How to Deal With Homesickness in College
Figuring out how to deal with homesickness can be difficult.
While your first few months away at school can be exciting and thrilling, they can also come with those homesick feelings. Once the bags are unpacked and you’re settled in, you may find yourself in an unfamiliar new place longing for everything you left at home. This is especially true if you’ve never really been away on your own before.
So, how do you stop feeling homesick and start enjoying this amazing new time in your life? They don’t stock homesickness cures on the shelves of the local pharmacy, after all. Going away to college is likely going to be one of the best times in your life, but homesickness can easily derail your fun and stop you from gaining those new experiences.
The good news is that you don’t have to completely forget about your loved ones back home in order to put that homesickness aside and enjoy your college life. In this article, we’ll give you some pointers on how to deal with homesickness when those feelings hit you hard.
The Psychology of Homesickness
In the Journal of American College Health, researchers Christopher Thurber and Edward Walton define homesickness as “the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home.”
Homesickness is most often tied to feeling insecure or uncomfortable in your surroundings. When you’re living in a new place, such as your college campus or a new city, you don’t have that security and stability that you do at home. As a result, you start longing for that comfort.
For college students, homesickness usually hits particularly hard because most of the time this is your first time being away from home on your own. This is why homesickness usually hits the worst in the first few months of your first year at school. A 2018 study of first-year college students found that 94% of students experienced some level of homesickness in their first 10 weeks of school, and 70% continued to feel homesickness after their first semester.
Essentially, homesickness boils down to your feeling of belonging. Human beings have a deep emotional need to belong, whether that’s belonging to a community, a family, a group of friends, or a team. The more comfortable and at home you feel in a new place, the more you feel that you belong there. At home, you already have that feeling of belonging; however, at school you have to build it and basically start from scratch.
Is Feeling Homesick a Bad Thing?
It’s not a bad thing to miss your loved ones back home. In fact, experiencing homesickness can be a wonderful thing because it means that you are lucky to have so many family members and friends in your life who love you and support you. It can also be a great thing because it can encourage you to strengthen your connections with loved ones at home and work harder to keep in touch with them.
However, there can be some serious downsides. Extreme homesickness is about more than just missing your family members. It’s about feeling completely out of place and not having that sense of belonging.
Here are just a few of the negative consequences of extreme homesickness:
● Mental health issues: Homesickness can cause you to suffer from depression, mood disorders, or other mental health issues. In extreme cases, students can suffer from dangerous suicidal thoughts.
● Hindering academic performance: Feeling homesick all the time can impact your academic performance because you can start to lose focus and motivation. In some extreme cases, it could cause you to drop out of school entirely.
● Adjustment difficulties: With homesickness getting in the way, it can be difficult to adjust to your new life in your new home at school or be open to new experiences as part of your transition into college life.
● Social issues: Preoccupation with missing home can also prevent you from leading a positive social life and making new friends at college. Humans need social interaction, and cutting yourself off from this because you miss home can lead you down a very dark and lonely path.
What Triggers Homesickness?
There aren’t really any specific homesickness triggers because everyone has a different home life or background. Certain things that remind you of home may not be the same for your roommate or your friend in class.
Sometimes homesickness can occur when you start to feel uncomfortable or out of place in your surroundings, and other times it might be triggered by something that reminds you of home. For example, you could be walking down the street one day and catch a whiff of a bakery making chocolate chip cookies the exact same way your grandma makes them, and the scent could have you longing for a batch of your grandma’s baked goods.
Here’s another example of a homesickness trigger: perhaps you’re a student who came from a Caribbean island like Puerto Rico to go to college in a big city like Boston. As soon as the snow and slush start coming out and you’re dodging traffic in wet winter boots, you will probably find yourself missing that warm island breeze, relaxed lifestyle, and refreshing tropical sea water.
Ultimately, you’re never really going to be able to avoid what triggers homesickness for you because it could happen anywhere at any time. However, you can certainly learn to recognize the homesickness symptoms and signs and learn how to manage those feelings in a way that doesn’t prevent you from making the most of your time in college.
Homesickness Symptoms to Look Out For
It’s completely normal to miss home without being overwhelmed by homesickness, so how do you know when it’s becoming an issue?
Here are some homesickness symptoms and red flags to look out for that can indicate you’re letting those feelings get in the way:
● Preoccupation with thoughts about home or your loved ones back home.
● Withdrawing yourself from events and activities you normally enjoy.
● Strong feelings of depression or anxiety (or both).
● Difficulty focusing on schoolwork.
● Feelings of fear and dread when it comes to new experiences.
● Difficulty making new friends or interacting with others.
● Lack of appetite and/or sleep.
Does Homesickness Ever Go Away?
