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Student Life

Helping with Homesickness During the Pandemic

Cambria Pilger

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This semester is far from normal. Many classes are completely online while the in-person ones require students to wear masks and keep their distance from one another.

Some students are taking classes from home, and others are braving the dorms. For those living on campus, move-in weekend brought an abnormal slew of stress, with increased safety precautions on top of the usual overwhelm of transitioning to college.

Students are much more restricted in where they can go, who they can spend time with and what they can do this year — but their needs are still the same. Your student may be feeling nervous, homesick or lonely right now and not know where to turn.

And you, the parent, may be searching for ways to show them extra support knowing that, in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, they may not be able to make the occasional visit home and any plans you had to visit for a fall Family Weekend have also been put on hold.

There are still ways to comfort and connect with your student. As a college senior working in Residence Life, I'm happy to share some ideas.

1. Schedule a Virtual Visit

If you can’t visit your student in person, do it online! I know, video calls are starting to feel like an overused mode of communication right now, but you can get creative. Meet your student’s roommate! Show your student some of their favorite memories from home. Ask them to give you a tour of their room, their dorm or even the entire campus. Have a meal together…virtually.

Ever since my freshman year, my family has done weekly video calls. It gives us two hours to catch up on what happened throughout the week and to check in on big and small things in our lives. For me, those calls help remedy the distance (more than 1,000 miles) between us.

2. Send Encouraging Messages

Giving your student a positive, encouraging message can go a long way. Whether they're feeling homesick or not, sending a cute image on social media or a supportive text will brighten their day.

Remind them that you're available if they ever need support and ask if there are tangible ways you might help (sending food, checking in at certain times, talking through a class assignment, etc.).

3. Explore Online Counseling

Counseling can benefit any student. Talking to a counselor is a great chance to process everything going on and get advice from a professional.

If your student can’t go to their college counseling/mental health center, or is reluctant to, consider some online options. Whether they meet weekly or once in a while, connecting with an online counselor could be very beneficial.

Your student can start by seeing if their campus leadership has any recommendations — some universities have online assistance programs in place or will link on the website to recommended off-campus therapy resources. You can help your student identify which counselor or group might be a good fit. There are many online options — I like BetterMynd, a student-focused online therapy site, and Better Help, a comprehensive e-counseling platform.

4. Suggest an Online Group or Activity

If the pandemic limits your student's ability to join the usual clubs or on-campus groups, encourage them to search for one online. There should be lots to choose from depending on their interests: faith groups, clubs for chess and other games, groups that meet for outdoor activities, movie-watching clubs and more.

Some groups meet in person (socially distanced, of course) while others are completely virtual. Help your student look for a supportive online group to keep them socialized during this isolated time. One bonus — if a group is based in their college town, this is a good way to begin getting to know the community beyond campus as they establish a new home away from home.

5. Plan Family Game Nights

Encourage your student to take a break from school and play games with the family. It's a great way to bond, and also a chance to check in on how everything is going.

There is a lot of variety of games you can play, so try out something new each time. The Jackbox Party Pack is a fun, video call-friendly choice. I recommend looking into different online board and card games to find a few the whole family can enjoy!

6. Mail Some Love

One way to feel close to your student is to send a care package. There are pre-made options online, but you can also put together a custom box at home. Ask your student what they need and want, and then use your imagination. You might include a stuffed animal to hug when they feel down, a picture of your hometown to remind them of a place they love, or just loads of snacks to keep them well-fed.

When I lived on campus, I loved receiving packages. Sometimes I didn’t leave campus for weeks and getting a box in the mail helped me feel connected to the larger world. Snacks and coffee/tea were the best gift, but I also enjoyed the occasional spontaneous item my family put into the boxes — the fun little surprises.

7. Focus on the Future

You and your student might not see each other in person for a few months, but if you already know that they will be coming home at Thanksgiving or for winter break, you can both put this exciting date on the calendar. Having something to look forward to is a good way to stay positive during a tough semester.

All in all, check in frequently with your student about their emotional, social and physical health. Ask how you can support them best and be intentional about showing you care. I wish you and your student luck during this time. It is challenging but full of opportunities for growth.

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Cambria Pilger is a recent graduate of Whitworth University. She studied journalism and mass media communication, with minors in Spanish and business. She is a freelance writer and a Communications & Development Admin at a local ministry. Cambria is passionate about understanding humans, exploring the world, thinking deeply, developing skills and getting to know people.
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