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Homesickness

• Symptoms • Contributing Factors
• Difference from Depression • How to Manage it
• Helpful Websites  

 

Why do Students experience homesickness?

Woman sitting on travel bagCollege life is a big transition and adjustment full of unfamiliarity. We tend to gravitate toward the familiar and comfortable and avoid things that may cause pain or discomfort. Change always presents a challenge –even positive change creates a level of uneasiness. Our ability to cope with change breeds different degrees of tolerance depending upon past experiences; different learned methods for coping with unfamiliar surroundings also contribute.

In familiar settings, people generally feel more accepted and secure and are therefore likely to feel more confident in meeting challenges successfully.
In new surroundings, we do not have past experiences to fall back on and as a result we are more likely to experience lower levels of confidence and self-esteem. Tasks that were once easily “second nature” now become a challenge and sometimes feel insurmountable.

When you are studying abroad or going away to college it’s natural to have a period of adjustment when you leave home. Experiencing new things and meeting different people can be exciting and stressful at the same time. Sometimes, it can make you feel a deep desire to return to the people and situations you know best.

Symptoms of homesickness:

  • Feelings of anxiety about separation from loved ones.
  • Anxiety about one’s performance.
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Feeling different from others we think are having a good time.
  • Feeling depressed or sad with low motivation to study or make friends.
  • Yearning for a connection to someone who will “take the pain away and make things seem alright.”
  • Constant thinking about home.

Contributing factors to homesickness:

  • The distance between home and school.
  • Not feeling prepared academically to meet the challenges of college.
  • The decision to attend college or come to a particular school was made by someone other than the student.
  • A sense of anticlimax at finally arriving at college after working towards it for so long.
  • Contrast in lifestyle such as differing cultural values or traditions, sexual orientation or geographic differences (i.e. moving from a big city to a small city).
  • Financial issues that require the student to work immediately.

How is homesickness different from depression?

Students who are depressed do not experience relief from their symptoms -even if they go home for the weekend or engage in their favorite activity. Students who are homesick find that when they leave school and spend time at home, their depressive symptoms disappear.

How to manage homesickness:

  • Understand that while homesickness can be painful, it also presents us with an opportunity to grow beyond what we are. It represents a challenge to take charge of our life and learn new skills for dealing with our emotions and others.
  • Know that homesickness goes away eventually. As you gradually get used to your new surroundings, you’ll grow more comfortable. You’ll also gain a sense of confidence and independence by knowing that you can learn to adjust.
  • Accept that things will be different, but different isn’t bad or wrong. Part of maturing is learning to be flexible in different situations, so this is all part of the process of preparing you for a fantastic future.
  • Bring a piece of home. Pack special items that remind you of home and give you comfort like your pillow, stuffed animals, pictures, posters, music, and specialty food items.
  • Focus on what you’re gaining. Instead of thinking about everything you’re missing, focus on what you’re gaining by being away. Think about all the new experiences you can share with friends and family when you return.
  • Know that you’re not alone. Everyone who is new is in the same boat so find a buddy to go exploring. Walk around and learn the campus and city. The more familiar you become with your new surroundings, the more your feelings of homesickness will fade.
  • Keep in touch. You’re never more than a call or click away from friends and family. Make an effort to explore and learn new things about your environment so you can share your experiences with them.
  • Get involved. Join a club, study group, or find a part-time job that will get you involved with other people. Knowing that you will see the same faces and interact on a regular schedule helps a lot.
  • Plan a visit. Invite friends and family to visit you and act as their tour guide. It also helps to schedule a trip back home, but avoid going home every weekend. You’ll gain more confidence by sticking it out and finding new things to do.
  • Accept that you are feeling a sense of loss and discomfort. It may take some time for you to feel as comfortable here as you do at home. But you are capable of surviving these feelings if you allow yourself to calm down and get oriented
  • Ask yourself what experience, thing, or people are you missing the most. For some, it is a parent or friend who will listen. It can be the presence of children, people with similar values, or a tropical climate. Ask yourself how you can begin to experience these things here. Who else can listen? How can you find people with similar values
  • Talk about your feelings. Homesickness is natural. It doesn’t mean you are weak, only that you have experienced love and security in your home life – and that’s a good thing! If you find you are having trouble coping, talk to a friend, roommate, RA, or a campus counselor. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings rather than keep them inside. You are definitely not the first student to experience homesickness, and by sharing what you’re going through with others, you’ll find even more ways to start to adjust.
  • Focus on things that relax you: deep breathing, listening to music, going for a walk, exercising, or talking with a friend.
  • Work with your thoughts about homesickness:

- If you are engaging in negative thoughts about yourself, your new environment, and your life in general, more than likely your symptoms of homesickness will intensify rather than subside. So….instead of saying: “I don’t fit in here. I want to leave.” You might want to try saying:” I am learning how to adjust here. More practice will make this easier. It’s already easier to do some things here then when I first arrived. This feeling is normal and I want to give myself more time before I make any big decision to leave

- Instead of saying: “I hate making changes. I’m too nervous to relax here.” Try saying:” I can calm down and take this one step at a time. I’ve been upset and anxious before in my life and I’ve managed to get by and even have more self-confidence for hanging in there.”

- If you work at shifting your thoughts from negative to positive the uncomfortable feelings of homesickness will decrease.

- This takes a lot of practice! Be gentle with yourself when you notice you’re in the midst of saying something negative.

  • Take action. Structure your time. Participate in student activities.
  • Limit the amount of time you consciously think of home. Focus on what you can do NOW
  • Try to make new friends by talking with those you live with or in your classes.
  • Be realistic about what to expect from student life and from yourself. Establish a balance between work and play; you are not expected to work all the time ––you would soon burn out. On the other hand, if you don’t put enough time into studying, you can easily get behind, which only compounds the stress.
  • Try to maintain healthy eating and sleeping habits. If we ignore our health, our immune system lowers, thus making it more difficult to stay healthy both physically and emotionally.
  • Seek new opportunities. Take classes that seem interesting or fun. Get involved in your favorite activity or try a new one. College is a fantastic opportunity to experiment with new things.

Remember:

  • You are not alone! Homesickness is experienced by most college students.
  • It’s okay to feel sad and homesick. You are also allowed to enjoy yourself; it isn’t being disloyal to those you miss.
  • Be gentle with yourself and give yourself time to adjust. The transition to college is difficult and requires one to be patient and forgiving of oneself. Laugh at your mistakes. You’re learning!

Helpful Websites:

http://collegelife.about.com/od/cocurricularlife/a/homesickness101.htm

http://www.ehow.com/how_4540308_cope-homesickness-college.html


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