4 Ways to Deal with Homesickness in College
Homesickness isn’t reserved exclusively for college freshmen – it’s a shared experience that can transcend class years. Here are some ways to tackle homesickness whenever it hits.
Embarking on the journey of higher education can be an exhilarating yet challenging experience, and it's entirely normal to grapple with homesickness along the way. Contrary to popular perception, homesickness doesn't exclusively plague freshmen. Whether you find yourself spending holidays away from home, venturing into a study abroad program, or stepping onto campus as a first-time freshman or transfer student, homesickness can manifest in various forms.
Let's debunk the notion that homesickness is a sign of immaturity or something to be embarrassed about or concealed. Rather, it should serve as an indicator of a significant life transition. This article acknowledges the universality of homesickness and aims to provide valuable insights and practical strategies for ways to deal with it, foster resilience and make a positive adjustment to any new environment you might encounter on your college path.
Stages of Homesickness
According to a study from the University of Colorado, people often experience five stages of homesickness: honeymoon, culture shock, adjustment, isolation and acceptance. In the honeymoon stage, you may be initially elated to be living life somewhat independently for the first time, meeting new people, and exploring new activities and surroundings. But your feelings may shift into “culture shock” as the “newness” of your environment wears off and you face the more unpleasant realities of college – things like homework and exams, messy roommates, or money challenges.
Eventually, you hit the “adjustment” stage and fall into a routine, but you may still feel periods of loneliness as you enter the “isolation” stage. Eventually, you hit “acceptance,” a phase where you begin to understand that building a new community and support system takes time.
It’s important to realize that feelings of homesickness are often temporary. When you take the time to understand your feelings, accept them, and take actions to move on from them, you will hopefully find yourself in a much better state.
What Triggers Homesickness?
While homesickness may arise for no reason in particular, there may be incidents that cause you miss home more than usual. For instance, say you get sick or you’re suddenly injured. These are situations that can be difficult to experience without your family’s immediate attention. It can be hard to accept the reality that, now you must attend to your own needs independently.
Visiting home for the holidays may also remind you just how much you miss the feeling of being surrounded by family. It might feel wonderful to be surrounded by your loved ones and the comforts of home during the holidays, but that may make going back to college more difficult. On the other hand, you may find yourself spending the holidays at college, away from your normal community, which can trigger homesickness in anyone.
4 TIPS FOR OVERCOMING HOMESICKNESS IN COLLEGE
1. Share your feelings candidly
It can be hard to open up in general, but especially about a stigmatized feeling like homesickness. There is no way to predict when this feeling may arise; it could be your first or third year, and suddenly you’re desperately missing your life before college. Any major life change can be accompanied by confounding emotions, so do not dismiss your feelings. Instead, try to open up about them to your friends, a counselor, or your Resident Advisor (RA). There may be many more people around you who have experienced this than you realize.
2. Get out there
While you are likely to have a support system at home, it is important to solidify one at college as well. Get to know your roommates, classmates, and others on campus as they may be in the same exact position as you. Together you can make new friends, participate in school activities and clubs, or get to know your new town. It is a good idea to explore and familiarize yourself with your new environment even if you do so by yourself. Research suggests that homesick individuals are missing some key components: the primary one being activities. Branching out to try new experiences and activities, through your school or on your own, can provide a positive distraction and an opportunity to meet new people.
3. Make your new home a second home
Whether you are living in a dorm or an apartment, you should try to make yourself comfortable there. Decorating your room with throw pillows or a comfy blanket or hanging up posters of your favorite bands, pictures of your high school friends and family, or a replica of a favorite painting can help you feel more at ease in your new space. You and your roommates can collectively decorate your common space as well, an activity that may help you get to know them and their boundaries when it comes to your common space. Your space should feel comfortable. Here are some tips if you’re not sure where to start.
4. Stay connected with family and loved ones (In Moderation)
While you may be physically away from home, you can easily stay connected to your support system back home by texting, calling, and face-timing. It’s important, however, to moderate how much you communicate with your loved ones back home. You don’t want to rely solely on their communication for support and comfort. According to Psychology Today, “to live mindfully, to fully occupy your present moment, you need to limit the degree to which you keep yourself actively involved in the day-to-day life of a place where you no longer live.” It might make it more difficult to thoroughly enjoy and settle into your independence when you are constantly talking to your loved ones back home, as this can exacerbate your nostalgia. Make sure to find a communication schedule that works best for you. Remember: everything in moderation.
If you’re homesick during the holidays
Being away from home can be particularly difficult during holidays. This can happen if you’re attending college far from home or studying or traveling abroad during a holiday. If you find yourself in this situation, consider accepting invitations to spend holidays with friends and their families if this is an option. If not, take time to volunteer in the community, attend family celebrations virtually, check out local holiday events, concerts or activities, reach out to community groups, or do something that you really enjoy, such as taking a bubble bath, venturing out on a hike, going out to dinner, or indulging in a movie marathon.
Perhaps you observe a holiday unfamiliar to those around you. If so, consider hosting your own holiday party or event, including traditional foods, decorations, and music.
If you feel homesick, don’t dismiss it, but rather address it with some of these tips. Homesickness is a normal experience that can affect anyone, young or old, who is away from home. It takes time to fall into your own groove, so be sure to have patience and trust the process. Accepting your feelings and focusing on the positive aspects of college can be key to dealing with being homesick.