Hi, I’m Mariana and I’m homesick

Moving to a new place is never easy. Well, it is the first days, maybe weeks. Meeting new people and places, going out to parties and loads of alcohol. But that doesn’t last forever. All of a sudden the constant fun stops; classes, writing, readings, stress… hours in the library or in your room, with your eyes stuck to a computer. In that moment, you start to go out less and, also, stop meeting and seeing people.

That’s the moment when pops to your head the word homesick. Yes, we’ve all heard about it, we also might know someone that has had it, we know that it is a possibility once you’re away from home, but the truth is that we actually never think that we’ll be homesick.

The reality: we’ll all be, and many times.

But it’s not the end of the world, and that’s why I decided to talk about it (even though I’ll sound like a self-help book).

So, let’s stick to the stereotypes and, as a good self-help post, let’s define homesick. According to a paper published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, homesickness is a “distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and attachment objects such as parents.”

And it makes sense. Back home we all had routines, established friendships, family close, work, favourite places, and so on. We had a life that made us feel comfortable and helped us to survive.

So, when we’re abroad, there’s a moment when you’ll start to feel sad, you won’t want to go out of your room (especially in the dark and rainy winter days, spooky) and all you’ll do is to remember how much you miss home. But the reality is that when we’re homesick we’re not literally missing home, but the comfort and confidence that it made us feel.

And that’s where the trick is.

To be able go through homesick and get out of it triumphant, we have to build a new comfort zone. How you do it? Two simple steps (once again, self-help books… can’t help it):

  1. Leave home back home: easy to say, not to do (I’m terrible at it). The idea isn’t to build an iron wall between you and your past, but try not to compare food, friends and places. You’re in a new place with new people and experiences. Enjoy it and make the best out of it. In the worst of the cases, join your country or region association (great thing about The University of Edinburgh, it has tons of associations).
  2. Create traditions: It’s great to have plans and a routines. To know that every two weeks you’ll meet with your flatmates or that once in a week you’ll have a pint of Guinness with your classmates. Make plans for weekends and holidays, and make a close friendship with that people that make you feel comfortable.

Sounds obvious, I know, but is not necessarily easy to do and once you are in the homesick loop, not so easy to remember. Good news is that with these self-help book steps, you’ll be able to overcome homesickness.

Believe me, I’m a former homesick person.


Edinburgh is all about passion

Since I arrived to Edinburgh I’ve met incredible, inspiring and admirable people; from professors to students from many different schools of the University. All of them come from different countries and backgrounds, have different stories, ideas and ways to understand the world; still, all of them have something in common, and that is their passion.

Most of the times that you move to someplace new, you’re full of expectations and uncertainties. And the courses that you’ll take, professors and classmates are one part of these feelings, even more in the first weeks when everything is confusing and overwhelming, but afterwards all the pieces fall together and everything starts to make sense.

Person carrying up water in a Venezuelan slum. Photo by Nikolai Elneser.

Right now I’m taking a course about development, its principles and practices (yes, very theoretical – and for a biologist, that’s a total challenge). There we discuss about development theories, how they’re being implemented, if there’s any other way to do it, if the current approaches are making this world more equal and fair, discussing about poverty and gender inequality. The conclusions, most of the time, aren’t hopeful or positives (it’s a hard world, we all know that) but, despite that, there is one professor talking about these subjects, making you inquire about them, and motivating you to come with new ideas and questions. Because, at the end, it’s passion that motivates her interests.

Passion. That powerful and full of life feeling that makes you go all the way to achieve a goal, will take you anywhere to fight for a cause and that you’ll never be able to take out of your system.

What about giving a monetary value to nature? Useful, but when you think about numbers, not many people get exited (not the same with money though). Inspiring is how the professors and classmates can get you into the subject, argue different points of view with no fear of getting it wrong, struggling but at the same time enjoying learning new concepts and skills (like R #dramafaces). Because at the end, it’s all about passion.

Pablo A. Millán, an artist who has dedicated his life to protect the Yellow-shouldered Parrot in Venezuela. Photo by Provita.

And let’s be real, it’s not a fairy tale story, not all professors are inspiring. That doesn’t mean they don’t have passion, just that they aren’t that good at transmitting it.  Either way, there is just an insatiable atmosphere for knowledge, full of interesting questions that at the end makes you realize that you’re surrounded by very intelligent people who are worth knowing and learning from.

So yes, thousands of people make their day-to-day life in Edinburgh, passionate about food and wanting to make people in disadvantage situations able to share that passion; passionate about empowering young people and inspiring them to become agents of change; passionate about emerging business as a mean to reduce poverty in the world; passionate about the beauty and depth this world holds, wanting to improve it and protect it; passionate about clean energy, math, the brain, language, music, art, horses and infectious diseases, trying to answer questions and coming up with something relevant and useful to make this world better.

At the end we all want to save the world. If you are also a passionate person, I invite you to share it here with me.


PS: if you’re interested, the courses I’m taking this first semester are Development: Principles and Practices, Frameworks to assess Food Security and Environmental Valuation.

My presentation and two confessions

img_4863Hi, I’m Mariana, and I have two confessions: I’m a social addict and I want to save the world. Both brought me to this new life, 7421 Km away from home.

My home? Venezuela. Back there I studied Biology, not very social undergrad; if you studied it, you know what I’m talking about. Hours in a laboratory, field trips, papers and writing… Challenging and interesting, but that’s basically your life. Which is, definitely, not my type of life.

After I graduated, in 2013, I started to work in an environmental NGO (to save the world). Reforestation, parrots conservation, volunteer programs, empowering women in poor communities… that was one part of my job. But the most important part was telling stories through social media (my addiction was 100% satisfied).

I was telling to the non-scientific world what were these mysterious, “hippy”, white coats, and messy hair scientifics doing in their laboratories. I wanted to engage people, to explain why nature is important, what’s its value, why we must preserve it, not just to raise awareness but to influence in policies and make a real cultural change.

1911009_10152340423949831_6959365206103711206_oIf you like challenges, this is a big one; and big challenges are multidisciplinary. That’s how I ended up in The University of Edinburgh doing my MSc in Environment and Development. Understanding nature is not enough, you have to get to know its relationship with humanity and its social, economic and political structure.

So now, away from my comfort zone, friends, beers and tequeños nights, salsa parties, hillwalking and tap dance classes, I’m working here, in Edinburgh, to keep my two confessions/passions alive: to keep telling stories in other language (challenge) and to have more skills to give the best of me to save the world, or at least to save a part of it.

Talk again soon!



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