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Moving away from home

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Published: 10 September 2018

Moving away from home for the first time can be a daunting experience. For her take on this monumental right of passage, we caught up with Environmental Psychologist Dr Stephanie Wilke, who specialises in how natural environments impact psychological behaviour, health, and wellbeing.

Two female students in University accommodation

Stephanie had this advice for students moving away from home, and parents helping their children through this life-changing milestone.

“The move from home to university provides an excellent opportunity for the individual to reflect on what home means to them. This is often referred to as ‘journeying’ away from home, a process by which we reflect on what home has been and, through new and exciting experiences, what it might be in the future.

“One benefit from experiencing an entirely new environment, but also one that will not be a permanent one such as when buying a home, is that students can try out different things to see how they want their residence to look. This gives them an opportunity to reflect on their preferences and show that sense of who they are through their accommodation. An interesting book by Sam Gosling, Snoop, gives a sense of how we show our identity through place. It’s a really fun read about how people make first impressions that are quite accurate from the things we surround ourselves with and the design choices we make.

Students in the kitchen area of University-managed accommodation

"The process of journeying away from home gives varied opportunities to see new places. One of the most stressful aspects of that is finding your way around, something we call ‘way finding’ in environmental psychology. Sunderland has a variety of places to explore from shopping at The Bridges, green spaces like Mowbray Park and the seafront promenade of Roker."

Dr Stephanie Wilkie – Senior Lecturer in Psychology

“When looking for accommodation, students should discuss the range of options with their parents. In some cases, the student may want accommodation that facilitates social interaction through shared spaces such as common kitchen areas but also allows for privacy within their own room. Halls of residence and private accommodation with a room to let generally tick these boxes. However, locations like this typically limit the amount of personalisation the residents can make in terms of decorating. To make these places feel like home, students and parents can choose a mixture of items such as bedding, photo frames and home accessories that reflect the student’s own sense of style. It might also help to bring along a couple of special mementos from the home to help the transition.  

“This process of journeying away from home also gives varied opportunities to see new places. One of the most stressful aspects of that is finding your way around, something we call ‘wayfinding’ in environmental psychology. Sunderland has a variety of places to explore from shopping at The Bridges, green spaces like Mowbray Park and the seafront promenade of Roker. These locations are well sign-posted and I would encourage new students to get out and explore. The best way to learn your city and discover its hidden gems is by getting out and about. It’s also helpful in building up a mental picture of the area, called a cognitive map, so they can learn the shortest (or sometimes longer but more scenic) routes between destinations. Always helpful when you are rushing to make a 9am lecture!

“Another thing both new and existing students (and staff!) should consider is using our urban green and blue spaces. Our parks and seaside location provide an excellent wellbeing resource. When you are feeling stressed out or fuzzy headed from all that studying (something psychologists refer to as attention fatigue), even a short visit of 10 or 15 minutes can help to clear your mind and recharge your batteries.”

Sound advice from Stephanie, we’re sure you’ll agree. Read more about her work and research interests, or learn more about the University of Sunderland’s accommodation options and Student Wellbeing Service.