"Homesickness is not always a vague, nostalgic, almost beautiful emotion, although that is somehow the way we always seem to picture it in our mind. It can be a terribly keen blade, not just a sickness in metaphor but in fact as well. It can change the way one looks at the world; the faces one sees in the street look not just indifferent but ugly.... perhaps even malignant. Homesickness is a real sickness—the ache of the uprooted plant.” -Stephen King

The rush of a new semester is fading fast… and reality has set in. Reading, writing, lectures, quizzes, assignments, work… it’s all so busy, it’s all so tiring, it’s all so… different. It’s… it’s…

It’s not home. And maybe we don’t say it out loud, but sometimes, we wish we were home.

What is Homesickness?

Well, first of all, it’s old. It’s in Exodus and it’s in Homer's "Odyssey.”

Second, everybody gets it. Homesickness is not uncommon, especially when the shiny newness of college is starting to wear off and the daily life of study, exams, and other responsibilities is all we can see, all the way to the horizon.

All that to say, what you're feeling is completely natural. But just knowing that isn't terribly helpful.

What does homesickness feel like? Any of these sound familiar?

  • Feelings of anxiety about separation from loved ones.
  • Anxiety about your performance.
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Being disturbed that all these other believers you just met seem to have really different beliefs and standards than you do.
  • Feeling different from others who look like they’re having a good time.
  • Feeling depressed/sad with low motivation to study or make friends.
  • Yearning for a connection to a "special someone" who will take the pain away and make everything all right.
  • Constantly thinking about home.

“{Homesickness] stems from our instinctive need for love, protection and security -- feelings and qualities usually associated with home,” said Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama. “You're not literally just missing your house. You're missing what's normal, what is routine, the larger sense of social space, because those are the things that help us survive,” Klapow says. "[Students] think something's terribly wrong. But it's normal and adaptive to feel homesick for some period of time. It's just your emotions and mind telling you you're out of your element.”

Why do we get homesick?

"There are things that we love," said Chris Thurber, a clinical psychologist with the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. "It's the byproduct of the strength of our attachment. If there were nothing in the world we were attached to, then we wouldn't miss them when we're away.”

Most of these things are true of all human beings, but they seem magnified at college:

  • We tend to gravitate toward the familiar and comfortable and avoid things that may cause pain or discomfort.
  • Change always presents a challenge –even positive change creates a level of uneasiness.
  • Our tolerance for change often depends upon past experiences and how you learned to cope with unfamiliar surroundings.
  • In familiar settings, people generally feel more accepted and secure and are therefore likely to feel more confident in meeting challenges.
  • In new surroundings, we do not have past experiences or support systems to fall back on and are therefore more likely to experience less confidence and self-esteem. Things that were once easy are now challenging or seemingly impossible.

Lots of students go from feeling like a big (well, at least well-known) fish in high school to being a small fish in a big ocean at college. You spent four years climbing the ladder from freshman to senior… and now you’re a freshman again!

Also, there are so many new responsibilities: your course load is probably heavier, there's a lot of reading and work to do outside of class, you might be handling your own finances, keeping your own schedule, and learning how to balance all of the commitments and activities you're involved with. You’re exhausted!

Now, it’s important to note that homesickness is not the same as depression. Students who are depressed do not experience relief from their symptoms—even if they go home for the weekend or engage in their favorite activity. Students who are homesick find that when they leave school and spend time at home, their depressive symptoms disappear.

But I Was Doing Great!

“Hey, my roommate was a basket case on Opening Weekend, and I was handling it just fine. Now, she’s fine, and I’m not so great…”

Some students will experience mild symptoms of depression and anxiety several weeks before leaving home. Other students feel fine at first, but as the excitement fades several weeks into the semester, or during semester breaks (or even up until the beginning of their second year), they start experiencing homesickness.

What Makes It Worse?

  • Don’t deflect or deny the feelings. Kelci Lynn Lucier of USNews says “Give yourself a day here and there to be sad—and then move on: If you're really struggling one day, just let yourself be sad and miss home. After all, there are probably legitimate things about being home that anyone in your situation would miss. The key with this plan, however, is to let yourself be sad for just one day. And after that one day passes, you have to move on. Get out of your room, go to a campus event, plan a study session with some friends, join a club, and make sure to focus on all the great things your school has to offer.”
  • Don’t try to cover up feelings of homesickness. Manically filling your life with activity, even if it’s something like ministry, is just covering up the problem the way other people do with drugs or alcohol.
  • Don't go home every chance you get: If you live 45 minutes away and have a car, it’s tempting to want to run home whenever you’re lonely or miss someone, but sticking it out is really the best way to get over homesickness. The more you can be at school making new connections, the faster the homesickness will go away.


So Then What Do I Do About It?

