Many people travel away from home and family in more or less challenging environments, for different lengths of time and with varying levels of connectivity. Being away from home can involve a range of experiences and emotions, both positive and negative e.g. excitement, fulfilment, learning, a sense of opportunity or novelty, also apprehension, loneliness or uncertainty. Much of the experience of being away depends on external environmental and social factors such as transport, accommodation, the weather, colleagues, the activity involved.
In 2014, the Sodexo Institute for Quality of Life published a report inspired by a round-table ‘Dialogue’ with experts with off-shore oil & gas, military and university perspectives to understand better what individuals can do to maintain their psychological wellbeing while being away from home and family. The report highlights that expectations surrounding the use of technology to mitigate separation can lead to inadequate pre-departure discussions and misconceptions about the need to prepare by setting up support networks for example. To identify appropriate ways to support psychological wellbeing and maintain it throughout the whole experience of being away, it is useful to think about it in five phases:
- preparing to leave,
- being away,
- preparing to return,
- being back.
Following the publication of its report, the Institute commissioned research from Professor Andrew Smith of Cardiff University to test the report’s hypothesis on a specific population. So far, little attention had been given to students’ adoption of positive coping strategies as they adapt to being away from home. In August 2018, with Professor Andrew Smith, we published the first study to examine the impact of studying away strategies of international students on their quality of university life and their wellbeing. It also assessed the importance of adopting certain strategies from pre-departure planning to those related to returning home.
Results showed that greater use of studying away strategies was associated with an increased quality of university life. This suggests that the present methodology can be used with other populations working away from home, e.g. armed forces personnel and remote site workers on off-shore platforms or at mine sites. If the benefits of working away strategies are confirmed, training in the use of these strategies may be a useful method of improving the quality of life and wellbeing of those away from home.