Coping with Homesickness
A half-empty glass problem
With the arrival of a new school year, many college students, especially new ones, must contend with a common malady: homesickness. It’s a problem I dealt with rather poorly when I went off to college. I wish I’d had the understanding and perspective that I’ve since gained. Well, it’s too late for me, but at least I can now share what I’ve learned and potentially help others cope.
Simply put, homesickness is akin to seeing a glass half empty instead of half full. In the worst case, where the new place is devoid of familiar faces and things, the glass appears totally empty. You look around and see all the people and places that aren’t there, the ones that home offers.
What to do? The obvious answer—the one that brings the quickest relief—may ultimately be the wrong answer. If you can’t be home, the caring people you miss will bring home to you. They will send you things from home to make you more comfortable. They’ll connect with you by phone and internet, updating you on the latest happenings, to help you feel that you’re still with them.
But does that really fix the problem? Or does it only increase the longing for home by reinforcing your focus on what’s missing? This is not to say that a phone call from mom and dad is harmful, but as comforting as it may be, it’s certainly no cure for homesickness.
So your task is to see what’s in the glass and ideally fill it further. How? Think like a tourist. It sounds simple but unfortunately for me, this was a mentality I hadn’t acquired as a teenager in a family that rarely traveled.
What do tourists do? They look for new and interesting sights and experiences. That would include museums, entertainment venues, sports and cultural events, nightlife, and maybe some local cuisine. And of course there’s my favorite: parks with natural wonders. A tourist would be drawn to things that are unavailable at home. That’s important because those things make the new place special, and they are what fills the glass.
Now, you can sightsee on your own, but it’s often easier and more fun when you have some company. That’s an opportunity to make new friends, maybe some locals who can show you around. Asking for advice about what to see and do in a new area is an easy way to gain a buddy. Or you might seek others in the same boat as you, people eager to make the best of being away from home. And if those new friendships develop, they will further fill the glass since they are directly tied to the new place.
Of course if you’re away at school, you have work to do; it’s not a
vacation. On the other hand, you’ll be there longer than a week or two,
so over the course of months, you ought to be able to find some free
time to be a tourist and explore your new surroundings. And the positive
impact on your well-being, which affects your work, shouldn’t be
There’s no place like home, so don’t expect to completely eliminate your
feelings of homesickness, which are entirely normal. But those yearnings
shouldn’t be so overwhelming that they blind you to the opportunities to
enjoy life in your new place. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you go
home and start to miss the new people and things you’ve discovered. In
the end, you may even welcome the chance to show visiting family or
friends the place that has become your second home.