By now, many schools, colleges, and universities have started up, and that means that some children have traveled away from home to pursue their studies. Whether your child is attending a boarding school or university, homesickness is a very probable ailment. The first time I ever spent away from home was at a one-week summer horseback riding camp, and the first two days were impossibly miserable. By day three, I finally shook off my blues and managed to enjoy myself before going home. The next time I was away from home when I decided to attend college two hours east. The drive down I felt tense, but the tears didn’t start until I was finally in my dorm room, which I initially attributed to the fact that my roommate took the better half of the room but were really just the first symptom of homesickness.
Now, four years later, I’m preparing for graduate school, and moving over 1,000 miles from home to do it. Yesterday, I opened the door to my first grown-up girl apartment, and fought back tears the entire time I unpacked. Was moving this far from home the right decision? Did I make it too lightly? Am I prepared to handle living by myself? I was so nervous, upset, and uptight that I couldn’t enjoy the new city I’ll be calling home for a year.
Nothing that is worth having comes easily, and the process of moving away from home, no matter how near or far, can be extremely difficult. So here are a few things I’ve found have worked for me in the past, from that first painful sleepover to studying abroad overseas. Hopefully they’ll help both of us cope as the school year winds up.
Make it Familiar
There are enough strange, new, and exciting things to get used to when moving away from home, so bringing things that remind you or your child of home isn’t a bad thing. By having familiar objects around that make you feel more comfortable, you can ease some of the homesickness burden. One of the easiest ways to bring familiarity to an unfamiliar place, which is also easily packed, is by bringing lots of pictures of family, friends, and even familiar places. For younger students, just taping photos up on the wall in a collage is a great idea. For older students, who may have their own grown-up apartment, try shopping around for frames.
Having something to look forward to makes almost any situation feel better. By having events that you can anticipate, homesickness may fade away faster. Knowing that family will be coming down for Friends and Family Weekend in four weeks or being picked up for Thanksgiving makes the time spent away from home seem less endless. Of course you’ll meet new people and have great new experiences, but at first you’ll crave the familiarity of home and the people you love there, and having pre-planned time to spend with them posted on the calendar can make the time fly by faster until you feel better.
It may seem easy to sit around and mope when you miss home. While it may not be as easy to get up and participate in your new surroundings, it will make you feel a lot better in the long run. Get out of your room and try doing things on your own. Before you know it, you’ll be making new friends because you decided to take the risk and get out. The first week at college I avoided doing anything, but by the second week I was throwing myself into every possible event. I joined clubs, went to guest lectures, and worked out at the gym. Pretty soon, I started recognizing people at different events, and was making friends. The more I got out, the less homesick I felt.
Talk It Out
In between all the getting out, stay in touch with home. It’s easier than ever to keep the home fires burning. I was a total Skype addict when I studied abroad, and I’m already planning my Skype-capades once my new apartment gets internet on Monday. I love being able to see loved ones from home and friends I’ve made throughout the years, and homesickness is almost impossible when you have your brother making goofy faces at you for half-an-hour. This suggestion does require a word of caution, however. Too much of a good thing, be it Skype or cellphone calls or even postcards, can distract you from the potential your new situation offers. Don’t spend every waking minute glued to your technology so that you can be in touch with everyone at home. What would be the point of going away in the first place? Balance your communication home with new experiences in your new home.
One of the things I’m looking forward to about living alone and in a new place is getting the opportunity to work on things I wouldn’t at home. Set some goals for the time you’re spending away from home! Sure, school and school work will take a lot of your time. When you have downtime on a Tuesday night and nothing is going on, take some me-time and improve on a skill. Do you want to learn to speak French? Take advantage of your freedom and do it! You’re free to reinvent yourself in a new place, so why not do things you’ve always wanted? Besides, achieving goals makes most people feel better!
Add a Twist
So you’re craving New York pizza and all the pizzerias around don’t know what they’re doing. Combine a taste of home with the new by inviting people over for a legit taste of New York. Whether it’s eating food, watching a movie, or doing an activity you miss from home, inviting the new people you’ve met will make it less depressing and more fun.
As a final caution, seek professional help if your homesickness is spiraling way out of control into depression or extreme anxiety. There’s a difference between homesickness and depression, and you need to be aware of the difference. Hopefully your time away from home will be rewarding, and overcoming your homesickness will not be as difficult as you may think it will be right now.