How to Handle Homesickness- Tips From a Boarding School Girl

Four years ago, I left home for the first time to attend boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts. When I first arrived on campus, I was excited, but I didn’t know the first thing about being independent. I soon found out that it can feel impossible at first, especially in a brand new environment. I was homesick beyond belief for my first term. 


Now, after four years of living away from home, I consider myself to be something of an expert on handling homesickness. My little sister went away to boarding school this fall for the first time, and knowing she was inevitably about to go through the same things I had, I wrote her a list of six tips to help her overcome her homesickness, tips that I wish someone had given me when I started school: 


  1. Set up your space


Whether you’re living in a single, a cramped triple, or a suite, it’s important to make your space feel as much like your own as soon as possible. Setting up your new home away from home is one of the first steps to feeling comfortable in a new environment. 

First, make sure that your space will be functional. Check that you have all the bedding, towels, boxes, and all other random things you may need. In my experience, you can never have too much storage or too many throw pillows for your bed!

Then make sure to decorate well. Bring posters, tapestries, and photos. Bringing sentimental items from home like a teddy bear or photos of parents can make your room feel more homey. It’s important to make your room a safe space for yourself. Having somewhere inviting that you’ll be happy to come back to each night is an important part of adjusting to life away from home. The sooner you feel comfortable in your new space, the sooner you’ll feel comfortable overall. 


2. Call home


I have heard so many people say that calling home makes their homesickness worse. During my first few weeks at boarding school, I certainly found this to be true. Whenever my mom would answer the phone, I found myself holding back tears. So I stopped calling her. 


Eventually I learned that calling her made my homesickness worse because I would try to hide it from her. When you move out of the house for the first time, there is pressure: pressure to immediately have friends, to join clubs, and to do well in classes. I felt this pressure, and didn’t want to admit to her that I was having a hard time. 


However, once I told her that I was homesick, she was able to support me so much more than before because now she understood my situation. Being truthful with your parents or anyone at home is important to get the support you need to make it through the beginning of your independence. It’s helpful to have a familiar voice to talk to or distract you from what’s happening on campus. 


Calling home often is not a sign of weakness, just like feeling homesickness isn’t, so don’t be afraid to do it!


3. Keep an open mind


College is a time of new beginnings, including new friendships. If you’re anything like me, you’ve had the same group of friends for as long as you can remember, and you’ve forgotten how to meet new people. It is crucial to keep an open mind during the first few weeks of school. 


When I arrived at boarding school, I was assigned to a roommate who I didn’t care for at first. I wrote in my journal, “My roommate’s name is Nina. She’s nice enough, but I don’t think we’ll be good friends.” Four years later we graduated together after four years of being roommates, and she is my best friend to this day. 


You can find friends in people you don’t expect to, but you also have to accept the fact that the friend group you make in the first week of school won’t be the group you end the year with. Groups will shift as you learn more about each other, as you meet new people and start new activities and classes. Being open to new friends and losing touch with those you find less interest in can be so beneficial to finding your place and your people within your new community. 


4. Take it day by day


During the beginning of school, one day can feel like an eternity. Schedules are packed and confusing. Thinking more than one day ahead can be overwhelming. So don’t do it! I found it most helpful to set goals every morning, just for that day. Goals like talking to someone new in my English class, answering one question in my math class, something small that I could achieve easily. At the end of the day I would evaluate: have I achieved my goals? Was it a good day or a bad day? Was it better than yesterday? 


I found the time was more manageable in smaller, simpler chunks. There is no need to try and figure out anything major in the first few weeks. Instead, focus on your own comfort and how you’re acclimating. 


5. Ignore the FOMO


Starting at a new school, the fear of missing out, or “FOMO” can be intense. At boarding school, I was constantly concerned that my friends were doing something and bonding without me, that there was something I was missing. The truth is, worrying about what everyone is doing on a Tuesday night won’t help you. Missing hanging out in a new friend’s room once at the beginning of the year definitely is not going to make or break a friendship, just like it wouldn’t at the end of the year with old friends. 


What will help you is joining clubs and activities that will sustain you throughout the year. Clubs are scheduled, and you will make friends with members who have interests in common with you. Your presence in clubs will impact your social and academic life, as well as your self esteem. 


6. Remember, everyone is going through the same thing


The final and most important step to handling your homesickness is accepting that it’s normal. There is pressure when you go away for the first time to have a smooth transition. I remember during my first few weeks I felt as though everyone was succeeding at this except for me. I felt like the only one who was having a hard time. 


No matter the way I felt, this was certainly not the case. It is ridiculous to expect yourself to acclimate to a completely new environment right away. It is okay to not have your new life down to a science at first; it can be intense and overwhelming, and it can take a long time to adjust to it. But be easy on yourself at first, and have faith that you are not alone!