As we mentioned above, there’s no store that sells homesickness cures or magic potions you can drink to get rid of it completely. There’s also no specific risk factors or age limit, either – homesickness feelings could happen to an eight-year-old boy away at summer camp for the first time or a 30-year-old PhD student attending medical school across the country.
Ultimately, you can’t prevent yourself from feeling homesick when it happens, but you can figure out how to work around it so you can still enjoy your time in college. One of the good things that can come from feeling homesick and working through it is learning new problem solving, time management, and coping strategies that will help you with other negative feelings or difficult events later on in your life.
In the next part of this article, we’re going to share some tips and techniques you can use to learn how to deal with homesickness so that it doesn’t hinder you from enjoying your new home – and your new life.
How to Deal With Homesickness: 10 Techniques That Will Actually Work
When you find yourself longing for home, turn to these tried and tested techniques that will help you break out of that funk and embrace your new life at college.
1. Let Yourself Feel Your Emotions
First and foremost, feeling homesick is completely normal and common. When you’re starting a new life in a new place at college, you are allowed to be homesick. The first step in learning how to deal with homesickness is to let yourself experience those emotions and get them out of your system for a little bit. After a couple days you can start moving forward.
2. Bring a Piece of Home With You to College
When you’re getting ready to make the move to your new home, bring along something to remind you of your old home. This could be anything, from your childhood teddy bear to a scarf your grandma made when you were five, or even some photos of your loved ones.
Having that little piece of home at college with you will give you comfort and remind you of where you came from. When you’re having a particularly tough day, you can take it out and remind yourself that you have people back home who love and support you no matter what. There is a reason we included this on our list of essential things you need to pack for college, after all.
3. Keep Yourself Busy Trying New Things
The more time you spend in isolation, the more time you’re going to spend being upset and miserable. Get out and try new things, visit new places, and gain new experiences. The more you keep busy, the less time you’ll spend thinking about how much you miss your loved ones.
Additionally, the more new things you try, the more you’ll start to feel comfortable and at home in this new place in your life. This taps into that sense of belonging that’s so important at college. You may discover your new favourite hobby, make new friends who share similar interests with you, or even learn a new skill. There’s no limit to the things you can do and learn when you open yourself up to those experiences.
4. Build a Network of Good Friends
Friends are the family you choose, and there’s nothing in the world quite like the support of a close group of friends to get you through the tough times. Having a solid group of friends at college is an important way to help you feel like you really belong there and that you’ve built a comforting, stable new home for yourself. On top of that, chances are that many of your new friends and classmates are also going through the same homesick feelings you are, and you can help each other through it.
Joining Greek life and getting into a sorority or fraternity is a great way to build yourself a network of friends that feels more like a family. The sense of belonging you get from brotherhood or sisterhood is unbeatable, especially when you’re dealing with homesickness.
5. Stay Connected, But Not Excessively
It’s important to keep in touch with your family and friends back home, and the social media tools we have today make this easier than ever. However, it’s equally important to make sure that you aren’t calling home too often. If you start excessively calling home, this can actually make those homesick feelings even worse. A good benchmark to use is to pay attention to how often you’re talking to your loved ones at home versus how much time you’re talking to your friends and classmates at college.
Set a specific time once or twice a week to talk to your family and/or friends at home. This will give you that much needed contact on both ends while allowing you to retain your independence and focus on new experiences at school. It also gives you something to look forward to during the week.
6. Make Your New Home More Familiar to You
One of the biggest homesickness triggers for many students is the unfamiliarity of living in a new place – often this is a completely new city, state, or even country. You don’t know where anything is, which areas to avoid, and how the culture works. All of that can have you longing for the familiarity and comfort of your home city or town.
To feel more secure in your surroundings, set some time aside to go out and explore your new home. Here are a few ways you can do this either on your own or with some of your new friends:
● Play tourist for a day: If you’ve moved to a big city, jump on a Hop On Hop Off city bus tour or a local sightseeing tour. Check out local museums, learn the history of where you are, and visit tourist attractions when you can.
● Volunteer or help out your community: Joining a student volunteer group or a community organization is a great way to build stronger ties to your new community and feel like you’re really a part of it.
● Take a hike or a walk: If you’ve moved to a smaller city or town, go out and explore on foot. This will help you get more comfortable navigating around and help you get to know where everything is better than getting a ride or driving.
● Participate in field trips: Sometimes college and university student organizations hold small day trips or field trips to do various things around town, such as going to sporting events. Join one of these outings, even if you don’t have anyone to go with you. You’ll get to know more about your city and make new friends along the way.
