A home away from home. This is really what college is, right? It’s your new home away from the only home you’ve ever known. Everything you are suddenly coming to know is new. New city. New state. New surroundings. New weather. New people. Even new foods and a new bed.
You are in the midst of a transition. The once familiar is now the unfamiliar. The comfortable is now the uncomfortable. And, the ordinary is now the unknown. Just by stepping foot on to campus, you are being placed in a zone of necessary adjustment.
Adjusting to this new life can cause new, foreign feelings; feelings of discomfort, loneliness, emptiness, and other unwelcome sensations. The good news is that this is something that is almost expected when you go through one of the biggest transitions in your life. In a sense, you are supposed to feel these uncharacteristic emotions because your new life is a new reality that leaves you longing for the old-ness you’ve known for the last eighteen years.
The issue is how you react to all of the newness.
Homesickness is a normal reaction to change and transition. It is common and it will pass with time.
But, what do you do with all of these new, strange feelings? How do you stop missing the comfort of your old life? How long until you should feel like college is home?
What to know about college homesickness
Stop expecting “too much, so soon.” Adjustment periods are a time-involved process. The immediacy of wanting to acquire friends and to fit in to certain groups is your mind trying to ease the intense feelings of discomfort. Your brain is saying “you need to hurry and make friends so you’re not so sad.”
The TRUTH is that what you are feeling during the first six weeks of college is not a forever feeling. The feelings of not belonging, missing out, and standing alone in this great big world are temporary. Yes, they are intense, but just like the pain of surgery, this pain goes away with time.
Exercise and develop your social muscle. You have a “social muscle.” It is not exactly shaped like your bicep and it can be under-used or even atrophied, but the idea is that you must build this muscle, through action. Make yourself visible. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Go back to basic (old school) communication skills: smile, compliment, connect glances. Hold the door for someone and say “hello”. These are highly effective ways to strengthen your sociability muscle. Thinking you have to meet your best friend for life in the first weeks of college is unrealistic. Make it your goal to simply converse and be available.
Know that during this transition in life, you will have to rely on your own internal resources. You have the internal strength to overcome these never-before-experienced feelings of homesickness. You are being challenged and that’s okay.
Be patient with yourself. Use your emotional recovery resources of appreciation (of being in school), determination (to succeed) and resilience to thrive through this small challenge.
Homesickness is emotive. You cannot always control the delivery, the outcome, or the timing of the unwanted feelings, but you can control how you respond to them.
5 Practical strategies for homesick college students
1. Show up, stand out, and be visible. Avoid your dorm in between classes. Make appearances to the same places, on the same days at the same time. Glance up from your devices often. Scan your environment. You will start to notice the same people who will become potential conversationalists.
2. Join more than one group or club both on and off campus. Rec Centers, Student Unions, and Student Services are good starting points. “Pick Two” is a good rule. Then, actually GO to a meeting. Don’t allow fear to stop your action steps.
3. Let your passions lead you to others. If you love to bowl, join a bowling club. Start a league. If you love to help others, volunteer. If you find strength in your faith, pursue a church group.
4. Go local before global. Ask your hall mates to form a group chat where you can meet up for meals or breaks. Knock on doors the night before and gather a few breakfast buddies. Deliver warm cookies. Start a fun tradition on your hall like “secret pals” to make friends. Or tell someone that you are feeling BLAH and could use a friend.
5. Down-time faux pas. In class, during “down-time” (beginning of class or during breaks), be the one to start a conversation with the person next to you even if they have their head in their devices. Some basic conversation starters (if you tend to freeze) are:
“What did you think of that quiz?”
“I wish he would let us out early.”
“Do you think we should make a study group for this next test?”
You now have a home away from home. Try your best to welcome all of the newness this life transition brings. No puzzle comes assembled with fitting pieces. No adjustment is linear. And, no four year journey comes without challenges. Keep the big picture and end result in mind.
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Still navigating adulting her own two adult children, Lori Bender. MSW, CTP is in the business of helping college students learn how to manage stress and thrive through college. In the fifth year of operation, her business, Students Stress Less Coaching is all about partnering with students to design effective stress management plans. As for how Lori manages her own stress, well, you can find her loudly singing southern rock and pop music while doing most any activity out in nature…or simply birdwatching, planting, blogging and writing. Throw in a few candles, 5ks, and matcha tea drinks during the week, and her stress is untraceable. Join her on most social media platforms under the business name.