Homesickness: a natural part of college

AU didn’t feel like home at first for Student Government President Patrick Kelly.

The Chicago native found living in Washington, D.C. to be different and missed his closed-knit family.

“I get homesick very easy,” he said.

Homesickness is the distress caused by separation from home, either actual or anticipated, according to “Homesickness and Adjustment in University,” a study by psychologist Christopher Thurber and Dr. Edward Walton.

However, homesickness is normal for students, Thurber said.

“When we are away from the things we love, we miss them,” he said.

Kelly missed his parents, his two younger brothers and Chicago.

“And that was tough for me,” Kelly said.

Homesickness can occur because of a culture change, such as moving to a different country or even another state, Thurber said.

The change in values and beliefs from being in another culture, also known as as acculturation stress, can cause homesickness, according to the study.

This stress can occur while studying abroad, but can be helped by balancing influences from the new culture and the original one.

“If you are going to study abroad, make sure you make a combination of friends from your home country and your host country,” Thurber said.

Acculturation stress can also be reduced if the student has more information about the country and celebrating homeland traditions, according to the study.

Kelly encountered acculturation stress while studying at AU, but confided in his roommate about these shared troubles. He also got involved in AU activities, which helped him adjust better to AU.

“We take care of our fellow students,” Kelly said.
He joined a fraternity, where two members were from his hometown, and began to feel a sense of brotherhood, he said.

Making new friends can help students adapt to their new culture, Thurber said.
“Really focus on making new friends,” Thurber said.

Making new friends at school does not mean students should lose connections with friends from their hometown. Students need to find a balance between talking with friends at home, through Skype or phone calls, and hanging out with friends at school, Thurber said.

If students spend too much time talking with people back home, they can block new connections at school, he said.

In addition to Skyping with friends back home, Thurber said coping methods can include:

  • eating healthy
  • getting sleep
  • exercise

When students are not taking care of themselves, they can fall behind in school work and feel emotionally unhealthy. If this happens, they will dislike the college atmosphere more, Thurber said.

Schools also need to provide good information to students about the school, social events and religious opportunities, which can be done at orientations, he said.
“The more you know about where you are going, the less anxious you are going to be,” Thurber said.

The Counseling Center at AU is available with many of those resources, Kelly said.
“Our staff is trained to work with students to experience a wide range of concerns, which includes homesickness and adjusting to a new campus,” the Counseling Center’s Dr. Amanda Rahimi said in an email.

Before coming to school, students should think about what parts of the transition may be difficult for them and what steps they should take if they do get homesick, Rahimi said in the email.

“And it’s okay to accept [being homesick,] instead of hiding it,” Kelly said.

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