as I recognised London as my home for the next 3 years, the assimilation came quite naturally. I coped with homesickness and loneliness by cooking my favourite dishes. Of course, I will have to Skype my mum and she has to guide me step by step over the video call.”  

“The assimilation came quite naturally as soon as I recognised London as my home for the next 3 years”

Most of us opted to return to our home countries between terms – to recharge ourselves and catch up with our loved ones.  However, this is made more difficult during Covid-19 pandemic. Some trainees had chosen to stay in the U.K as it do not make financial sense to return home, paying for air tickets, hotels for 2 weeks of mandatory quarantine (in some countries), and PCR tests etc.

Jen shared: “Every trip is a reminder of how quickly time passes. I feel it so acutely every time I see white hair on my parents’ heads or how frail my grandparents became. I remembered being at home over the break. I was sitting in the kitchen and watching my parents cooking dinner together. They were so confused to find me tearing up when they turned around”.

Although this is not Jen*’s first time studying abroad, she found the training journey challenging and rewarding at the same time. She described the whole experience as “bittersweet”. Jen further elaborated “While it is nice to be living in such an exciting city, but it is bitter because of the things I miss about home. I don’t recall when is the last time I heard my native language spoken in person.” It is the familiarity and sense of comfort that Jen misses – tropical weather, her cats, and meals shared with loved ones. The feeling of yearning has been heightened when her grandmother became ill, and she knew she would not be home in time to bid goodbye. “It was such a painful and difficult decision; in the end, I decided to ask for emergency leave from the course.”   

“I was fascinated when I first got here… I loved the academic scene and its intellectual rigour.”

“I was fascinated when I first got here. I loved the academic scene and its intellectual rigour. Every discussion I had with my classmates are so inspiring.” as Cass* recalls her first year in DClinPsy. “The world is much bigger than what I had known. I will miss being here.” Her advice is - go out and do something on your day off at least once in 2 weeks and not feel guilty for taking a break. “Go to a museum, check out an indie art gallery, walk around in markets, or go to a park and reconnect with mother nature.”

Another trainee also emphasised the importance of making our wellbeing a priority. “Remember to make yourself a priority whether that’s taking a day or two off for a long weekend or asking the course to support your needs as an international trainee - you have to put on your oxygen mask before you can help others get theirs on.”

Authors' final thoughts...

There is no doubt that pursuing DClinPsy can be both exciting, mentally stimulating and emotionally overwhelming at the same time. You are surrounded by lovely people who are willing to help. The course has created a nurturing and supportive environment for us; do speak to your tutor or any course staff you feel comfortable confiding in, if you find something amiss or when you need someone to talk to.

Sometimes trainees need to change their placement midway or ask to extend the deadline for assignments due to various personal reasons. However, having a change in placement or extension does not impact your training or future. You might have bad days, and, on those days, it is important to keep in mind – that you are good enough to be here, all the positive feedback from all the people you have worked with and all the hard work that got you here. You might not experience any of the situations highlighted above, and that’s okay. Each of our experience in clinical training varies.

Knowing that you are not alone in this journey and that you have a fantastic international trainee community ready to support you, both locally and nationally, is crucial. You can always reach out to any of the international trainees, and we will do our best to link you up with people who can help you. You can also communicate with your cohorts’ representatives and they will convey your feedback to the course team.

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