Q+A: Homesickness

by NANCY VU 

You’ve just moved into college, and you feel like you’re ready to roll. You’ve got a brand-new comforter set to fit your twin XL bed, a shower caddy to survive your floor’s communal bathroom, and a laundry bag to (unfortunately) do your own laundry. You’ve met your roommate, checked in with your RA, and mapped out your classes on campus. You’re prepared to mingle with new friends, use up a lot of money on textbooks, and spend long nights studying. You think you’re ready to tackle whatever the new college life has in store for you. But wait, what’s this? You feel a strange aching in your chest and a lump in your throat. You start to crave home-cooked meals and find yourself thinking about your family and old friends all the time. You admit to yourself that you’re homesick. But guess what? Feeling like this is totally normal! Here are some answers we’ve dug up for common questions you may have about this very real experience.

 

Q: homesickness — what exactly is it?

A: Homesickness can be defined as the distress or impairment caused by actually being separated from home or anticipating being away from home. [1] It’s the nostalgia and the longing for things you’re familiar with, such as your family, friends, house, or pets. People may experience homesickness in varying degrees, from mild to severe. Homesickness may be felt by children adjusting to summer camp, students moving into college, and adventurers traveling abroad.

 

Q: what are some signs that I might be homesick?

A: You may find yourself thinking about home a lot and feeling sad, lonely, or insecure. You might also feel anxious and withdraw from those around you, feeling as though you don’t belong in your new environment. It might be difficult for you to adjust to your surroundings and to get into a comfortable routine. Intense homesickness may be associated with more significant symptoms of anxiety and depression. It can intensify pre-existing mood and anxiety disorders, cause new mental and physical health problems (such as insomnia and appetite changes), and sometimes lead students to withdraw from school. Homesickness may also result in difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, and social isolation. [1]

If you think you might be experiencing severe homesickness that’s beginning to affect your everyday life, do not hesitate to contact a healthcare professional.

 

Q: am I the only one feeling this way?

A: Absolutely not! You’re not alone — results from the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute show that feeling lonely, isolated, and homesick are common experiences for new college students. In fact, more than 65% of first-year college students report feeling homesick. [2] As humans, we may tend to gravitate toward the familiar and comfortable and avoid the unfamiliar and uncertain. [3] Therefore, being away from what you consider “home” may cause you to feel a sense of uneasiness. If you think you may be homesick, what you’re feeling is normal, and there are likely others feeling the same way!

 

Q: why am I feeling homesick, but some people aren’t?

A: Homesickness is a normal experience, especially among first-year college students. Chances are you’ve already come across people who’re also feeling homesick but have kept their feelings private. It’s important to realize that homesickness varies from person to person. For example, you may be more likely to develop intense homesickness if you have spent little time away from home, have very close relationships with family and friends from your hometown, or have a tendency to feel anxious in social situations. Students whose hometowns are very different from their new environment might find it particularly difficult to adjust, and some students may experience discrimination that decreases their sense of belonging in college. For example, international students may struggle more than their peers to adjust to college as a result of language and cultural differences, as well as stereotypes about where they are from. [1] How far you had to move as well as how happy you are with your new environment have been found to factor into homesickness, too. [4]

 

Q: what should I do to feel less homesick?

A: Feeling blue? Here are some tips that may help to make your transition from home easier:

  • Know that what you’re feeling is normal! [1] It’s okay to give yourself some time to be sad. Once you acknowledge that you’re homesick, you can start working toward overcoming it.
  • Go to an orientation sesh! Orientation programs allow you to make friends and familiarize yourself with your new school before classes officially start. [1]
  • Stay in touch! Maintaining connections with family and friends may help you to feel closer to home. [5] You might also want to bring pictures of them with you. You may visit home, but try to not rely on going home all the time to help with homesickness. [1]
  • Do something! Participate in student activities, go out with new friends, or exercise and play sports. Activities can help to distract you from missing home, to foster friendships, and to establish a routine, which may aid you in adjusting to your new environment. [5]
  • Talk to someone! Don’t be afraid to talk to a friend, peer advisor, or professional counselor on campus. [5]
  • Think positively! Moving away from home and transitioning into college aren’t easy, but try to embrace the change! Make this your home away from home. You’ll do amazing things here — we’re sure of it!

 

bringing it home

Homesickness is a natural thing to feel, especially as a college newbie. You may feel down in the dumps and miss your family, old friends, and, of course, home cooking, and you’re not the only one! Dealing with homesickness is a gradual process, so give yourself some time. Getting over it might be easier than you might think. You’ve got this!

 

References ▾

  1. “Homesickness and adjustment in university students.” J Am Coll Health. (2012).
  2. “Findings from the 2007 Administration of Your First College Year (YFCY): National Aggregates.” heri.ucla.edu. (2008).
  3. “Cognitive accuracy and intelligent executive function in the brain and in business.” Ann N Y Acad Sci. (2007).
  4. “Homesickness, health and efficiency in first year students.” J Environ Psychol. (1985).
  5. “Preventing and treating homesickness.” Pediatr. (2007).