7. Stay Positive
Moping around all the time and wishing you were back home isn’t an effective way to adjust to life at college, and it’s not a good way to make new friends either. All you will accomplish by doing this is developing feelings of depression, stress, and isolation. None of those are healthy.
One of the most important tools you can have in your personal toolkit is a positive attitude. Try to look on the bright side of things. It’s a lot easier to motivate yourself to go out and try new things when you think positively about them. For example, if you’re attending a student mixer for your program, instead of feeling anxious about showing up alone, try to get excited about all the new friends you may make that night.
When you start to think about the good things that will come out of being at college, it’s a lot easier to go out and make the most of your time there. The happier you are, the less homesick you’ll feel.
8. Talk to Someone
If you’re really struggling, one of the best ways to learn how to deal with homesickness is to learn how to open yourself up and be willing to ask for help. Sometimes all it takes is talking to someone who has also been experiencing those homesick feelings or who has been through it in the past to help you feel validated.
Talk to an older student, like a student mentor in your program, and ask them about their own experiences. Your friends can also come in handy for this, too. Loved ones who care about you will be more than happy to lend you an ear and listen to you air out your problems.
You can also go the professional route for support. Most colleges have an on-campus counselor or therapist where you can go for free. Use this resource as much as you need to, and don’t ever feel bad about seeking help.
9. Prioritize Your Self-Care
We often hear the term “self-care” tossed around all the time these days, but the reality is that focusing on your own self-care can help you reduce those gut wrenching homesick feelings. It’s also a great way to keep your wellbeing in check so you’re as productive and focused as possible in and outside of class.
When you put your mental and physical wellbeing on the back burner, you can start to feel worse all over the map: emotionally, spiritually, and physically. As a result, homesickness can be overpowering if you aren’t in a good place. Every negative emotion can hit ten times harder when you’re already feeling down, and working on your self-care can ensure you don’t set yourself up for a dark path when times get too tough.
If you need some inspiration, check out our list of 250 self-care ideas for students. This list has some great ideas that will suit anyone’s taste, personality, and lifestyle – and a lot of them won’t cost you anything to do.
10. Don’t Play the Victim
Instead of sitting around feeling sorry for yourself for feeling homesick, get up and change your environment. Don’t blame external factors for how you feel and take accountability. External factors are always going to be there, and it’s how you react to them that shows your true character.
For example, instead of blaming how you feel on not having any friends, get out and go make some new friends. It’s as simple as it sounds, and it’s easier than you’d think to socialize while you’re in college. If you’re feeling homesick because you feel out of place in your new home, go out and get familiar with it instead of blaming the city for not being as nice or welcoming as your home city.
How to Deal With Homesickness When You’re Studying Abroad
One of the biggest challenges that students face when they study abroad is enduring strong homesick feelings without the ability to make a quick visit home for the weekend. It can be more difficult to schedule video calls with your loved ones when you’re working with a time difference, and knowing how much distance is between you and your home can make everything feel monumentous.
On top of all of that, you have to adjust to an entirely new world. You may need to learn a new language and experience an entirely new culture, and as a result that sense of belonging goes completely out the window.
Instead of feeling like an outsider when you’re studying abroad, make the most of your time away. For some great tips on battling homesickness while studying abroad, check out episode 17 of the Homework Help Show Student Influencers Podcast. In this episode, we spoke to Tynika Thornton, a student from the University of Exeter who spent a year abroad in Switzerland and went through all of those homesick feelings. Tynika shared some helpful insights and advice you can try if you find yourself studying abroad and missing home a little too much.
10 Extra Homesickness Hacks
Now that we shared 10 solid techniques for learning how to deal with homesickness, as well as some homesickness cures for those who are studying abroad, we are going to give you some extra quick “hacks” you can use in a pinch.
1. Exercise to release endorphins and give you a “happy boost.”
2. Find something in your new home that reminds you of your original home, like a local market that sells treats just like back home.
3. Remind yourself daily that you are exactly where you need or want to be.
4. Think about how grateful you are for the opportunities you currently have, and encourage yourself to make the most of them.
5. Get yourself into a routine that will help you feel more comfortable in your new life.
6. Find a new favourite space or place you can go when you feel stressed or anxious, like the best bench in the park or a comfortable booth at a coffee shop.
7. Don’t spend too much time lurking what your friends from back home are doing on social media.
8. Integrate some of your hobbies from back home into your new home, like musical instruments or sports.
9. Have your family or friends come out to visit you and show them around your new home.
10. Learn to cook traditional foods and dishes from back home and share them with your new friends.
Learn How to Deal With Homesickness Without The Stress of Schoolwork Getting in the Way
Learning how to deal with homesickness can be mentally overwhelming, but it’s incredibly important for your wellbeing at school. That’s why we exist!
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