A very good morning to our lecturer and my fellow audience. Today, I would like to deliver a speech on a topic that is “homesickness.” If you’re at university for the first time and feeling homesick, you’re certainly not alone. The definition of homesickness is longing for home and family while absent from them. Research shows that 50-70% of new United Kingdom students suffer from homesickness within their first two or three weeks. Most students find their symptoms begin to fade after the third week. Many university students, particularly during their first year, experience distress about being separated from family and community. “Homesickness” is a normal part of college students’ development toward adulthood. Such feelings should be acknowledged and accepted, even when uncomfortable. Lonely feelings can tell you to recognize certain needs and to figure out constructive ways to satisfy them.
While you may be tempted to “escape” by moving back home, a certain amount of enduring and working through such feelings helps you grow into maturity. For instance, while a visit home may help you feel more nurtured and connected, if you come home every weekend, then you are probably missing out on opportunities to cultivate a social life and sense of belonging at university. Therefore, one way to help yourself is by balancing emotional support with encouragement to develop your life. No matter how isolated you feel, loneliness will lessen or disappear if you actively seek out opportunities to make new friends and develop and express your interests.
1. Experience Factors In studies of children at summer camps and boarding schools, the experience factors most predictive of homesickness are little previous experience away from home, little or no previous experience at the camp or school, and young age.5,37 Age, of course, is often a proxy for experience, which is the more powerful predictor. For example, an 8-year-old with lots of experience away from home has less chance of becoming homesick at summer camp than a 12-year-old with very little experience away from home. Experience is probably most valuable when it refines coping strategies.
Not surprisingly, previous experience away from home did not function as a protective factor in a study of hospitalized children.21 This finding suggests that the types of previous separation experiences shape expectations of future separations.38 If early separations are negative experiences, as may be the case with foster placements and traumatic hospitalizations, then expectations of future separations may be negative. This, in turn, causes homesickness, as discussed in the next paragraph.
1. Attitude Factors The belief that homesickness will be strong, coupled with negative first impressions and low expectations for a new environment, is a powerful predictor of homesickness.5 In some ways, expectations of intense homesickness and negative experiences become self-fulfilling prophecies. In a study of college freshmen, perceived absence of social support was a strong predictor of homesickness.39 As noted above, a child’s history of time spent away from home largely shapes his or her attitudes. In a study of boys 8 to 16 years of age spending 2 weeks at camp, a combination of little previous experience away from home, low perceived control, negative attitudes about the separation, and high expectations of homesickness accounted for nearly 70% of the variance in the actual intensity of the boys’ homesickness.5
2. Personality Factors An insecure attachment relationship with primary caregivers is the most common risk factor associated with homesickness.5 In particular, children and adolescents with an “anxious-ambivalent” attachment style are likely to experience significant distress on separation from home. These young people are unsure about how reliably or positively primary caregivers will respond to their displays of distress and may have mixed feelings about how worthy they are of other people’s love and attention. This uncertainty can engender great distress in new social settings with surrogate caregivers. Secure attachment, on the other hand, is associated with independence, a proclivity to explore, and solid social skills, all of which help young people adjust to a novel environment.
Two other personality factors that increase the risk of homesickness are low perceived control (over life in general or the separation itself) and anxious or depressed feelings in the months before a separation.5 In adults, low self-directedness, high harm avoidance, rigidity, and a wishful-thinking coping style all predict homesickness,20,23 although it is unclear whether these traits can be extrapolated downward to children and adolescents.
3. Family Factors The family factor most predictive of homesickness is low “decision control.”5 In other words, when parents force a young person to spend time away, that child or adolescent feels very little decision control. Consequently, he or she is more likely to feel homesick on separation. Other family factors that are weaker predictors of homesickness include caregivers who express anxiety or ambivalence about the separation (eg, “Have a great time at camp. I don’t know what I’ll do without you.”) and the presence of an unresolved negative life event.5 Although conventional wisdom once held that a recent move, divorce, or similarly disruptive event might predispose a child to homesickness, research has not supported that assumption.21 It is plausible that if children have had a chance to process the thoughts and emotions associated with a recent negative life event, they are not at increased risk of homesickness.