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Homesickness

The majority of first-year university students will experience some level of homesickness. Most settle down within a few weeks, but a small number do not, and may need considerable support over the first month or two. Of these, a few will decide to leave due to inability to cope with the symptoms.

Some factors increase the likelihood of experiencing homesickness: for example, never having been away from home before; arriving unexpectedly at university, perhaps through Clearing; low self esteem; exceptionally close emotional ties with family or a partner at home. International students will face the additional challenge of adapting to an unfamiliar culture.

Symptoms can include:Close up of student studying plants

  • Missing home
  • Feeling lonely, depressed and anxious                                
  • Inability to stop telephoning home
  • Feeling lost
  • Constant ruminations about the past
  • Being absent-minded
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling ill
  • Constantly crying.              

Symptoms can occur at different times including:

  • When something is happening at home which students cannot get involved in or feel excluded from
  • It can be a big shock after Freshers' Week when reality starts to sink in
  • When feeling unwell, as it becomes difficult to get day to day things done
  • If everyone else in a shared house or group of friends goes home
  • When budgeting difficulties arise or students are coping with things that parents would normally have dealt with.

Homesickness does not just occur in the first year; it can be caused by a change of circumstance.

  • It can be difficult if parents change their circumstance whilst students are away – parents moving house or separating can lead to stress and homesickness.

How can Tutors support students who are homesick?

The student is faced with the dilemma that going home would 'solve' the problem of homesickness, but at the expense of personal/parental ambitions of a successful university career, potential condemnation by others for leaving over a 'trivial' problem, and the fear that he or she may be unable to make a success of future opportunities as the homesickness may recur. An important function of the Tutor is therefore to 'give permission' to the student to be homesick, to accept it as normal, and to discuss it with them. This will help to reduce anxiety and reassure the student.

Tutors can also suggest practical steps the student can take. The student could be encouraged to plan activities for the morning (for example arranging for others to collect them for breakfast, physical activities etc.), to pre-empt the build up of feelings of homesickness. For most students, having a 'good' relationship (someone to take an interest in them, to talk to and do things with) with transitional figures is important for the first few weeks. Tutors may be able to facilitate a 'buddy' pairing or grouping among tutees for this purpose. Few such pairings or groups will last, but are nevertheless very valuable in the transition period. Most important of all is to encourage the student to commit fully to involvement in university life, for example through their Hall or by joining clubs and societies: in making new friends and identifying with the University their sense of belonging will grow and their homesickness diminish.

In a few cases, symptoms will be so severe (constant crying, inability to think about anything else) as to make ordinary life virtually impossible. Such cases should be referred to Counselling and Wellbeing as soon as possible to encourage the student to be proactive and help them manage their difficulties.

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