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family with track and field tees

Student homesickness – and how to battle it

by Rebecca Kielbasa

Homesickness is something nearly every college student will experience when living away from home for the first time. Having physical distance from family, friends and familiar places can start to weigh on a student. We sat down with Julie Richards, the Director of Wellness and Counseling Services here at TU, to talk about what homesickness is, and how families can support their students through homesickness from afar.

What is homesickness?
A feeling of sadness or loneliness in anticipation for (or after) a departure from home which results in the longing for family, friends and the living environment that was left.

Is homesickness common in college students?
Yes, in fact over 30% feel low levels of homesickness, while about 69% of first-year students feel severe homesickness. This is a very normal feeling and students should be reminded that they are not alone in these feelings.

What are some of the major causes that bring on homesickness?
The main causes of homesickness are a sudden change in environment, a student’s first move. Though there are many factors that can affect the level of homesickness including social skills, anxiety and stress levels, inactivity and the overall ability of the person to adapt to new environments.

When does homesickness become most prominent for a student?
Homesickness is most prominent for a student when first arriving at college their freshman year.  It can arise again throughout the time that they are away, especially during times of high stress and/or periods of boredom.

What are some strategies that families can use for preventing homesickness? Both from afar and nearby. 

  • For planned separations such as college moves family should be advised to:
  • Allow the person to make the decision to leave on their own
  • Teach proper coping skills to use when and if they begin to feel homesick
  • Ensure proper communication during the time that they are gone
  • Work to learn about the new environment before departure
  • Encourage them to get to know people in the new environment – make friends and seek support
  • Avoid expressing anxious or ambivalent feelings toward the person leaving
  • Encourage planned visits whenever possible

What are common coping strategies students can use to combat homesickness?

  • There are a few different strategies that can allow a student to better adjust to their new environment.
  • First, by reaching out to others in the dorm – it is likely that they will be feeling similarly.
  • Second, by joining campus organizations that are of interest – this can allow them to meet people who share similar interests.
  • Third, by taking care of yourself – taking time to eat, sleep, and exercise. Getting into a routine can help a lot!
  • Fourth, by adjusting expectations – things will not always work out in their favor and being able to cope with this and move forward can be extremely beneficial.
  • Lastly, by seeking out resources on campus that can help address any issues that may arise and get proper support.

What are the most common mistakes that families can make when a child is feeling homesick? 
The most common mistake that families make when a student is feeling homesick is by telling them before the move that if this feeling of homesickness arises that they should retreat home. This idea becomes a crutch and will stifle the person’s abilities to cope properly because they will use this instead of working through these feelings of homesickness.