No matter how excited you may be about college life, even the most independent freshmen can find themselves struck with homesickness. Moving away from home for the first time, adjusting to a college workload and setting up a brand new daily routine all take their toll, and sometimes, all you want to do is crawl into your (non-twin XL) bed with a tub of ice cream at home. A lot of collegiettes don’t have the luxury of just heading home whenever they feel like it, so when you’re missing home, how do you deal?
We talked to Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and collegiettes for tips on how to cope.
What is homesickness?
Although there isn’t a clinical definition of homesickness, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a description of the condition that’s well recognized. “Homesickness in its most basic form is thoughts and feeling about home, but it exists on a continuum—it isn’t a matter of being of homesick or not; it’s matter of degree,” says Dr. Klapow. This means that however mild or infrequent your thoughts about home are, you can still be considered “homesick.” At its most severe, homesickness can manifest itself as obsessive thoughts about home, crying at what seem like random times and an inability to do what Klapow says “you came to college to do”—go to classes, make new friends, learn about yourself and, ultimately, earn a degree.
Dr. Klapow stresses that it’s important to recognize that homesickness is a very normal reaction to periods of rapid change and adjustment—like starting your freshman year of college. More often than not, “people misinterpret what exactly it means to be homesick. It’s not about missing home—[your] house, [your] bed. Very often it’s about missing what’s normal and comfortable, what we’re used to, and not quite being comfortable with your new way of life.” At its core, homesickness is a longing for the familiar.
How to get over homesickness
Now that you know what homesickness is, it’s important to know how to deal when you get those homesick pangs. Read on for tips from Dr. Klapow and some tried-and-true methods from collegiettes!
1. Understand that what you’re going through is normal
The most important step in overcoming homesickness is realizing that there isn’t anything wrong with you. According to Dr. Klapow, “even if no one’s saying anything, chances are most people are feeling [varying degrees] of homesickness at one point or another. Feeling homesick is part of learning to live a new life—you can’t do it without going through some sort of adjustment period.”
Acknowledging and accepting your homesickness is a way of learning how to live a new life, from starting college all the way to moving to a new city for a job. Once you know you’re homesick, you can start working towards getting over it.
2. Get used to your new surroundings
According to Dr. Klapow, a big part of feeling homesick is feeling uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. Get more familiar with your college’s campus and the surrounding area by walking around and exploring, either alone or with friends. Scope out secret study spots for when you get tired of the library, cool little cafes to grab lunch in when you’re running late and quiet spots to clear your head. The more you feel like your campus “belongs” to you, the more comfortable you’ll feel at college.
3. Make a space for yourself at school
Homesickness often occurs during freshman year because you feel uncomfortable and out of place in your new surroundings. You long for home because at home, you’re sure of yourself and how you fit into the world around you. The discomfort of not knowing everything and everyone around you can catch you off guard at college, but actively working at getting comfortable and developing a routine for yourself can curb your homesick feelings.
Erin Smith of HC Towson had this experience. “I was so used to being someone that everyone knew in high school that I didn't realize I actually had to reach out and make friends,” she says. “Once I came out of my shell and got involved with some organizations, it was so much more relaxing and I started to feel at home in school,” she says.
There are a number of different ways you can occupy your time to build a routine and stop feeling lonely. Look into volunteering opportunities on campus, campus politics, intramural sports and Greek life (some schools have two rushing seasons or continuous open bid, so you can join a sorority at multiple points in the year). Filling up your social calendar and hanging out with people who have similar interests as you will help you feel less lonely and help you make new friends!
4. Stay connected with home—but not too connected
Maintaining your relationships with your family and friends from back home is important in helping you miss them less, but according to Dr. Klapow, part of getting over homesickness is severing emotional ties from home. “[This separation] is part of learning to live differently, not just be[ing] away of home,” he says.
But Dr. Klapow also insists that making time to talk your friends and family “a few times a week” or “even once a day, while you’re still settling in” is worth it. Touching base with your friends and family back home will help you feel connected and not like everyone from back home has forgotten about you. Shira Kipnees of Franklin & Marshall College says that “call[ing]…[her] mom once a day to catch up and hear her voice… helps a lot,” and that regularly Skyping and texting her boyfriend, who was a senior in high school during her freshman year, helped curb the loneliness of being apart. Although Dr. Klapow suggest weaning yourself off of contacting your family daily, it is a good place to start.
5. Talk to other students (or professionals) on campus
It’s easy to feel alone when you’re homesick, but other freshmen are probably feeling the same way you are. Try talking to your friends or new people you’ve met about it. Opening up to your new friends about homesickness can be awkward, so if you’re uncomfortable, try approaching them from a different angle. Mentioning that you’re looking for ways to keep yourself occupied or asking for suggestions for cool clubs and on-campus opportunities can help you get over your homesickness by focusing on ways to stop yourself from dwelling on it. Reaching out to your friends can help you form a new camaraderie and fight your bouts of homesickness together.
Some campuses also have support groups for freshmen or freshman transitioning programs, so be sure to look into opportunities like that at your college. Talking to other people who are going through the same things as you can help, and you may even strike up a friendship with some people you meet.
If you’re uncomfortable talking to other students about your homesickness, reach out to professionals on campus. For some, talking to mental health professionals like on-campus psychologists can hold a stigma, but Dr. Klapow insists that “seeking out a professional to talk to doesn’t mean you have a psychiatric problem. Homesickness is such a common issue… you won’t be the first person that [on-campus psychologists] have spoken to or helped.” That human connection with someone who understands what you’re going through can help move you out of a homesick rut.
6. Stay positive. It will get better!
“Many college students don’t give [themselves] time [to deal with homesickness],” says Dr. Klapow. “[Homesickness] is uncomfortable, but for the most part, you’re fine.” Don’t let your homesickness consume you. Moving away from home, starting a new life and adjusting to college classes isn’t easy, but it gets easier! You’ve overcome difficult times before and starting college is no different.
“You just have to realize that you are at school for a purpose,” says Ashley Young, a recent graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College. “As collegiettes, you're doing great things, too! Push the negative thoughts aside and keep going.”
How to tell if it’s more than homesickness
Although most students will experience some form of homesickness, it’s important to be aware that homesickness can develop into something more extreme. In students, homesickness can trigger anxiety and depression disorders if not dealt with. Dr. Klapow suggests keeping a mental record of how you feel if you’re having a particularly bad homesick rut and asking yourself questions to gauge your mental health, such as, “Have I been homesick more days than not over the last six-week period?” and “Am I able to do what I need to do (attending classes, club meetings, etc.)?” For most people, Dr. Klapow says, “there is an intuitive sense of what’s normal [for them] and what’s abnormal. It’s rare for homesickness develop into something more serious, but if you need to be helped, don’t keep it to yourself.”
Seek guidance from a professional on campus who can help you assess your situation and help you develop a plan to move forward.
It’s important to keep in mind that homesickness is normal. We all have out bouts of loneliness at school, especially freshman year. Be sure to look forward at all the positive things your college career holds for you. You’ve only just begun!