Helping your student through homesickness

Helping your student through homesickness

By Lucy Ewing

Colleges have programs in place to welcome new students, but many first years will still experience homesickness. There are times of the day and family traditions that tug at a freshman’s heart. And there is the effort of making new friends, perhaps the biggest challenge of all.

Students I spoke with recalled missing the smell of waffles, eggs and bacon every morning, or the big Sunday dinner. They missed the comfort of home: “Beds, chairs, and really all furniture at college are pretty uncomfortable!” one student said. (Bargain bungee chairs are not the same as the family sofa.) They missed family and friends and pets, especially at night. That’s when you may get those wistful phone calls.

Just hearing a parent or sibling’s voice can improve a student’s mood and mindset. However, some upperclassmen caution that parents and freshmen calling each other too often can slow the acclimation to campus.

So, too, if campus is close to home, parents might be tempted to offer refuge. This is the time when you remember that your role is changing. The parent in you wants to jump in the car and rush to make things better; instead, think about how you can serve as a coach and advisor to help your student beat the homesickness blues. (Parents, some students’ “blues” may be beyond the scope of homesickness. Find out how to recognize and address this here.)

Remembers one grad: “My mom and I are really close, and in the beginning I really wanted to go home over the weekends. My mom gently suggested that it would be better in the long run if I stuck it out at school.”

Social engagement is key to your student gaining confidence and a sense of belonging. These suggestions were offered by students who have been there and made it through — share them with your freshman.

  • Go to the activity fair or tables set up around campus and join one or two groups.
  • Attend the residence hall movie nights and outdoor hikes planned by your Resident Advisors. “Surround yourself with positive people and energy.”
  • Head to the gym or the dance studio to stretch and work out. “This is very therapeutic.”
  • Attend a church service on campus. Join a choir and sing!
  • Take a shopping trip to the mall with some friends. “We became friends with the clerks at the best yogurt shop in town!”
  • Share care packages from home with everybody. “It usually benefits everyone!”
  • Find a group of people that remind you of your home friends. “If you trust your friends and know they genuinely have your best interest at heart, you will feel comfortable on campus.”
  • Say yes to most invitations in the beginning. “There were many times when I would have rather said ‘no thanks’ to walking to class or getting a meal with new classmates, but if I had I would have missed out on meeting some of my dearest friends.”

The experience of confronting homesickness while settling in at college teaches your student how to negotiate all kinds of new territory.

How do you know when your student has settled in? When the next call you receive sets you at ease — a good sign that your student is working things out for herself. How does your student know the homesickness hump has been hurdled? “I knew I was over my homesickness,” one upperclassman said, “when going back to campus meant going home.”

Lucy Ewing is in her 17th year as a national board certified teacher with the Boulder Valley School District and has been recognized by the Impact on Education Foundation and Jared Polis Foundation. She mentors with the Friends School as well as the University of Colorado CUTeach program for students in science and engineering. Writing is a passion for Lucy. In addition to articles for UniversityParent, she is a Denver Post “Colorado Voices” columnist and a college essay tutor. Lucy is parent to two recent college graduates, and she and her husband love nothing more than visiting them on both coasts.