After hanging your last outfit up in the closet, you look around in satisfaction. This is it, your first step toward independence — college. You kiss your family goodbye and promise them, for what seems like the billionth time, that you will call home at least once a week. But as the door closes behind them, and you’re left standing alone in your dorm room, you suddenly realize something. You miss them.

The feeling of homesickness

Every year, young adults choose to take on the world themselves by leaving home and going away to college. The idea of paving their own way and making their own decisions leads to a sense of exhilaration at first, but for some that giddy feeling soon gives way to a sense of emptiness as a longing for home creeps over them.

In a survey of 81 students, only about 15 percent reported feeling homesick often. However, about 69 percent said they felt that homesickness was a noticeable additive to stress levels while at college. This was reported to be most commonly felt during midterm and finals weeks, the time when everything suddenly happens at once. As one respondent also put it, “Near the end of semesters, I start [to] miss home a lot because I know how close I am to being done, and I start thinking about being home finally, and this makes more stress because I’m constantly thinking about it.”

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What it is and what it does to you

According to a study by Christopher A. Thurber, PhD; Edward Walton, MD; and the Council on School Health called “Preventing and Treating Homesickness,” published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, homesickness is defined as “the distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and attachment objects such as parents.” Unsurprisingly, Teen Health from Nemours, a nonprofit children’s health organization, cites going away to college as a common trigger for homesickness.

Dhruv Padmakumar is a sophomore international student at Ithaca College. Born in Mumbai (Bombay) and currently living in Bangalore, India.

“I was home for winter break,” Padmakumar said. “I wasn’t supposed to go home for winter break, but I surprised my parents and brought tickets and went home. It was because I was missing them.”

But it’s not just about familiar faces; other aspects also tie into homesick feelings. For Padmakumar, he also said getting accustomed to things like driving, as driving in the U.S. is much different than in India, was tough. He also said he misses the food from back home.

“[Homesickness isn’t] like a scheduled thing, it’s just that things will happen. For example, today I was feeling homesick because they had Indian food at the Towers [Dining Hall], and the Indian food is so bad,” Padmakumar said. “Well, I won’t say it’s ‘so bad,’ but it’s par. It’s average. And then I’m like, ‘Oh my god, my mom makes this so much better,’ and it makes me think of home.”

How people cope

For the most part, survey respondents said when they were feeling homesick, they called their parents to catch up. While texting is good for quick updates, there’s nothing like hearing the sound of someone’s voice to pick your mood up. There’s also:

  1. Hanging out with friends. Being with friends helps you to get your mind off of your negative emotions, as well as give you positive reinforcement at the same time.
  2. Going for a walk. Similar to the above, this can help clear your head. A nice walk through nature or around the town can give you something else to think about.
  3. Cry. Sometimes there’s no better solution than to just cry things out. And that’s OK.

For more tips on how to de-stress, check out my previous article about how students cope with lack of sleep due to late-night jobs while still keeping up their schoolwork.

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