Homesickness - How to Cope with a Strange and Unfamiliar Environment

by Jason Baluja, FAU Senior | Thursday, Aug 29, 2019
Dog and Welcome Mat

Homesickness can be defined as the distress caused by the separation of an individual from his or her home environment, which can be anything from an actual location to friends, family, or culture. It’s common among first-year college students, since it’s many people’s first time away from home. Depending on whether a student can adjust during  his or her first year, homesickness may persist into later years, and even throughout his or her entire college career. Homesickness can lead to increased anxiety, depressed mood, and difficulty concentrating. If severe enough, homesickness can also lead to physical symptoms such as frequent or constant crying, headaches, changes in appetite, nausea, and a general sensation of feeling ill. 

Studies have found that people experiencing homesickness are more prone to other ailments, such as colds, when compared to non-homesick groups. 1 Other studies have found that homesickness can increase perception of discrimination, especially for international and minority students, further exacerbating student distress and  making it more challenging to adjust to a new environment. 2 Homesickness can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, and it’s  crucial to address it as early as possible. Your college years are going  to be some of the most exciting years of your life— don't let homesickness get in the way of that! Luckily, there are many ways to lessen the effects of and cope with homesickness.

1. Keep in touch

It’s  easy to get overwhelmed and bogged down in all the things you need to do as a college student, leaving little room for anything else. That being said, you should set aside time to call or video chat home at least once a week.  Coordinatewith whoever you want to contact to make sure you don't miss each other when trying to communicate. This will help you feel less disconnected from home, even if you only call fora few minutes. Try to call once a day during the time you’ve set aside, since you still want to adjust and adapt to your new environment, not hide from it.

2. Sign up

One of the worst effects of homesickness is feeling of lonely or isolated. Although it may be intimidating at first, explore what your campus has to offer, and sign up for clubs and events that interest you.  It’s easy to make new friends if you share a common interest in a club or activity. FAU is a large university, and with over 300 student clubs, there’s bound to be something for everyone.

3. Talk to those in your new home

If you’re feeling a bit left out from everything happening around you, try talking to your roommates. Often, they are just as new to things as you are, or maybe they have a group of friends that are kind enough to welcome you in. It’s best to get a feel for and get along with your roommates as soon as possible since you will be living with them for  one semester at the least. You may be surprised to find out you have similar interests. You can try setting up weekly meal times or a movie night. Getting to know them can also make your new environment more familiar and welcoming. Don't forget to talk to your Resident Assistants. Many of them understand what it’s like to be homesick or have helped people who were homesick. They can help you adjust too.

4. Keep busy

While it’s important to have some downtime to relax and avoid burnout, you should keep yourself busy. Too much downtime will leave a lot of room for thinking about home, which can contribute to homesickness. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should fill in all your free time with more work. You can also pick up new hobbies, attend events, and hang out with the new people you meet. Anything that distracts your mind can help.

5. Make study groups

One of the easiest ways to bond with others is by going through hardships together, in this case, the hardships are classes. Typically, students are open to getting together to work on assignments, study guides, or to study for tests. Don't be afraid to ask some of your classmates if they would like to create a study group for a class. By doing so, you’ll build better relationships with your classmates. Some of those relationships will extend beyond that particular class.You can still have a fun time with study groups even if the material itself is not very fun.

1 Thurber, C. A., & Walton, E. (2007). Preventing and treating homesickness. Pediatrics, 119 (1), 192-201.

2 Poyrazli, S., & Lopez, M. D. (2007). An exploratory study of perceived discrimination and homesickness: A comparison of international students and American students. The Journal of Psychology, 141 (3), 263-280.