The thing is, though your struggles might be common ones, that doesn't mean they don't hurt. There’s no way to prevent homesickness, but here’s a top-ten of ways to cope:

  1. Get out of your room (says Lucier of USNews): “Chances are, you're most homesick when you're back in your room, Skyping with your friends, family, and boyfriend/girlfriend, or talking on the phone with the ones you miss the most. While it's OK to talk to the folks back home, it can sometimes turn into an unhealthy habit—and one that makes your homesickness worse. If you find yourself lonely and homesick in your room, make yourself go to a campus coffee shop and do your reading there. Head to a computer lab to write your paper, even if you have your own laptop. Study outside... Challenge yourself to get out of your room and be around other people.”
  2. Join a club or group that shares your interests and/or background. You'll likely make some new friends who (like you) have a passion for country music, or search out new and weird cheeses, or love Star Wars. Suddenly you realize that there's a piece of your 'old world' that exists here too, and you're having new experiences that with time will become the things you’ll end up missing about college when you're done.

[“OK,” says Lucier, “so you missed the club fair in the quad and you don't really know too many people and it’s several weeks into the semester. No problem! The nice thing about college is that it isn't as clique-filled as high school. People drop in and out of clubs, student organizations, and social circles all the time. Go to the Office of Student Activities (or your campus equivalent) and ask to see a list of clubs. See if there are still ministry opportunities (note: there will be!). Ask that group of smarties in your chemistry class if you can join them at their study session on Thursday. It's never too late!”]

  1. Or get involved with a new activity or a class that’s out of your comfort zone! Biola is a fantastic opportunity to experiment with new things. And if you're not connected to a local church yet, you're waiting for... what?
  2. Try to make new friends by talking with those on your floor or in class. If that’s still too hard, try talking to your RA, your RD, someone in Commuter Life, one of your Profs, someone in Student Development. Hey, this is even a great reason to come talk to someone in the Career Center!
  3. You think you have nothing in common with these people? Well, they’re probably homesick too. Talking about home and the things you miss might even allow you to hear about other people's worries and break down some of those walls. Maybe it's awkward to ask someone to pray for you... but it's pretty cool to ask someone if you can pray for them.
  4. Establish a balance between work and play; you cannot expect to study or work all the time or you’ll soon burn out. On the other hand, if you don’t put enough time into studying, you can easily get behind, which only compounds the stress! Be realistic about what to expect from college life and from yourself.
  5. Try to maintain healthy eating and sleeping habits. If you stay up till 3 a.m. Skyping night after night with bags of Doritos and Peanut M&Ms (just 'cause you can!), you're going to catch the first bug that comes around... and then you're going to feel even worse. If we ignore our health, our immune system suffers, and that makes it more difficult to stay healthy both physically and emotionally.
  6. According to Dr. Klapow, a big part of feeling homesick is feeling uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. Get more familiar with Biola's campus and the surrounding area by walking around and exploring, either alone or with friends. Of course, be smart about walking alone at night!
  7. Exercise and sports are a great way to meet new people and reduce stress. Sign up for Intramurals!

And Number 1, take your thoughts captive:

  • If you are engaging in negative thoughts about yourself, your new environment, and your life in general, more than likely your symptoms of homesickness will intensify rather than subside.
  • So, instead of saying: "I don’t fit in here. I want to transfer,” you might try saying: “I am learning how to adjust here. It’s already easier to do some things than when I first arrived. I’m getting this!”
  • Instead of saying: “I hate making changes. I’m too nervous to relax here,” try saying: “I need to calm down and take this one step at a time. I’ve been upset and anxious before and I’ve managed to get by and even grew some by hanging in there.”
  • Limit the amount of time you consciously think of home. Focus on what you can do right now right here.
  • Accept that you are feeling a sense of loss and discomfort. It may take some time for you to feel as comfortable here as you do at home. But you are capable of surviving these feelings if you allow yourself to calm down and get oriented. The same God that gave you comfort and joy back at home is here with you now.

What If None Of These Things Work?

If you continue to feel distress, do not hesitate to talk to your RA, someone in Commuter Life, or a Student Development staff member (including our Student Care team). Biola also has a fully-staffed Counseling Center with deeply discounted rates for students. Seeking and receiving support early on can help alleviate symptoms of homesickness.

You are not alone! Most college students experience homesickness. It’s okay to feel sad and homesick… and you’re also allowed to enjoy yourself—that isn’t being disloyal to those you miss!

While homesickness can be painful, it can also be an opportunity to grow beyond what we are. It’s a chance to take charge of our life and learn new skills for dealing with our emotions (and those of others). It's a chance to prove to ourselves (and others?) that our faith is our own, and that we are learning to turn to Jesus in tough times. Handling college homesickness well can really help build your 'adaptable-to-change' muscles, increase your self-esteem and sense of competence... and grow your faith that God wants the best for you, at all times, in all things.

"But this treasure we have is in jars of clay, so that we understand clearly that the surpassing greatness of this power is from God and not from ourselves; [so even though] we are afflicted in every way, we are not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; knocked down, but not destroyed..." -2 Corinthians 4.

Sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/08/16/homesickness.not.about.home/index.html

http://www.socc.edu/esps/pgs/bm~doc/homesick.pdf

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/10/how-to-deal-with-homesickness_n_3900033.html