My first year away and I’m homesick

Your teen was so excited when she or he received their letter of acceptance! All summer your teen dreamed about moving away from home starting the next chapter of their life, being away from Mom and Dad and now the day has arrived.

You might still have stuff to unpack or your room is all organized and cool but you just don’t feel quite comfortable here in your new place. And then it hits you …. You’re homesick. What now?

Why homesickness may occur?

Being homesick can be a normal part of moving away from home. It’s not about missing home-your home, your parents, or your bed. Very often it’s about missing what’s normal and comfortable. It’s about missing everything that is familiar, comfortable, our daily routine and not being comfortable with your new way of life. Homesickness is missing the familiar. It’s like going to a foreign country where everything is different. It’s nice for a few days and then you start missing the smells and feel of home. Homesickness is about adjusting to the new. However, for those people who have moved to a foreign country for college, it will probably take them a lot longer to become comfortable with their situation. Moving away from home for international students can often be extremely difficult. Not only do these students have to leave their friends and family, they also have to become accustomed to a different lifestyle and local customs. For example, students who move over to another country for college often find it difficult at first to adjust to the local difference. This is the perfect example of why it’s important to research beforehand, especially when moving to another country.

Some factors may increase the likelihood that your teen or young adult student may experience homesickness:

  • No previous experiences being away from home,
  • Difficulty making transitions to new situations,
  • Roommate issues,
  • Leaving a boyfriend or girlfriend behind,
  • Possible concerns about family members at home (is someone ill or not doing well?),
  • Academic difficulties – your teen isn’t a strong student, may have a learning disability, not sure how to balance their time between studying, sports, having fun or working?
  • Personality – if they are shy or slow to warm up
  • Finds it difficult to meet and make friends

Your college or university bound student may not be experiencing homesickness at all or they might not express their feelings to you.

When will homesickness strike?

Homesickness can occur

  • Immediately, during the first few days or week of being away from home
  • It may also occur around mid-semester
  • Midterm exams may make these feelings worse
  • It can hit during the dull grey days of November

Signs of homesickness

  • Your college or university student may tell you outright that she is homesick (girls are more likely talk about these feelings than boys)
  • Your teen or adult student may call home more often or ask to visit home more than you expect. They may wish or ask for you to come and pick them up right away
  • Your teen or adult student may express dissatisfaction with everything and everyone at the school. Students may be worried about classes, especially anxious or have panic attacks, have difficulty making decisions, or withdraw from social activities.
  • Parents need to watch closely for any signs of serious adjustment difficulties or depression: excessive use of alcohol or food, excessive TV, internet or video game use – as we know teens do experiment with alcohol or drugs. You need to watch out for signs that they are excessively drinking or using alcohol to dull or avoid dealing with their emotions or dealing with school and their new environment.

What to do????

  • Be willing to listen & validate to your teen’s feelings and reassure them that feeling homesick is a real feeling. Just listening to your teen may be enough. Your teen may need to vent or voice their unhappiness, worries and fears.
  • Suggest to your teen or adult student that he or she talk with someone on campus about his or her feelings. If your teen is in residence, there is the floor representative or monitor who your teen can speak with or ask for guidance or direction on where to seek help. Universities and colleges are aware that first year students are at risk of dropping out of school in the first semester. Most campuses have student success programs or student health care offices. Many students don’t return in January after the December break if these issues are not addressed early enough.
  • Encourage your teen or adult student to stay on campus rather than making frequent visits home. While you don’t want to ban your teen from coming home, it is difficult to adjust to college/university if you are not there. Spending time with other students especially on the weekends is part of the college or university experience.
  • Mom and Dad don’t focus on how lonely you are too or how empty the house is. Growing up and going away to college or university is a normal part of teen and adult development.
  • Suggest that your teen or adult student make an effort to really get to know the campus. Have them tell you about the campus, what spots do they like. Where do they feel comfortable? Is there a place they like to go to have tea or coffee or hang out with other people? Part of conquering homesickness is getting familiar with your new location. Homesickness is the discomfort of not knowing everything and everyone around you. Your teen can actively work at get comfortable and develop a daily routine in his or her new environment that can curb homesick feelings. Ask them if they can take photos of campus and their favourite places on and off campus so you can talk about their school experiences.
  • Suggest that your student pick some small goals – for the next day or week – to do something to take action to overcome these feelings and become more connected with their new environment. Doing some small thing – attending a club meeting, having dinner with a new friend from class, talking to a professor, attending an athletic event – will help her or him to feel in control. In this digital age get your teen to get the phone number or email address of at least 3 other students from each class. Then they can have someone to reach out to after class. The more you connect with someone the more likely you will make friends. It takes time to develop friendships.
  • Suggest that your student get involved on campus: attend a club meeting, join an intramural sport, ask fellow students to form a study group or volunteer to help somewhere. Students who are more involved in extracurricular activities are happier and better students
  • Voice your confidence in your teen and young adult. Ask them what things ideas do they have on how they can cope and develop more relationships at school and become more comfortable in their new location.
  • Do send a care package of goodies, cards, gift cards for pizza, hugs and kisses. Students who receive care packages are always popular and this is a way to help your teen connect with other people on their floor. Don’t drive down every weekend to visit. This is a learning experience and you want to support them and encourage them to develop their internal resources.
  • If your teen is still not adjusting after weeks (give them at least 4 weeks to adjust) of feeling homesick, please take this seriously. Ensure they do speak with a profession psychotherapist on or off campus. Most colleges and universities offer mental health services through their on-campus health clinics. Encourage your teen to reach out to them and even speak with the resident floor monitor.
  • Do talk to your child about the support the college or university have in place to help them adjust to moving away from home and attending post secondary education. Don’t focus on them being homesick before they leave for school but on support systems in place to help them succeed at university or college.