As summer progresses the topic of homesickness crops up in my discussions with parents and soon-to-be-college freshmen. Questions range from what is it to what are ways to deal with it or prevent it. It is important to know that although homesickness is common for incoming freshman, it is not inevitable. Also, individuals can experience homesickness prior to arriving on campus and well into the freshman year. Homesickness is not exclusive to college freshmen. Any individual making a transition away from home such as a transfer student or a person moving away for a job can experience it.
Homesickness is really a form of separation anxiety. Symptoms include feeling sad or lonely. The individual may also yearn for home, family and friends. Freshman may exhibit lack of motivation to study, make friends or participate in activities. It may also manifest itself in a sense of being overwhelmed by classes and studying.
It is important to note that there is a major distinction between homesickness and depression. Those experiencing homesickness are relieved of their symptoms when they return home or to a familiar environment. Those with depression do not see relief when they visit home and friends.
There are steps that can be taken to prevent, minimize or overcome homesickness. Prior to heading to college, students should take every opportunity to get to know their college and roommate(s). Freshmen Orientation is a great time for incoming freshmen to familiarize themselves with the campus, services and meet students in their major or who share similar interests. Colleges allow and encourage students to connect with roommates prior to landing on campus in the fall. Students can share phone numbers, email addresses and friend each other on Facebook and MySpace. This helps develop friendships, social ties and a support network prior to attending college that they can turn to once the semester begins.
Parents, too, can find Freshmen Orientation and Welcome Days beneficial. There is a trend now to have sessions during Freshmen Orientation for parents that cover topics such as homesickness, and the college transition for parents and students. Some college are even creating a day-long Freshmen Parent Orientation.
Once at college, freshmen can prevent homesickness by following a few techniques. Get to know and interact with dorm mates. Join groups or sign up for sports or other activities. Know that your fellow freshman are all new to college, feel uncomfortable, and are missing family and friends, too. For the shy individuals, I highly recommend checking out Pat Weber’s website http://www.patricia-weber.com/. Pat is the “Business Coach For Introverts And Shy” and she has great networking tips for overcoming introvertism and shyness that are useful for introverted or shy college freshmen who feel uncomfortable making friends or being in new social situations. It may also be helpful for freshmen to bring favorite things from home. Use Skype to stay in contact with friends and family. Parents, don’t forget to send care packages to your freshman with mementos from home and her favorite snacks.
Those experiencing homesickness can use the same techniques. If the homesickness is severe or prolonged, impacting academic performance or progressed to full depression, the student should talk to the Resident Assistant (RA) in the dorm or make an appointment with the counseling services on campus.
Tackle homesickness head on and the college experience will be successful and memorable for freshmen and parents alike!