I’ll never forget the day my parents dropped me off at college. I’d been anticipating this for months with nothing but growing excitement. When we hugged goodbye, I didn’t even get emotional; I was ready for this! But within an hour of being left in my dorm room to finish unpacking, I felt an unexpected wave of emotion in the pit of my stomach. I turned on some favorite music (a sure-fire solution to bust up a sad mood) only to be told by an RA to turn it down. Suddenly all I wanted was my mom and dad! A strange sense of regret over my decision to leave home washed over me. I was homesick.
Thankfully, for me, it didn’t last for long. But homesickness is a real thing, most often experienced as a mix of depressive and anxious feelings associated with missing home and all that is familiar. Stats say that around 70% of college freshman will experience it on some level, so don’t be surprised if it creeps in at some point along your journey. But when it does, know there are ways to cope. Here are a handful of tried and true recommendations:
Get Busy. There is a time to accept our emotions and feel them…to linger and let ourselves experience them fully…to grieve a bit over what we have left behind. All of this is good and healthy. But there is also a time when distractions can be helpful. So when your roommate asks if you want to grab a bite to eat, say yes! Better yet: be the one to initiate. Or lace up your running shoes and get some exercise. Do your laundry. Find something to do and do it. Sometimes we get stuck in an emotional rut simply because we sit with our sadness so long instead of simply moving.
Maintain Balanced Connections. Technology is a great asset for staying in close contact with friends and family you’ve left behind. It’s wonderful to take advantage and stay in touch. Sometimes just hearing the voice of someone you love can be an instant comfort, so by all means reach out. But recognize your need for distance as well. Studies have shown that college students who thrive most are those who experience both parental support and the challenges of autonomy. In other words, if you are in constant communication with mom and dad over every detail of your day, it may actually be making your adjustment harder in the long run. Consider setting up weekly times for a check-in phone call, and keep your texting to a minimum. Stay mentally present in your new environment. And strongly fight the desire to retreat into the temporary “comfort” of social media when you’re feeling down; it will be counterproductive to your overall growth in this new season.
Let God In. Your experience with homesickness is not a surprise to God. He already knows. Go ahead and let him in. Psalm 18:6 says, “In my distress I called to the Lord, to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” David spends the rest of the Psalm talking about how God delivered him from trouble, and also equipped him to walk through it. God not only cares, He is also able to help you through. Spend some time journaling or take a prayer walk and express how you’re feeling. Ask your Father to supply you with comfort, peace, strength and hope. Ask Him to provide new friends. Ask Him to ease your pain with His presence. A quote from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goldfinch says, “When you feel homesick…just look up. Because the moon is the same wherever you go.” Even more comforting is the fact that God is the same wherever you go! Our longings are always an invitation to lean into His arms and seek a sense of joy and “Home” in the One who created us, knows us and who is ever-present.
Ride Through the Waves. Homesickness is an emotion that will ebb and flow. When a wave rolls in accept it, observe it, and refuse to let it suck you under. As the novelty of college wears off and you find yourself longing for just one well-known face or your old routine, resist the urge to “hole up.” Instead, push yourself to venture outward to meet new people, explore your surroundings and try new things. Change is hard, and our minds are naturally resistant to it, but the only way to adjust is to go through it with God at our side. Eventually what feels foreign and uncomfortable will become your new normal. The rolling waves will dissipate and you’ll experience smooth sailing once again!