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Getting over homesickness in college can take a lot longer than you expect.
That's because having a place to call “home” looks different for everyone.
Home feels comfortable, welcoming and enjoyable. For some, it's a person; for others it's a place. No matter the definition, when a student transitions to college, it shakes up many aspects of their life, especially their sense of home.
Each person's experience adjusting to college will be unique, but the common factor is that life in college is different than before. Maybe your student moved out of the house and is now surrounded by strangers in a residence hall that's a lot less comfy than the home they left behind. Maybe they had a group of close friends before college, but now those relationships are difficult. Some students quickly feel more comfortable at college than back home; this can be a different kind of challenge for families.
Losing your sense of home can lead to feeling lonely, uncertain and out of place. While it may not be possible for your student to avoid those feelings, it is possible for them to work through them in a healthy way.
Here's are some things I've learned during my own college journey; I hope this advice helps you support your college student.
When I feel out of place, the thing that makes me feel more comfortable and welcome is being around the right people. I was lonely my freshman year, despite being surrounded by many students and professors. When I began making intentional connections with people who liked the same activities I did, I started developing a sense of “home.”
In high school, I was involved a lot with theater, so I got involved with my university’s theater. I made the same kinds of connections with the theater students in college as I'd enjoyed in high school.
Encourage your student to prioritize engaging in the activities that make them happy. When they do something they genuinely enjoy and meet like-minded people, college will feel more like home. If I pretend to fit in with a group of people just because I want community, it usually doesn’t work out. But when I’m being myself and pursuing my passions, it’s so much easier to make genuine connections with those around me.
My university didn’t really feel like home until my sophomore year. I was hired to be a resident assistant (RA) that year, and this responsibility helped me find the confidence and community that I'd struggled to find as a freshman.
When I first applied for the job, I didn’t even know if I wanted to stay at the school. But I applied because it sounded like a unique way to develop new relationships and to challenge myself. A few weeks into the role, I felt comfortable enough to call that residence hall “home.” Working closely with a team and being in a role where I thrived was all I needed to get there.
What helped even more was exploring the city and meeting people in the local community. Last year my university implemented free bus passes, and this allowed me (a spontaneous, car-less, adventure-loving student) to do and see more.
Now, as a junior, I take the bus at least once a week. Getting off campus is a breath of fresh air from my busy college routine. Most of the time, I visit a new coffee shop and do homework, but other times I get on the bus with no idea where I want to go. Both on the bus and in public spaces, I speak to a lot of locals. I treasure these interactions because I not only get to learn someone’s story, but I get to find out more about the interests, challenges and passions of people who live in the same town as me. The conversations inspire me to get more involved off campus, and as I meet more people and explore more neighborhoods and venues, I feel more at home.
If you and your student haven't settled into a routine of weekly phone or video calls, it's a good idea to do this. It can help with their lingering homesickness and you can check in on their progress in school. As they get more involved, and venture out more, they'll have stories they want to share. Meanwhile, if there's something about home they miss in particular (it's pretty common to be homesick for your pet), you can send them a picture or show them the item during a video call. This will reassure them that they will always have a place to call home with you.
Sometimes it takes a while to find a home away from home. Remind your student of that. It takes intentional effort and a willingness to push through the hard times and embrace the good ones. As long as you’re looking for home, though, you can find it.