How to cope with homesickness

| September 6, 2023

We have all, at some time or another, wondered what life could be if we could spread our wings and explore the world beyond our hometown. The new and exciting experiences and people we’re sure to meet are enticing reasons to set sail in wide open waters. Thoughts of who we’d be and what we’d do can consume every second of our daydreams. For some, college move-in day was just that! An escape! The start of a long-awaited adventure…

…until the middle of the semester begins to set in and classes are overwhelming. The food in the dining halls just doesn’t taste like your favorite meal from home. You notice that you’re feeling sad more often, and daydreaming about special memories made with family and friends from home. While there are exciting new people to meet in class or at the career fair, you are not quite sure if they’ll like you and find yourself feeling anxious and unsure of yourself for the first time.

If any of this sounds familiar, it could signify that you are experiencing homesickness. Homesickness reflects the emotional and physical distress some people experience due to separation from home, family, friends, and/or key attachments. Individuals impacted by homesickness may face anxiety, loneliness, increased sadness, some timidity towards engaging with the new environment, and pervasive thoughts of home. Most will confront this phenomenon at some point in life, and it is common among university students.

Dr. Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist in the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, suggests that homesickness is more than a set of physical and emotional symptoms. Dr. Klapow argues that homesickness reflects the attachments we hold and a sense of stability, comfort, familiarity, safety, and connection. Homesickness ultimately signifies our connection to the things, people, moments, and places that mean the most to us.

While exciting and new, the start of life on a college campus can feel like a disconnection from all that you’ve known and find significant. Thus, the newness of the environment and an introduction to a new way of life full of independence can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of stress.

Don’t you worry! Homesickness does not have to consume the whole of this momentous time in your life. Below are six helpful tips for managing homesickness and adjusting to Hopkins life:

1. Establish your routine.

Researchers suggest that structure to your daily life gives you a sense of mastery and supports feeling grounded. Whether its eating breakfast after a quick visit to the gym to start each morning, or drinking chamomile tea while journaling to end the day, having that “thing” that you absolutely do each day can be the key to quelling the stress of it all.

2. Engage in activities that spark a sense of connectedness to home.

It’s common to fear that starting a new life in a new place will erase the memories of what once was. But hanging pictures, scheduling a bi-weekly video call home, or preparing your own meal every Sunday in honor of Sunday dinners back home all serve as bridging activities to maintain your connection to home while forging your new path at college.

3. Utilize your social supports.

Friends and/or our chosen family provide the encouragement, uplift, and support we need in tough moments. Their willingness to lend a listening ear or helping hand stands to increase one’s sense of belonging, thus offsetting the isolation that can come with homesickness.

4. Get involved.

Hopkins is bustling with various activities, student organizations, and clubs. Whatever your passions and interests, there is sure to be an organization that spotlights just that. Your involvement helps to integrate you into the fabric of the campus environment, expand your routine, and provide unique opportunities to interact with new people and hopefully establish lasting friendships.

5. Take advantage of mental health resources.

Johns Hopkins has an array of mental health resources geared towards ensuring your overall well-being. There are lots of options available to Hopkins students, including individual therapy, group therapy, workshops, and programming aimed at addressing the various concerns students might encounter during this time in their lives. Even if you aren’t quite sure if therapy is right for you, the Homewood Counseling Center offers online drop-in mental health service that offers informal, confidential, and one-on-one visits for students to meet with a staff member. If you have questions about mental health, want to get strategies for managing stress/academics/life, or find resources that fit your needs and identities, don’t hesitate to reach out!

6. Be kind and gentle towards yourself.

This thing that you’re doing…you know, leaving all that you’re familiar with and taking on the unknown of college or grad school life and academic courses…it can be challenging! Not only are you learning a new environment, but you are also learning more about yourself in the process; it is not easy. You deserve kindness, compassion, and understanding as you so bravely do a hard thing! Try not to get down on yourself if homesickness creeps in.

Remember that discomfort is normal to the process of transitioning. Give yourself time; there’s no one way to do this right. Take a deep breath, and trust that you’ve got this.