Where you live as a student matters

My experiences with housing throughout the pandemic had a direct impact on my mental health

Being stuck in a dark basement suite for all of the winter negatively affected my mental health. PHOTO: Alyssa Marie Umbal / The Peak

by Tamanna T., Staff Writer

Being a university student isn’t easy. You have to deal with maintaining decent grades, participating in extracurriculars, socializing, dating, and maybe even finding a part-time job to pay for your education. If balancing multiple things at once isn’t enough, universities are often so far away from home, the only option is to move out of your parents’ house. 

As an international student, moving out meant moving countries, and that was perhaps the hardest part. When I lived in India I knew all the best restaurants in town and all my friends lived close by. But all of a sudden, I was a stranger in a foreign country where I had no one to rely on. It was terrifying.

As I slowly got used to living in Vancouver and learnt more about the transit system — the SkyTrain is so cool — I finally felt somewhat settled in the city. I first lived in a townhouse full of SFU students and after a while, I became more familiar with the city. I knew which bus to take to SFU and which bus to take to Downtown Vancouver, but there was still an emptiness that haunted me. 

I later realized it was where I was living and the environment around me that made me feel low and depressed a lot of the time. I missed my dog and the comfort of my own room back home. Though I started to get to know people, as a first-year newbie, I was still lonely. I wanted to make friends and socialize, but my housing situation made it difficult. I had roommates, but we were not close and all had different schedules with school and work. On days when I did not have work, I would hide in my room and live in a constant state of agitation — torn between wanting to go out yet needing to stay inside because of COVID-19. Depression can be hard to spot at first, but difficult to contain once it creeps in. 

While I did eventually move out of my first place of residence, its impact stuck with me. I began to suffer from imposter syndrome, telling myself I wasn’t good enough and downplaying every achievement. I felt like I didn’t belong and everyone around me was doing so much better than me, resulting in a warped perception of myself.

I soon moved into a healthier environment with fewer roommates, which helped. However, the place itself caused feelings of isolation and depression. Pro tip: avoid living in a basement suite in the middle of a global pandemic. With nowhere to go and being forced to stay in a dimly lit basement for months on end with limited interaction with other humans (my two roommates were busy with their own jobs and school), I started to feel homesick. My already challenging experience of being a university student was worsened by COVID-19

Throughout 2020, I started to call my mom and dad everyday, but after a while, there was nothing new or exciting to talk about. The conversations died out, the TV shows all turned into one, and the movies I watched became dull and monotonous. COVID-19 turned my chance of happiness in my new residence into a zombie movie, where I barely existed outside of my room. As the days blurred and winter came along, so did seasonal depression. The days started to get shorter and I was still unable to leave the basement because of restrictions, which further forced me into isolation and sad Spotify playlists. 

Finally, the new year brought a chance to move again, and I relocated to SFU Residences, which proved to be a blessing in disguise. What initially seemed like a nerve-wracking change transformed into a much happier experience of being surrounded by people. Even though I’m still inside my room a lot, the chitter-chatter of many people outside my door calms me down and makes me feel like a human again. This weird sensation of being content while not actively socializing around people washes over me and I feel happy with where I live for the first time since I moved to Canada in 2019.

As an international student, I haven’t been home in almost two years — my parents didn’t want me travelling while the situation in India was so bad — which naturally makes me miss it and all the comforts it provided. But finding a place that works for me was the best thing I could have done for my mental health. 

Moving across cities and countries can be scary, especially when you are moving away from your family for the first time. So let me tell you, where you move matters. In order to preserve your mental health and be at your academic best in your university life, try and find a place that suits your comfort level. If you don’t, you might be stuck somewhere you don’t want to be and miss out on the good life university has to offer.