CofC Logo

Homesickness

I thought it was bad in Kindergarten

Children dressed in CofC gear College Woman dressed in CofC gear

 At College of Charleston, I am the Health Educator.  I reach out to students with events and programs to help them learn about and/or receive help for mental health and health related topics.  Since I started this position two years ago in August, September, and part of January, I speak with students in groups and individually about homesickness.  These College of Charleston students have shared a lot about their experience with me which has really made me empathize and broaden my understanding of the homesickness adjustment.  It is normal to experience homesickness.  This Fall (2013), 21.8 million students are expected to attend a college or university in the United States. More than half of these same students will indicate a moderate degree of homesickness.  Around 20% will have an extreme reaction to leaving home and most likely the distress will continue until after the the first semester. 

Here are just some of the many changes/adjustments that students have described to me:

  • This is a move, but a move of a larger scale then moving to a new home almost everything is different: families, friends, familiar surroundings,
  • Their day is structured completely different than any other time in their school age lives.
  • There is less supervision which seems to mean less sense of a daily interest/investment in their lives.
  • The food is not familiar.
  • Their organized activities are gone.  This generation of children tends to have very busy calendars from grade school through college.
  • They don’t have a car so they cannot get up and go places the same way as before.
  • The eating schedules, wake up schedules, bedtime schedules are all different.
  • Their rooms are totally different than they were at home (roommates and the appearance: (like comforters, bedstands, lamps, desks, and bathrooms). 
  • Most of them have never shared a room with another for any length of time.
In addition to the changes above, many college students have been raised in families which talked about going to college for years describing it hopefully as a wonderful opportunity and the time of their lives.  This expectation is great and is true for many, but when the loneliness, sadness and anxiety starts the students sometimes use the "Time of My Life" as the actual rubric for the first semester. Usually the best time of our life is an average and people tend to look back at the positive aspects of life while glossing over or forgetting the negative. In the very popular video below (174,000 views on youtube), this college student describes homesickness in her first tip. 

College Student Talking About What She Wishes She Knew

Top 10 Things I Wish I Had Known My Freshman Year

When I meet with the students this what I do, but there are many great resources that you can look at to find a style that works best for you.

  • I listen to their experience. 
  • I encourage them to describe things that they enjoyed doing at home.  We talk about how to recreate those types of activities at CofC. 
  • I encourage them to display/have things in their room here that is like their room at home. 
  • I encourage them have contact with their family and friends, but not constant contact. 
  • I show them where to find things to do on campus besides the college stereotypes. 
  • I remind them that it takes time because it is a new place and there is a lot of change so you have to be patient with yourself. 
  • I ask them about their past specifically whether they have had similar feelings before and what worked then.  I talk about the value of acknowledging their feelings and examining their thoughts to correct any distortions like "I will never feel better," and more actively plan for things that can help which is usually being more socially engaged. 
  • I also share that the research shows that the best cure for not being homesick again is to work through it.  We learn a lot about ourselves in times of adversity. 
  • Because of my counseling background, I usually do an assessment to determine whether the homesickness is becoming a greater problem than adjustment difficulties.  The Counseling and Substance Abuse Services Website has a mental health screening program for College of Charleston students.