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Homesickness. It is defined as the distress caused by being away from home. It can happen to anyone at any age. But it can be particularly acute for college students, especially those who choose to attend school far away from home. It can affect students any year of college but it most likely will occur freshman year. This may be the first time the student has spent an extended period of time away from home, and it can be stressful. So how to cope with homesickness in college?
Get involved. Most colleges and universities offer a TON of Welcome Week activities. These activities are designed to get students out of their dorm rooms and out in the open to see everything the school has to offer by way of clubs, academic organizations, sports, musical and social groups. It would be hard for a student to not be able to find something they are interested in. The best advice is for students to go to every activity they possibly can those first few weeks of school. It is a great way to find interesting activities and other students who share common interests.
When we moved my daughter into her freshman dorm, we had a lovely grad student take care of our dog for the day while we moved stuff in. She told my daughter that she sat in her room the first week of her freshman year and cried every day. Then she decided that wasn’t working and decided to get involved. She said it made an instant difference and she quickly came to love being in college.
Find a couple of things that are of interest and jump in! I was a business major in college and that meant intense coursework. I joined an on-campus singing group that met every day and performed locally and all over the country. It was a HUGE outlet for me after taking boring or hard classes all day to go sing for an hour and a half every day. And music majors are totally different than business majors. I looked forward to that class every day and met wonderful people, some of whom remain friends to this day.
Remember you’re not the only one feeling lost. There are lots of people walking around campus feeling exactly the way you do. It takes a minute to settle in and you are not alone. If nothing is falling into place, be the one who gets folks together. Organize a movie night in your dorm lounge. Put together a study group in one of your classes. Start a brunch bunch that gets together on the weekends to talk about your week. Organize a group to sit together at the football games.
Look forward. It can be tempting to sit in your room and look at pictures from high school and see what your old friends are up to on social media. Instead of doing that, make a point to create new experiences every day. I’m not saying to forget about your friends from high school. It can be comforting to check in with one another and compare experiences. Just don’t dwell on it. My daughter keeps a wonderful picture in her room at school with all her high school squad wearing their respective college sweatshirts. It keeps them on her mind as a reminder of home. But she also works to make new friends on campus.
I remember when we moved to Virginia from Texas. A close friend who had also moved away from Texas told me it was very helpful to plan new activities for her kids to do in their new town. It kept them busy and looking forward to new experiences rather than dwelling on the past and what they left behind. I think that is great advice for dealing with college homesickness as well. Plan new things to try every week. Soon your thoughts will shift to looking forward to your new activities rather than being sad about what you left behind.
Give it time. You won’t feel comfortable immediately in your new environment. You’re in a new place with all new people. It takes a while to find your groove and group of friends. My daughter went to a University Model school for high school, which functions much like a university setting, as the name implies. Students could choose their own courses to meet graduation requirements. They could drop and add classes, just like in college. We had a rule to not make any sudden moves until at least one grading period had passed. A lot can change in the course of a few weeks, and often we quit things too soon. It takes time for things to fall into place.
My sophomore year in college I wanted to live in an all female dorm. Instead, I was placed in a coed dorm. On move-in day, my first thought was that I was going to immediately see if I could be moved to a female dorm. But I decided to wait and see how everything played out. I am SO glad I did. Living in a coed dorm was fantastic! I ended up making friends with guys in my dorm, we all ate together and went to games together, and I felt safe knowing there were men nearby in my dorm.
So give yourself time to work this all out. Feeling comfortable won’t happen overnight. Just take it day by day, and then one day you’ll just realize that everything is working. My daughter just started her junior year of college and is an R.A. this year. Even with two years under her belt, she was still a bit nervous about starting this year. But she formed an instant bond with her fellow R.A.s and sent me a text that made me very happy:
Plan a visit. Plan a visit home or have your parents or friends come visit you at school. Put it on your calendar. This gives you a tangible thing to look forward to. At my daughter’s university, they have a Dad’s Weekend in September. She knows my husband will be there to visit and go to a football game and take her to dinner. 🙂 They get a fall break in October which gives her a nice long weekend to come home. Mom’s Weekend is in April, so that gives me a chance to visit her in the spring.
If you’re having a particularly rough day or week, it can help to have that scheduled visit on your calendar. You can tell yourself, “Oh, well. Two more weeks and then my dad will be here.” It can also help if you have friends nearby your college. Just knowing they are there if you need a break or a home cooked meal can be comforting.
My daughter’s grade school principle and his family live in the same state as her university. We are close with them and visited with him when she was considering attending the school that she chose. He told her, “I’m just down the road. If something happens I can get to you in 45 minutes. Or if you just want a weekend away you just show up.” That was very comforting to both of us. He makes this offer to all of his former students and several have taken him up on it, which he loves. So don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and relatives who might live near your school.
Wear some gear from home. If you read my blog about Junior Year move-in day, you know my daughter was wearing a shirt from her hometown which caught the eye of a fellow student. He had a really big dolly and helped us move stuff in! If you walk around campus wearing something representing your hometown, you might just meet some fellow students from home! It could be a great way to make some new friends.
If you are a parent of a college student, send care packages. Many schools offer a service that sends care packages to students on campus for the first week of school, every major holiday, finals week, and “just because” packages. They make it so easy for parents. You just fill out cards for each occasion and they include them with the care package. It can really help ease students’ anxiety to get a package from mom and dad. If your school doesn’t offer this service, you can always send care packages yourself from home.
Include their favorite snacks and some small gifts they might need or enjoy. I found some cute inexpensive things that might be fun to include, like a magnetic key rack. This is kind of genius, really. You simply replace the bottom screw of a light switch with these magnetic “key catches.” They can hold up to three pounds! We always have teased my daughter that her keys look like she’s a janitor or dungeon master. 🙂 I think this thing could even hold her keys.
How about a retractable multi-charger? Students have so many gadgets and devices that require charging. This little gizmo can keep everything organized.
What about some cute bag clips? Students always have snacks in their rooms so these little guys can help keep everything fresh. These make me happy just looking at them. 🙂
How about a tissue box cover that reminds them of home? Students can feel especially homesick when they aren’t feeling well. It may be the first time they’ve had to deal with being sick all on their own. This tissue box is a little house where the tissue looks like smoke coming from the chimney.
Or how about a candle from your home state? I love these. Just make sure to check the rules if your student lives in a dorm because many dorms do not allow candles. But if your student lives in an off-campus apartment they may be allowed to have them. If you’re interested to see what the creators of these candles think your state smells like, you can check out the scent profiles by state.
These are just a few ideas of the kinds of things you can include in a care package. It’s just nice to get something from home. It can make your day.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are really finding it hard to adjust to college life and homesickness, don’t be afraid to tell someone. Talk to another student, an R.A. or a campus counselor. Many universities offer free counseling services to help students with all kinds of issues. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s what they’re there for!
So give yourself time and take in everything college has to offer. You will find your place and your tribe. If you do it right, it can be the best four (or five, or whatever) 🙂 years of your life. Embrace it.
And remember, in the words of the indomitable Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey, “There’s no shame in feeling homesick. It means you come from a happy home.” 🙂
Do you have any tips for dealing with homesickness? Feel free to share them in the comment section.
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