Hi! I’m Paris, a fourth year English lit undergrad who studied in Seoul last year, so I know how it feels to freeze through -20 degree cold in December. Compared to that, winter in Exeter has been tropical! I also know what it’s like to feel homesick and alone, especially during the holiday period, and the cold weather outside definitely doesn’t help. So here are some of the things I do in Exeter and South Korea on how to cope with feeling lonely during winter. 

The winter period is a time where many different holidays for cultures and religions take place such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Chinese New Year and so on, so it’s very easy to feel homesick particularly at this time of year.  

Finding uni societies that are part of your religion or culture can be a great way to make sure you still celebrate holidays that are important to you. Celebrating with those around you, whatever the occasion, is always a nice way to feel less lonely and more connected to others. In Korea, my friends and I did Secret Santa together and went to see the Christmas decorations all across Seoul. A society might be able to arrange festivities more authentically than us. 

Christmas in South Korea

And if you’re an international student it’s pretty likely that some other members of your home country’s society are also away from home during the winter break, so this will be an amazing way to make some friends to see during the holiday period.  

If you do celebrate Christmas or just enjoy the social aspect of the celebrations, Exeter University runs a traditional Christmas Day lunch in Lopes Hall, complete with Christmas Crackers and a present from Santa. There are also lots of other activities the uni runs during the break such as bowling, trips to Exmouth beach, and intercultural cafes.  

Socialising either with friends who are still here or fellow students who are also alone during the Winter break will definitely help with potential isolation that may happen after the end of term. These uni-run Winter activities are a fantastic way to get out of your room and even make some new friends! 

Alternatively, embrace being alone and go do some solo sight-seeing! Exeter really goes all out with its Christmas decorations. Even from mid-November, walking through the high street and seeing Christmas lights above the shops and in Princesshay makes me feel so festive. Once the clocks go back and it starts getting dark at 4, it’s nice to feel the city still awake and cheery, even if you’re just popping to the shops.  

Princesshay shopping centre Christmas lights

This year I managed to convince my friends to come to the Cathedral Christmas Markets with me which were amazing! From starting with some mulled wine to looking at all the different stalls (the wooden animals being my friends’ favourite), it really put us in the festive mood! This is something you can definitely still explore if you’re alone too. In fact, it would probably be easier to walk through all the stalls without having to keep track of your friends who get distracted by everything.  

Exeter Christmas market

Even if, like us, you don’t buy anything, just being in the hustle and bustle of Christmas shoppers is sometimes a way to make yourself feel less lonely. Plus, if you do manage to buy gifts for friends and family, thinking about them in that moment and imagining them receiving their presents is a nice way of reminding yourself that you’ll be seeing them soon. My friends all received lots of souvenirs from Seoul when I came home!  

Making sure that you stay in contact with your friends and family that aren’t in Exeter is vital with helping cope with loneliness. On my year abroad I scheduled times with my parents and boyfriend to facetime so that we wouldn’t miss each other due to the time zone (in winter it was 9 hours!) I’d also arrange dates with my friends back home to catch up every week or so which helped with keeping up to date with everything going on in each other’s lives. 

Even if you’re having the time of your life, FOMO can still be a real struggle if you’re alone and not with friends or family, so regularly keeping in contact is a nice way to remind yourself you haven’t been forgotten. That’s one of the big things I struggled with whenever I was feeling alone, but planning activities for whenever we were reunited in the future was a nice reminder that the loneliness wouldn’t last forever. 

If I was feeling isolated and a bit trapped in my room with no social or campus plans for that day, or perhaps if I was a little bit hungover, going on a long walk and not having to talk to anyone is a really nice way of just clearing your head and getting some air. The countryside around Exeter is stunning at this time of year; the crisp winter air is so refreshing, and if you catch the sunset, it’s always so pretty. 

It’s so important to go outside and get some Vitamin D particularly in winter; it’s proven to help lift your mood. I would personally recommend visiting Mincinglake Valley Park if going further afield is a bit more intimidating. It’s not too far from campus (if you’ve ever walked to Morrisons it’s up the hill before there) and especially in winter it’s very peaceful. If you’re lucky you might even see some locals walking their very cute dogs! 

Exeter is pretty rainy in the winter though, and so a walk may not be the most appealing activity on those dreary damp days. If you don’t know anyone in Exeter, or just really not feeling more social interaction, learning to enjoy your own company is such an important skill. Not just for the winter months but for life generally, learning how to be comfortable alone is a hard task to master.  

One thing that helped me initially was distraction! Having a solo hobby like reading, crocheting or exercise is the first step to making time alone feel a little more entertaining. Watching a show that only you like can be a nice routine you fall into as well, and definitely with a sweet treat or two! 

I sometimes find when I’m feeling lonely that my thoughts tend to become overwhelming, so something that has helped me feel calmer is journaling. Whether once a day or every couple of weeks, just writing whatever comes to mind is a pretty cathartic remedy. I don’t have a set structure or pretty bullet journal, but even if you just have a spare piece of paper lying around, getting your thoughts out of your head and into words can sometimes make them seem a little more manageable, particularly if you struggle to express your feelings out loud to other people.  

Of course, if you are struggling with your mental health due to loneliness or isolation, the university has resources you can reach out to. The various different services are all under ‘Wellbeing Services’ on the University of Exeter website, but particularly during their closure periods such as Christmas Day, reaching out to The Samaritans is also advisable.  

Hopefully some of these ideas will help you feel a little less lonely over winter, they definitely help me! I think a good balance of social activities and enjoying your own company is the best plan for combatting those winter blues, and taking some time away from the gruelling January days on campus to relax will help you be (slightly) more motivated and well rested during term, just in time for Spring break.