No matter how excited you may be about college life, even the most independent freshmen can find themselves struck with homesickness. Moving away from home for the first time, adjusting to a college workload and setting up a brand new daily routine all take their toll, and sometimes, all you want to do is crawl into your (non-twin XL) bed with a tub of ice cream at home. A lot of collegiettes don’t have the luxury of just heading home whenever they feel like it, so when you’re missing home, how do you deal?
We talked to Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and collegiettes for tips on how to cope.
What is homesickness?
Although there isn’t a clinical definition of homesickness, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a description of the condition that’s well recognized. “Homesickness in its most basic form is thoughts and feeling about home, but it exists on a continuum—it isn’t a matter of being of homesick or not; it’s matter of degree,” says Dr. Klapow. This means that however mild or infrequent your thoughts about home are, you can still be considered “homesick.” At its most severe, homesickness can manifest itself as obsessive thoughts about home, crying at what seem like random times and an inability to do what Klapow says “you came to college to do”—go to classes, make new friends, learn about yourself and, ultimately, earn a degree.
Dr. Klapow stresses that it’s important to recognize that homesickness is a very normal reaction to periods of rapid change and adjustment—like starting your freshman year of college. More often than not, “people misinterpret what exactly it means to be homesick. It’s not about missing home—[your] house, [your] bed. Very often it’s about missing what’s normal and comfortable, what we’re used to, and not quite being comfortable with your new way of life.” At its core, homesickness is a longing for the familiar.
How to get over homesickness
Now that you know what homesickness is, it’s important to know how to deal when you get those homesick pangs. Read on for tips from Dr. Klapow and some tried-and-true methods from collegiettes!
1. Understand that what you’re going through is normal
The most important step in overcoming homesickness is realizing that there isn’t anything wrong with you. According to Dr. Klapow, “even if no one’s saying anything, chances are most people are feeling [varying degrees] of homesickness at one point or another. Feeling homesick is part of learning to live a new life—you can’t do it without going through some sort of adjustment period.”
Acknowledging and accepting your homesickness is a way of learning how to live a new life, from starting college all the way to moving to a new city for a job. Once you know you’re homesick, you can start working towards getting over it.
2. Get used to your new surroundings
According to Dr. Klapow, a big part of feeling homesick is feeling uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. Get more familiar with your college’s campus and the surrounding area by walking around and exploring, either alone or with friends. Scope out secret study spots for when you get tired of the library, cool little cafes to grab lunch in when you’re running late and quiet spots to clear your head. The more you feel like your campus “belongs” to you, the more comfortable you’ll feel at college.
3. Make a space for yourself at school
Homesickness often occurs during freshman year because you feel uncomfortable and out of place in your new surroundings. You long for home because at home, you’re sure of yourself and how you fit into the world around you. The discomfort of not knowing everything and everyone around you can catch you off guard at college, but actively working at getting comfortable and developing a routine for yourself can curb your homesick feelings.
Erin Smith, Campus Correspondent for HC Towson, had this experience. “I was so used to being someone that everyone knew in high school that I didn't realize I actually had to reach out and make friends,” she says. “Once I came out of my shell and got involved with some organizations, it was so much more relaxing and I started to feel at home in school,” she says.
There are a number of different ways you can occupy your time to build a routine and stop feeling lonely. Look into volunteering opportunities on campus, campus politics, intramural sports and Greek life (some schools have two rushing seasons or continuous open bid, so you can join a sorority at multiple points in the year). Filling up your social calendar and hanging out with people who have similar interests as you will help you feel less lonely and help you make new friends!