The high school student afflicted with so-called "senioritis" likely interprets the term "homesick" as "sick of home." By spring of senior year, many students think of home as a place to change clothes, grab some food, and engage in the occasional argument with their parents. But things change. And in the fall those same students who couldn't wait to leave often become the college freshmen who ache to be home again, and who write long and despairing Facebook posts about it.
The symptoms of homesickness vary and may appear before you even hang up the first poster in your dorm room. You may feel uneasy, dissatisfied, annoyed, unsure of yourself, sad and lonely. And the fact that you're feeling these things now, when you've finally made the much-anticipated transition may make you even more uneasy, dissatisfied, annoyed, etc. Sure, you knew you'd miss the good things—the dog, free cable, and other perks. But who knew you could also miss your dad's corny jokes or that strange sinister voice your mom uses when she wakes you up to do chores on a Saturday morning? How can something be so annoying in May and so poignant the following September?
Starting college is a lot like moving to another country. Whether you're a three- hour drive or a cross-country flight away from home, you have to figure out new customs and a new language. It's dizzying: a whole new set of friends, a new town to explore, and the ability to sleep in as late as you want (provided you schedule your classes right). The freedoms of college life are overwhelming. And then there are the real stressors: Challenging classes, roommate issues, and figuring out how to finance the whole experience. So much is unfamiliar that, naturally, you long for that most familiar place: home.
The only sure cure for homesickness is to move back home. However, there are other less-extreme remedies that will allay the symptoms. This chapter will:
- explain why students get homesick
- give you ideas for coping with homesickness
Homesickness is actually a form of separation anxiety that can occur at any time during a person's life. You may have experienced it on the first day of kindergarten or your first sleepover. The circumstances that cause this anxiety vary from person to person and age to age, but it's important to know that people well into adulthood may experience anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and even mild depression during times of transition. And your first year in college is a major transition point.
We all hear how college is supposed to be the "time of your life" and, when you look around, it might seem like other first-year students are enjoying every minute of their college experience. Don't worry about what you "should" be feeling or what you think other people are feeling; that will only add to your stress. Instead, recognize how you do feel and realize that it's normal.
Coping with Homesickness
There's no cure for the ailment of homesickness, but here are seven ideas for ways to cope with it:
1. Get busy. Free time is great—if you're not lonely. If you are, you might spend that free time counting and recounting the days remaining until Thanks- giving break, and then the days remaining until Winter break, and then.... Instead, challenge yourself to pack your daily schedule with activities. Try
an intramural sport, join a few clubs, attend the concerts and games around campus. Doing so will help you feel more connected to your new community. Then, when you do go home for a break, you can really relax (and maybe even miss school a bit).
2. Talk. Reach out to friends, your resident advisor, your chaplain...anyone who will listen to you and help you feel more connected to your new home.
3. Stay in touch, but be where you are. Skype, text, call, and email your family and friends back home. Just don't let staying in touch keep you from making new friends and experiencing college life in real time and real space.
4. Bring a little home with you. Display reminders from home—photographs, special objects, music—in your room. Also, try incorporating a routine from home into your new life. If, for example, you watched a certain TV show every week at home, watch it in your new home, too.
5. Be good to yourself. Lack of sleep, a poor diet, and no exercise are sure ways to amplify feelings of sadness and stress.
7. Think about moving back home. Some students get to campus and feel exhilarated, then stranded. Remember that you're not stuck: you can switch at semester's end or at the end of the year. It is a choice that you made and you have the choice to stay or go. Simply reflecting on that fact can give you perspective on your homesickness. Many students consider the alternative of moving home and realize that they still prefer the new, exciting, and slightly freaky experi- ence of being away from it.
Feeling homesick is a natural part of the transition to college. It won't necessarily go away, but you can learn to deal with it. And when you're back home for holidays, chances are you'll appreciate it more at first, then begin to miss the college life you've made for yourself.
- Have you felt or are you feeling homesick? Rate the severity of your homesickness on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 represents no longing for home and 10 represents a severe longing for home. What times of day and what circumstances seem to evoke feelings of homesickness for you?
- Brainstorm a list of 5 action steps you could take this week to make yourself feel more at home at college.