Research shows that up to 70% of students will experience homesickness in their early days at university. It is a normal part of the experience of leaving home. However, even mild homesickness deserves careful attention. It is a reminder of our need to respect our physical and emotional needs at a time of stress. Yet, for some people the results of homesickness are quite disabling, and need additional support from parents, friends or professionals.
Typical physical and emotional symptoms:
- loss of concentration
- crying and sadness
- difficulties in sleeping or eating
- waves of emotion
- disrupted menstrual cycle
- nausea, headaches or dizziness
- trembling, and feeling either too hot or too cold
Typical thought patterns:
- I miss my friends so much
- I need to get home, or at least phone home as often as I can
- I want to be with my family
I am not coping with looking after myself
I hate having to live with people I don’t know
I do not know who I am here
People here really do not like me
It’s like prison. I don’t belong here
I want to cry especially when I am by myself
Everyone else seems fine. Why am I the odd one out?
So what is homesickness? Why am I experiencing it?
From the moment we are born we make emotional bonds with people, things and places. Gradually these bonds build up to form a hopefully stable environment. When we leave home, we experience a sense of real loss, a bit like grief if a friend or someone else close to us dies. Like grief this loss is natural and usually resolves itself over time. However, it is possible for this loss either to “get stuck” or to be particularly intense.
The problem is that many people tend to judge themselves harshly, because they think that they should be able to cope, but cannot. Homesickness is not a sign of weakness. You might be surprised as to how many other students feel like you do. Yet, homesickness can be astonishingly de-skilling. Work and concentration may not come easily.
Some groups of people are particularly prone to feel homesick. You are more likely to feel this if:
- You have experienced, perhaps recently, another form of loss or grief
- You have a family member who you are particularly worried about, perhaps because they are ill
- You are wrestling with anxiety or depression
- You come from a particularly close family
- You are, paradoxically, from a divided family, or a family that struggles to communicate. This can leave you with worries and unresolved tensions that are difficult to leave behind
- You live a long way from Warwick. The separation can feel more painful because of this
- You are an international student, who feels a long way from home, and who is struggling to deal with a very different culture
Everyone may go through different phases of settling in:
- Honeymoon Phase - excited by all the changes of a new environment
- Difficult/shock Phase - feeling nervous and uncertain; maybe experience physical symptoms (see above); maybe feel lonely, missing the familiarity of home relationships; maybe want to withdraw; feel tearful/irritated/upset
- Recovery Phase - begin to feel ok
- Independence/Autonomy Phase - enthusasitc again and able to integrate new experiences as trust develops to function well in the new situation. This can be a time of energy and creativity with widened experience bringing fresh opportunities.
These are some of the feelings you may experience:
Moving through homesickness to settling in
There is a wide range of reactions to being away from home, particularly for the first time. While these may pass quickly, always be prepared to seek help from tutors, the University Counselling Service, the Office for Global Engagement or your GP. In the past, the following have been found helpful:
- Take time to get used to living at Warwick. Don’t be harsh on yourself if it feels tough
- Make your room feel as much like a new home as you can. Make it feel lived in, but cared for
- Value friends as you make them. Be open to potential friends even if they do not replace the family and friends you miss
- Talk to friends about how you feel. You are not alone
- Experiment with belonging to one or more of the many University societies. (See the Students’ Union website: www.sunion.warwick.ac.uk.)
- Give yourself credit for what you are doing OK. Homesickness can adversely affect self-esteem, and vice versa
- Homesickness can give you a jaundiced view of what you are doing and of what Warwick is like. Challenge negative evaluations
- Going back home, or phoning home very frequently, is a mixed blessing. Some say it should be avoided, while others find it good and consoling. Experiment to discover what pattern works for you
- Give yourself permission to enjoy things here, even if you miss home a lot
- If home is a difficult place for you, you may feel ambivalent about being away from it. It can feel like bringing unfinished business with you. This will be an inevitable stress. Be gentle with yourself about it
- Homesickness can affect work. See your personal tutor in your department as soon as possible, if work feels an issue. It is a widely experienced thing. Yet, some people can feel ashamed of not coping
- Look after your physical well-being. Do not neglect yourself. Sleep, food and exercise are all important
- Check your personal organisation. Have you a clear and helpful diary or personal organiser? Does your room or somewhere else feel an organised place to work?
- Be realistic about when and to what extent you will feel better
- Keep a diary, journal or blog to check your progress
- Above all, realise that for some people homesickness brings to the surface other, longer term personal and emotional issues. Be prepared to seek help
- Personal tutors or others in your department
- The University Counselling Service (UCS)
- http://www.worc.ac.uk/movingon/Moving%20On.pdf A guide to preparing for university life
- The Chaplaincy. See: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/chaplaincy
For international students there is useful information at: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/ofge , also see http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/counselling/informationpages/culture_shock/
International students who want to meet a family from the UK who is separate from the University can visit www.hostuk.org
The University of Warwick cannot be responsible for the content of other websites.