Homesickness 101: What to Expect and How to Help
It is normal for your student to experience some degree of homesickness after leaving home for the first time. The familiar environment of home provides a sense of comfort and security, and many students find themselves missing their family, friends, pets, and other comforting objects from home. A new, unfamiliar environment can be stressful and even frightening for some. The good news is that homesickness will often run its course and the intensity will decrease over time as your student becomes more comfortable and confident in the new surroundings.
As a parent, you can help your student cope with homesickness by suggesting a few simple strategies.
- Encourage your student to get involved in activities. Students who are more involved develop a sense of belonging and are more likely to form a social support network.
- Suggest that your student takes a comforting item from home as a “transitional object.” Examples of transitional objects include photos, artwork from home, a favorite pillow, and maybe even a childhood toy.
- Encourage your student to stay in touch. However, it is important to avoid repeatedly checking in several times a day. As a parent you may be inadvertently communicating your own anxiety about your child leaving home.
- Encourage your student to talk to others. It is likely that other students are also experiencing homesickness and it can be comforting to know that they are not alone. Writing in a journal can also be helpful.
- Encourage your student to create a daily routine. It is comforting to have a consistent schedule.
- Encourage your student to eat a good diet, partake in regular exercise, and get enough sleep.
- If your student wants to leave school and come home, encourage them to stay for a semester and then re-evaluate. It is likely that an adjustment will occur by then, and simply offering the option to re-evaluate at a later date can be reassuring.
These strategies will typically help your student to adjust and, consequently, the feelings associated with homesickness should decrease. However for some, the adjustment is more challenging and the feelings associated with homesickness are difficult to manage. The severity of homesickness experienced by your student can depend on a number of different factors. For a small number of students, homesickness could lead to depression. As a parent, it is important to recognize signs that your homesick child may be coming depressed. Some possible signs include:
- Academic decline and/or missing class
- Social isolation
- Sleep disturbance
- Frequent crying
- Lack of appetite
- Somatic symptoms (frequent headaches, stomach aches)
- Use of alcohol and drugs
It is important to note that for the majority of students, homesickness does not lead to depression, but if you believe your student may be experiencing depressive symptoms, encourage them to seek counseling right away.
The Georgia Tech Counseling Center is located on the second floor of the Student Services Building and is open each day from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The Counseling Center offers individual, couples and group counseling free of charge for enrolled Georgia Tech students. Additionally, workshops on a variety of topics (stress management, time management, healthy relationships, finding work you love and many more) are offered throughout the semester. A schedule of dates and times can be found at http://counseling.gatech.edu.