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Most people have felt homesick at some time in their lives, perhaps when they were younger, and its easy to forget just how overwhelming it can be. Beginning a new life at school creates both excitement and anxiety about the move, handling school, and making new friends. For some the adjustment happens fairly quickly, but for many its a painful journey that may last a few weeks and involve homesickness.

Symptoms of homesickness may include feelings of mild depression or anxiety, obsessive thoughts and minor physical ailments. Homesickness can often be distinguished from depression in that those who experience depression often feel very unhappy both at home and at college, whereas in homesickness your student may idealize home as a great place to be but feel very unhappy at school.

Research on homesickness among college students shows that although 70% of new students experience some homesickness, only 5% to 15% have more serious symptoms that may require intervention. Homesickness sometimes begins several weeks before leaving home, in anticipation of the impending changes, but most commonly occurs during the first few days or weeks of school.

Risk Factors

Students are not protected from homesickness just because they have successfully experienced leaving home before. Homesickness may be influenced by factors such as the distance from home, disappointment about unmet expectations, or the degree to which the student feels responsible for the decision to come to college. Those who feel less in control of decisions or who have unrealistic expectations are at greater risk for feeling homesick.

Finally, temperament may play a role. As most parents know, some children grow up with an attitude toward exploring and taking on new challenges and risks while others approach life with more caution. Facing the dual tasks of leaving the familiar comforts and supports of home while having to adapt to new surroundings and unfamiliar people can feel overwhelming if your sons or daughters temperament is one that shies away from risk.

How You Can Help

As a parent, you may feel powerless to help your son or daughter with this transition, but there are things you can do.

  • Build realistic expectations - Your student may feel that their reactions are unusual or strange, so reassure your student that it is very normal to feel homesick after such a big life change.  Remind them that they are not alone. Most likely others are sharing similar feelings even though it may appear to your son or daughter that everyone else is doing fine. Convey your belief that your son or daughter will get through this difficult time.
  • Encourage - Encourage your son or daughter to take steps to work through their feelings. They might try going to dinner with others on their residence hall floor, or joining a group on campus. You might encourage your son or daughter to keep in touch with the people they have left behind, but also encourage them to not spend so much time looking back that it prevents them from moving forward. They might make plans to have friends visit campus or welcome a family visit during family weekend. Gently reassure them that relationships often change after high school as people head out in different directions.
  • Remain calm and moderate - It may be tempting to try and "save them" by encouraging them to come home every weekend, but, instead, try to encourage a quick trip home or a brief visit that doesn't remove them from chances to get more involved socially at college. Sometimes a phone call may be all that's needed. Surprise packages mailed to their residence hall, maybe with a caring letter and cookies or a visit to go out to dinner may help your son or daughter feel recharged enough to attempt to stay at school over the weekend. Whatever options you choose, consider whether that will prevent them from adjusting to their new surroundings.

Encourage Your Student to Talk with a Counselor

Finally, if things do not improve or begin to affect your son or daughter to such a degree that they are having difficulty eating, sleeping, or getting through the day,encourage them to talk with a counselor at the Student Counseling Services. Counseling may help your son or daughter find the support and coping skills they need to meet the challenges they may face while attending Illinois State, or to determine what the next steps should be. Counseling appointments can be made by your son or daughter by phoning (309) 438-3655 and asking for an initial appointment.