Okay, well, the first thing you need to know is that it’s okay to be homesick. It’s normal. In fact, it’s so normal it’s not really a question of whether you’ll get homesick, but how homesick you’ll get. There is nothing wrong with missing your family, friends, and just your old life. It doesn’t mean the new life you’re building will be any less amazing. In fact, since your family and friends will still be there for you if you need them, it’s not really about losing anything but about making your life bigger.
Which is all easy to say. But when you leave home, especially if you’re a freshman and this is the first time you’ve ever left home, it’s going to be tough. You are basically mourning your old life. It’s okay to feel lonely. You won’t feel lonely forever, but for now it can really suck. So here are some ways to deal with homesickness, get through it, and come out the other side living a bigger life in a bigger world.
1. Talk with the people back home…but not too much
This one is easy because it’s probably your first instinct. Curling up with the phone under a blanket and pouring out your heart to your parents is top of a lot of people’s wish lists when they’re homesick. And it’s fine to do that, it really is. Keeping in touch with family and your besties can keep you from missing them too much. But be careful how often you talk. Too many ties from your past can keep you from living in the present. Try to slowly lower the level of contact you have with your parents, until you just talk to them at regularly scheduled times once or twice a week. With friends keep in touch on social media, but try just as hard to make new friends as you’re trying to keep close with old ones.
2. Make your new home like home
This is half the reason people decorate their dorm rooms. It’s taking an unfamiliar space and making it your own. A few strategic childhood stuffed animals can make anywhere feel like your old bedroom, but don’t forget to have fun with your newfound decorative freedom. That said, don’t just stay in your room, go outside and explore campus. Get to know all the hidden nooks and crannies. Find your favorite coffee shop, find a place you like to study, find a path you like to jog. Go back to these places again and again until they feel familiar, until they feel like they’re yours. You can start to draw comfort from a new familiarity.
3. Make new friends
This is going to be hard, and you’ll have to manage your expectations. Making new friends can take a few weeks, making new good friends can take a few months, and making new best friends can take a few years. It has probably been a while since you started socializing from scratch, so you’re going to feel awkward. This is fine. Everyone is feeling awkward. The important thing is to be brave and reach out. If you’re not sure where to even find new people to reach out to, try joining some student groups. Clubs, volunteering, greek life, on campus jobs, they can all be places to meet people with similar interests and potential friends.
4. Beware of nostalgia.
Nostalgia. It’s not just a thing for old white men and the 1950s, it’s a thing for young college girls and their hometowns too. Try not to compare where you’re from with where you are now, you’ll almost always idealize what used to be. Instead, try to think about what you learned from your past and how you’re going to use it now. For instance, if you’re from a small town and you’ve moved to a big city college, you could spend your time being sad about how nobody says hello to each other in the big city like they do back home. Or, you could think about how the friendliness you’ve learned from your small town roots is going to help you make friends more easily and brighten the days of people you meet in the city.
5. Bring what you loved about your home to college
If you had a knitting circle you absolutely adored back home, think about joining or starting a knitting club at your school. If going to church makes you feel safe and loved, find a congregation to join. If you really miss your family dog, volunteer at a local shelter. If you miss a particular food, ask an RA to connect you to someone with a kitchen and make a meal for your new friends. You can still do what you love, just in a new place. Start getting involved in your passions at your new school. It’s a great way to create new connections with your environment, and maybe to make new friends.
6. Find things to love about college
Yeah, there are a lot of things that are different than they were back home. But some of those things are probably actually pretty great. Get yourself to focus on the positive changes. Keep a journal where you keep track of new and interesting things you’ve done. Start updating Instagram a ton with beautiful shots of campus, new friends, and your daily life. You won’t believe what a difference having a record of the good things will make. Once you start making yourself notice the upsides to the big changes, the downsides will seem a lot smaller.
7. Don’t try to find copies, find something new
You’re never going to find clones of your high school bff’s. You just won’t find people who have exactly the same walk or talk or laugh as they did. But you can find new friends, the kinds of people you might never have met before. Similarly, if you join a sports team, the team dynamics won’t be exactly what you left behind. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be great in their own way. Instead of trying to find the perfect replacements for things you miss, try to find things that are equally good.
8. Learn about where you are
Getting to know the history of your school, the social norms, the school traditions, it can all make you feel more secure and less homesick. Think of it like traveling to a foreign country. Studying up on the language and customs can make your trip a lot more fun and a lot less confusing and stressful. Every city, every town, every school will have its own unique culture. There are always unspoken rules at every school, which sounds scary but usually it just has something to do with making sure to participate in certain events or not going to parties at certain frats. The good news is that basically every upper classman will be tickled pink to let you in on the secrets they’ve learned. They’ve been studying this culture for a couple years now and you’ve just asked them about their thesis.
9. Cope with the symptoms
If homesickness is making you sad or stressed, sometimes all you can do is just deal with it. I don’t mean buckle down and power through, I mean taking care of yourself until the sadness or stress fades. Try exercising. Exercise has been proven to help with both depression and anxiety. Take care of yourself. Take a nice long shower. Eat some comfort food, but also remember to eat balanced meals. Get a full eight hours of sleep. Spend a night in with a face mask and a computer tuned to Netflix. If you find the sadness and stress isn’t fading, you should consider going to your campus psychological services. There’s a really unfortunate stigma associated with going to a therapist, but the reality is that helping students of all stripes cope is literally their job. You won’t be the first person to talk to them about homesickness, and you won’t be the last.
10. Be patient
Creating a new home and new routines is a process, a long process. Give yourself a break. This isn’t something you can hurry, and whatever pace it happens at is just fine. You don’t have to be out partying every night. You don’t have to join every club. You don’t have to make ALL THE FRIENDS NOW NOW NOW!!! And don’t expect everything to fall perfectly into place. Be open to changing your mind about an activity or even a person. It could take an entire semester for you to really know what you’re doing around campus, and it will probably be a couple years before you feel like master of all you survey. Basically, give yourself time.
11. Get outside your comfort zone
This is what college is all about! Try something totally and completely new. Something you didn’t have the opportunity to do before. You might find something completely amazing and develop a new passion in life. Yeah, it will be hit and miss. You’ll probably try a bunch of stuff that turns out to not be your cup of tea, but the hits are the point of higher education. Take weird classes, join weird clubs, talk to weird people. Explore!
12. Stay positive!
Just because you feel homesick now doesn’t mean you’ll feel homesick forever. Being homesick is essentially missing what is comfortable and familiar, and eventually you will get comfortable and familiar with college. Think of this as a fresh start and a new horizon. It’s okay to look back, everything that’s happened to you up until now has shaped who you are. It’s important. But keep moving forwards. Remember that you’ve survived 100% of your worst moments. And at college you won’t just survive, you’ll thrive!