From the country to the coast, what moving away from home for study is like and how it also affects parents.
Not everyone is lucky enough to study at university while living at home. Moving to another postcode is necessary for many regional and remote students wanting the full campus experience. For others, a move is the only way they can study the course they really want.
Hannah Woods decided to swap the open pastures of Tamworth for the white sandy beaches of Wollongong.
Hear how Hannah and her parents, Scott and Vicki, handled the transition.
“Bittersweet” is how both Hannah and Vicki describe the moment they said goodbye in her new room at Kooloobong Village.
“While I was upset they were leaving me and I was no longer living at home, I was so excited to meet new people and grow as a person,” Hannah says. “My mum cried a little but we had just finished unpacking and setting up my room so I was just enjoying the feeling of a new place.”
It takes more than six hours to drive from Wollongong to Tamworth, meaning regular weekend trips to catch up aren’t a real possibility. So it’s only natural for her parents to be a little apprehensive about leaving their first-born in a relatively unknown environment.
“We knew that Hannah was very independent and responsible so we didn’t have to worry in that respect,” Vicki says. “Leaving a 17-year-old so far away from home was a bit stressful, but everyone we encountered was so nice so we felt relieved.”
A new you
Students that have to move a great distance to study at uni do encounter a couple of different hurdles says Associate Professor Sarah O’Shea from UOW’s School of Education.
“Not only are they making a geographic move, they have to make a bit of an identity shift as well. They have to make new friends and reposition themselves in terms of social networks. That can be quite a major change,” she says.
It was a major change that Hannah saw as a positive experience where she was able to find friends that she had more in common with than just the school they went to.
“I really took it as a chance to reinvent myself in a way and make a whole new group of friends,” she says. “I found friends that were suited to me and there was no pressure to hang out with people I didn’t get along with.”
Dealing with homesickness
Moving away from all that is familiar can make university feel like a new country with a new language, so it’s important to remember that there may be a period of culture shock and feelings of wanting to be back home.
“I don’t think anyone living away from home could say they have never had a moment of homesickness,” Hannah says. “I do miss my family and my animals, but with technology it is amazing to be able to call and see them.”
Professor O’Shea says that family members need to be aware that they can still be a supportive part of the transition into university, even at a distance.
“They can still play a key role in reassuring a student simply by being at the end of a phone,” she says. “Encourage them to go and seek out support and help if they need it. The university has a lot of support in place that’s really focussed on getting students through the transition.”
In the first few weeks Hannah would ring her parents as she was walking from campus to her accommodation and update them on the latest news. As she became more settled into her routine the phone calls become less frequent – something her Dad took as a positive sign.
“We need to let the kids become self-sufficient, not dependent on us making all the decisions for them,” Scott says. “But it’s still great to touch base every week and see how each other’s lives are going.”
While those phone calls to family were reassuring, Hannah also found support from those around her.
“Having a really good friend base helped a lot as they stepped in and took care of me like your family would,” she says. “If you live on campus the people there really do become like a second family and ease that change.”
The empty nest
Having a child move out after 18 years is a big change for any household and it can create quite a big void for parents and siblings left behind. When they arrived home for the first time without Hannah they were greeted by a peaceful silence and a whole pile of mess she left behind to clean up.
“I think we spent a lot of time wondering how she was getting along and when we could visit her or she could visit us,” Scott says. “Phone conversations were pretty limited as she was going from one event to the next so we figured she was doing ok. A lot of attention was then shifted onto our other daughter, Emily.”
While the Woods’ had another daughter to focus their energy on, Professor O’Shea says it’s important to give yourself time to adjust to a new situation. “If it is prolonged then seek out some somebody to chat to – a friend, another family member or someone in the community has been through this,” she says.
Vicki says the first two weeks were tough, but in time they learnt to adapt.
“It is great to travel down there and see her in her surrounds with the great network of friends she has built up,” she says.
Depending on her uni schedule for the semester, Hannah tries to go back home to see her family and friends whenever she gets the chance.
“While classes are on I find it hard to travel back because there is so much going on in Wollongong. Between hanging out with friends, work and studying there’s no time, ” Hannah says. “Aside from the big break in summer, I will head back about three times a year, even if it’s just for a couple of days.”
When she does make it home she is sure to make her presence known.
“We often joke that Hannah brings the noise and mess with her when she comes home,” Scott says. “She is such a vivacious girl who likes to bring fun and laughter to all around her.”
“We find that life is busier when Hannah is home,” Vicki adds. “But sometimes when she has had a particularly hard semester we’ll have a lot of quiet time on the farm. It rejuvenates her to start fresh for the next semester.”
Students from rural and remote areas are regarded as a group that is “more at risk of attrition,” Professor O’Shea says. But Hannah found by getting involved in campus life and all Wollongong had to offer, she quickly found her feet alongside the 2,000 other students living away from home at UOW.
“I feel that there is so much more to do in Wollongong,” Hannah says. “There is a constant stream of events, live music and activities. And I’m only ten minutes from the beach.”
Moving out of home can teach you essential life skills. It can even help you perform better in your degree, with UOW Living students consistently out-performing those living off campus.
“It’s given me so much independence,” Hannah says. “It has shown me that life isn’t perfect, you do make mistakes but you also learn from them. It has opened my eyes to all of the possibilities out there.”