Starting University can be challenging. It’s a time of change – it might be your first time away from home, you may be moving to a different area or country and it could be the first time that you’ve had to be properly responsible for yourself – and you may have high expectations about how much fun it’s going to be. At BU we do hope you find starting university fun and exciting and we offer lots of activities and events to help you settle in and make new friends. However we also know that it’s very common to feel homesick. Research shows that 50-70% of new UK students suffer from homesickness to some extent within in their first two or three weeks so you’re not alone. Homesickness can be quite a personal feeling that not everyone feels comfortable talking about, so there's a chance those around you are feeling the same way, but just not talking about it.
Feeling homesick is not a sign of weakness and there’s no reported difference between the sexes in its incidence.
What is homesickness?
Typical physical and emotional symptoms include:
- loss of concentration
- crying and sadness
- difficulties in sleeping or eating
- waves of emotion
- disrupted menstrual cycle
- nausea, headaches or dizziness
- trembling, and feeling either too hot or too cold
Typical thought patterns can include:
- I miss my friends so much
- I need to get home, or at least phone home as often as I can
- I want to be with my family
- I am not coping with looking after myself
- I hate having to live with people I don’t know
- I do not know who I am here
- People here really do not like me
- It’s like prison. I don’t belong here
- I want to cry especially when I am by myself
- Everyone else seems fine. Why am I the odd one out?
- So what is homesickness? Why am I experiencing it?
What causes Homesickness?
From the moment we are born we make emotional bonds with people, things and places. Gradually these bonds build up to form a hopefully stable environment. When we leave home, we experience a sense of real loss, a bit like grief if a friend or someone else close to us dies. Like grief this loss is natural and usually resolves itself over time. However, it is possible for this loss either to “get stuck” or to be particularly intense.
The problem is that many people tend to judge themselves harshly, because they think that they should be able to cope, but cannot. Homesickness is not a sign of weakness. You might be surprised as to how many other students feel like you do. Yet, homesickness can be astonishingly de-skilling. Work and concentration may not come easily.
Some groups of people are particularly prone to feel homesick. You are more likely to feel this if:
- You have experienced, perhaps recently, another form of loss or grief
- You have a family member who you are particularly worried about, perhaps because they are ill
- You are wrestling with anxiety or depression
- You come from a particularly close family
- You are, paradoxically, from a divided family, or a family that struggles to communicate. This can leave you with worries and unresolved tensions that are difficult to leave behind
- You live a long way from Bournemouth. The separation can feel more painful because of this
- You are an international student, who feels a long way from home, and who is struggling to deal with a very different culture
Here’s BU’s top tips with dealing with Homesickness
- Don't give yourself a hard time. Lots of students are feeling the same way and it is perfectly normal.
- Make your new room your own by decorating it with familiar things from home. But don’t spend too much time alone in your room!
- Meet new people. You could join a club, society or the university choir or get a part-time job. It’s difficult to make the effort when you’re feeling down, but making new contacts will help. Keeping busy will help take your mind off your homesickness too.
- Get out and about and explore the local area. Bournemouth, Poole and the surrounding area has loads to offer so take the time to find out about it.
- Sign up for volunteering, not only will it give you the opportunity to meet new people and try new things, it looks great on your CV.
- Plan things into your day that you enjoy doing and can look forward to, whether it's socialising with friends or a nice hot bath and episode of Bake Off.
- Stay in touch with family but give yourself time to settle in before arranging a visit home, as it may make your homesickness worse. Invite friends and family to visit you instead.
- Be realistic about what to expect from university life. Sometimes not everything falls into place at once, but many students go on to have a fantastic time once they adjust.
- Make sure you get enough sleep and try to eat a healthy diet. This is really important as if you’re already feeling a bit down this can have a huge impact on your mood. If you are going to drink alcohol don’t overdo it.
- If the difficulty of the course has come as a shock, seek help. University study can be different to your previous learning experience. Your Academic Advisor, PAL leader or the Study Skills team can help you adjust to new ways of learning.
- Don’t worry about your finances, seek help. Contact SUBU Advice for help with budgeting or apply for a part-time job through MyCareerHub.
- Most students find their homesickness fades and do not need formal wellbeing support. However, if homesickness is affecting your ability to take part in social or academic activities, consider contacting Student Wellbeing.
(Note: With thanks to the University of Warwick Counselling Service)