Homesick students need help from universities, study says

Universities should ensure they have strategies to stop students feeling homesick as they begin their studies, experts say.

September 22, 2013

While most students currently arriving at campuses for freshers’ week will be relishing their new life away from home, many will also suffer intense homesickness, according to a report published in the Journal of American College Health, titled “Homesickness and Adjustment in University Students”.

Adapting to a new lifestyle, culture, environment and even a foreign language are likely to play some part in homesickness, as will social anxiety, the challenge of making new friends and the pressure to succeed in academic, athletic or artistic pursuits, say the report’s authors.

“These and other challenges often instill self-doubt and force an uncomfortable recalibration of young adults’ academic and social self-concepts,” the authors say.

“The changes to new students’ routines, diets, social milieu, geographical setting, and perceived demands can induce intense homesickness.”

Universities should provide a “warm, fun, relaxed orientation where incoming students have a chance to connect socially and familiarize themselves with the school before classes begin”, the report says.

They should also “promote health and general wellness” on campus by ensuring “wholesome activities” and “culturally sensitive and creative dining services” are available, it adds.

“Teach students to cope effectively by talking with a trusted peer, doing something fun and physical, making new friends, thinking positively about school, keeping time in perspective, getting into university school life, and sustaining the coping effort,” the authors recommend.

Advisers helping students should seek to “normalize” homesickness, so that “students are reassured that everyone misses something about home”, the report adds.

Universities should help “students [to] reframe their intense homesickness as a positive reflection of the loving attachment they have to the people, places, and things at home,” it says.

Students should also make an effort to visit their intended university, find out about their course and possible extracurricular activities before they arrive to ensure they hit the ground running and are not homesick, the report says.

Parents should encourage their children to spend time away from home before they embark on their studies and should plan how they will communicate their offspring during their studies, though they should take care not to become an “emotional crutch” for their children.

The report was authored by Christopher Thurber, a psychologist andcounsellorat Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school in the US state of New Hampshire, and Edward A. Walton, a professor in pediatric medicine at Oakland University’s William Beaumont School of Medicine in Michigan.

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