Sanne - calm, self-conscious and with a smile - likes to be in Vertigo. In the canteen she narrates how she ended up at TU/e, what kind of drama the first half year was and how it gradually got better for her. That others can listen in on her story is no problem for her. "I feel no shame and don’t believe in a taboo for homesickness." Yet she didn’t feel the need to talk about it with others than her family members. “I didn't feel strong and I clammed up. It is actually difficult to understand what homesickness is.”
But she really tries to express it with words. She has thought about where it came from, how it passed and whether loneliness has affected her. An important thing is that she often makes decisions based on her intuition. She didn't always show her feelings, often put on a mask. Which we will come to later.
“Going to Eindhoven to study was a well-considered choice. I wanted study in a technical field; mechanical engineering or something biomedical. I also went to open days and taster days in Delft, Utrecht and Enschede. But at TU/e I felt most comfortable.” The choice for Mechanical Engineering felt good, but the realization that she would have to live in a student room as a result of that choice put pressure on Sanne. Going by train from Mijdrecht (between Amsterdam and Utrecht) to Eindhoven, would take at least two hours each way. During viewings Sanne was invited to live in a nice student house, and she did. However…
"I come from a very close family," says the eldest of two daughters in the Van Diemen family. “That has always been the case, we like to be together with the four of us and enjoy each other’s company. My sister Puck is three years younger. But because of my illness, our connection has become even stronger."
Sanne was almost sixteen when she had to go to the hospital due to a brain inflammation with insult, caused by an autoimmune disease she suffers from. Because of this, she got into a coma and a year later this happened again.
The recovery took a long time. “With prednisone medication it took years before I got back to my normal energy level. I was home a lot and took it easy. My dad has a job in a technical field and works from home; my mom works part-time in the village and could be home at any time if needed. You probably understand that we became very close with the four of us and I found it very difficult to leave that safe place."
"Enjoy your Intro," mom said. She always had encouraging words for me and encouraged me to find fun things that I could look forward to. But I felt so homesick. To be honest, I already suffered from it as a kid when I would stay with an uncle and aunt. When I feel alone, I feel it in my stomach. As if it is empty, really weird, I don’t feel hungry or nauseous, but it’s an unpleasant feeling. It also seems that I look at myself from a distance.” Sanne found it terrible to not be home and the whole week she’d be looking forward to the weekend when it was time to go home. “But then I would arrive Friday evening immediately thinking: 'Oh, I have to leave on Sunday'. It completely hindered me."
During the week she would call her mother, but not too often. “And she never called me, that was the deal. I didn't call too often either, because it made me sad. Hanging up was also difficult. And it always started with tears. But sometimes I needed mom's voice."
Fellow students did not realize that Sanne felt so miserable. She lost weight because she didn't feel like eating tasty things. “I still associate cookies with fun, so I just didn't buy them. But I was a little bigger back then because of the prednisone, so it didn't matter too much that I lost some weight. In the first half year I put on a mask. I chose to join study association Simon Stevin to meet some more people. I made friends there.” At Mechanical Engineering, students are put into project groups, but according to Sanne, that doesn't really help in making friends; after working together for eight weeks, everyone goes their own way again.
Around the Christmas holidays, Sanne started to feel more at home in Eindhoven. She had found her rhythm and made her room nice and cozy. She also felt at home in Simon's room. “It is one of my tips for lonely students: make sure you find a place where you feel good, then it becomes nice to go there. Also by yourself. When asked ‘how she got over it’, she doesn’t really have an answer. “It is better now because I am finally used to this new phase of my life."
At that time, Sanne became slightly rebellious for the first time at home - she never was a troubled teenager - because her parents kept treating her as if she still suffered from homesickness. "But now we all have found our way again." In the student house, her loneliness was once coincidentally topic of conversation. "Of course everyone said; ‘Why didn’t you tell us before?’ Now I think: 'If only I had done that'.” And there’s another tip: try to talk about it, even if it seems like a threshold.
During her last vacation, Sanne overcame herself. With a suitcase full of excitement and good spirit, she set off for a European train journey through Berlin, Prague and Vienna. “It turned out differently than I had hoped. I wanted someone to be with me. Traveling with me. However I really enjoyed it; it was a very nice experience and I have no regrets, because I learned that I should not go on a vacation just by myself. I prefer to share my experiences with someone in real time. ”Sanne also wants to share her life with someone, but somehow she has never had a relationship. “I know myself really well, as well as what I would like in a partner. I haven't met such a person yet. I am not demanding, but it must feel good."
Sister Puck is now also studying at TU/e, as a sophomore of Built Environment. She also feels very homesick. Just like with Sanne, things went better after half a year, but when the relationship with her boyfriend ended, she suffered a relapse. She got physical issues and went to the doctor. Blood tests revealed no cause. "We now think that the stress associated with homesickness is the culprit."
Puck recently set up a Dutch blog, for two reasons. The first is that it helps Puck to write things down the moment she feels uncomfortable. Sanne thinks writing might be better than talking because the tears are less of an issue then. The second reason is that Puck wants to help others. "I want students to know that they are not the only ones and I hope that they can soon read that you can get over it, as I hope I will," she e-mails.
In her first year at TU/e, Sanne learned that Mechanical Engineering is not her ideal subject. “I quit Mechanical Engineering because it was too difficult for me. I have no regrets and I don't see it as an errancy because I learned a lot that year. I did not want to leave TU/e because I had finally found my place and that is why I started looking for other studies here. I picked the bachelor Architecture, Urbanism and Building Sciences. I do not want to become an architect, but opt for Building Physics. There we learn to take care of the indoor climate of buildings. So it becomes a nice place for someone."
“I am doing really well now and I enjoy life in Eindhoven very much and the period of homesickness has actually been a positive experience. I survived and came out stronger."
Cursor previously published an extensive background story about loneliness among internationals. It gives you insights about research into loneliness among students, the role that the university can have and the personal stories of those involved. Plus eight tips in addition to Sanne's.