No one goes to college expecting to miss home. But according to Liz Sutton, senior associate director of first-year academic initiatives at Wharton, homesickness is more common that you would think.
"Even among those students who think they're not going to feel homesick, it still comes up fairly often and fairly quickly," she tells CNBC Make It.
Most students feel some sadness as they separate from their old lives, but research shows that 1 in 10 will find it hard to function. Those students find themselves emotional and distracted and will struggle to keep a high G.P.A. or even to return to college the next year.
Fortunately, there are several steps that students can take to confront homesickness head on and make sure that their college experience is one for the books.
Change is a process and the feelings that come with that process might be new. Many students have lived in just one town and have known the people from their high school since middle school or even elementary school. New faces mean new patterns and that can be difficult to adjust to. Harder classes mean you might not be getting the grades you're used to. You might wonder if you're in the right place.
Experts remind us that change often comes in phases: A honeymoon phase, that's filled with excitement, a shock phase that can cause you to withdraw and a recovery phase when things start to feel normal again. This roller coaster of emotions will follow you with every change you'll pursue in your life. Knowing that the discomfort you feel now is temporary can help you move forward.
It's easy to miss home when you are sitting alone on your bed. The first step to overcoming homesickness is to get out of your dorm room. Beal says that getting involved is one of the most productive and efficient ways for students to get started building new lives and new patterns.
"Once students proactively get out of the dorm room and go to meetings and register for events and attend guest lectures and take advantage of all that their campus has to offer, they become immersed and realize that there's some pretty interesting stuff in front of them," says Mark Beal, adjunct professor at Rutgers University who interviewed hundreds of college students and recent college grads for his book "101 Lessons They Never Taught You In College." "They just need to get out. You gotta take that first step and get out of the dorm room."
By getting involved in clubs, teams and groups students can begin to fill their days with activities and people that bring them joy.
Of course, an important part of getting out includes seeking out professional help if you need it. If you are dealing with suicidal thoughts or depression, be sure to find mental health resources. Your university likely has resources to help you cope, such as a counseling center.
One of the biggest causes of homesickness is a sense of loneliness says Sutton. "Students are used to being around a lot of people who know them very well: parents, siblings high school teachers," she explains. "And while it's exciting to not really know anybody and get that fresh slate, it can be really stressful and sad to think 'no one here really knows who I am.'"
The most organic way to get over homesickness is to make new friends and foster new relationships. During your first few months give yourself time to connect with the students around you.
Colleges are designed to help students make new connections, so take advantage of opportunities to meet your peers. Ask classmates if they want to study and ask your hall-mates to hang out. You never know who else might be facing a bit of homesickness and by reaching out, you might just find yourself feeling a little less alone.
Finally, don't force yourself to forget about home. Beal says that one of the most important lessons that homesick students should learn is that they can always return.
"Just because you went to college doesn't mean your family disappeared on you. You still have those connections. You can still go back to them for support. You can still physically go back home," he says.
The key, he explains is balancing building new relationships while maintaining your bonds with your friends and family from home.
"Enjoy this new life grow in this new life and evolve and then report back home. I don't know if there needs to be a daily report back to mom every day," he says. "But I think a weekly balanced approach of evolving and growing while still maintaining balanced communication with family members is great."
By stepping outside of your room and your comfort zone, meeting new people and staying in touch with your support systems any student can deal with homesickness and build a new home in college.
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