Addressing Student Homesickness in the Freshman Year
Monday, August 22, 2016
Over the next few weeks, students will arrive on campuses and settle in for the academic year. Studies on student transition and retention have long indicated that the initial emotional and social adjustment can predict attrition as well as or better than academic adjustment. One of these socio-emotional adjustment factors is homesickness. No matter how excited students may be about college life, even the most independent freshmen can find themselves feeling less than happy away from home, family, and friends. International students struggle with similar issues, with added complexities of long-distance travel, immigration rules, and learning to understand the local and national cultures and the U.S. educational system. As students work to adjust to college – and to a new form of adulthood – we can support them along the way.
1. Homesickness is about stress. Tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity may build grit and resilience, but can also be stressful for new students. A misunderstanding with a roommate or a bad exam grade can trigger a wave of emotions. Talk to students about expectations and anticipated challenges. Innovative strategies, like building a visual narrative during an orientation or first-year seminar, can help with shaping meaningful learning experiences that facilitate stress.
2. Homesickness is about control (lack of familiar places and rhythms). Remind your students that what they may be experiencing is normal. Making plans that involve things they enjoy and are excited about will help regain that sense of purpose as students self-manage their days on campus. Motivation follows behavior: as we see ourselves doing things, we feel more confident, are able to think critically, and are more in control of our future.
3. Homesickness is about self-confidence and belonging. Understanding your own and others’ emotions is another important piece of social and emotional learning that has been linked to increased success in several realms, including academic achievement and management of situational stress. Encourage students to meet new people and build relationships on campus that go beyond their major or program; saying hi to a few more people, poking their head into their neighbor’s doorway and introducing themselves. Engagement with other students and staff, especially in remote regional areas, has been linked to facilitating first-year student retention.
Moving through a transition strengthens an individual’s sense of self, maturity and development, leading to growth. Students’ parents know this and often actively seek resources to support their students during their first year in college. Find your own unique