Many university students, particularly during their first year, experience distress about being separated from family and community. “Homesickness” is a normal part of students’ development toward adulthood. Such feelings should be acknowledged and accepted, even when uncomfortable. Lonely feelings can tell your student to recognize certain needs and to figure out constructive ways to satisfy them.
While you may be tempted to “rescue” your son or daughter, a certain amount of enduring and working through such feelings helps the student to grow into maturity. For instance, while a visit home may help a homesick student feel more nurtured and connected, if the student comes home every weekend, then s/he is probably missing out on opportunities to cultivate a social life and sense of belonging at UO. Therefore, one way to help your student is by balancing emotional support with compassionate encouragement to develop their life in Eugene. No matter how isolated a student feels, his/her loneliness will lessen or disappear if the student actively seeks out opportunities to make new friends and develop and express their interests.
Following are things that you might share to help your student feel more connected to the university community and less dependent on home.
Making New Friends: Be with people. Even if you don’t have a close relationship or friendship at this time, you still need other people in your life. Consider the following:
- Eat your meals or go to movies with others.
- Join clubs, do volunteer work or participate in campus activities where you will meet others. The Emerald lists many free activities.
- Remember, it’s normal to feel shy when meeting new people, but with practice you will be more relaxed. What do you have to lose by trying?
- Remember that lasting friendships develop gradually. There’s no pressure to make a best friend or to rush into intimacies.
- Enjoying Your Time Alone: Whether or not you have friends around, you can still enjoy many activities. Make a list of things you’d really like to do, such as:
- Physical exercise, basketball, jogging, yoga, or aerobic dance.
- Keep things in your environment that you can enjoy alone (such as books, puzzles, arts and crafts, or music)
- Start a personal journal. Or keep a scrapbook of poems, advice, letters, photos that are comforting and meaningful to you.
- Do something you’ve wanted to do, like going to a concert or art museum, seeing a movie, exploring Eugene, hiking the Butte.
- Listen to your favorite music on the stereo, dance to it, learn to play a musical instrument.
- Help someone else. Do volunteer work, help friends, groom your pet. Focus on loving rather than on being loved.
- Positive Attitude: We tend to confuse being alone with being lonely. Our usual attitude is that loneliness is miserable and something to be desperately avoided. Here are some creative attitudes to consider:
- Being alone gives you time to discover new things about yourself and become a stronger person.
- Many sources of interest and pleasure exist besides other people and romantic love.
- There are advantages to not being in a relationship.
Creative Self-Talk: What we think or tell ourselves (self-talk) influences what we feel. Here are some beneficial things to tell yourself when you feel homesick.
- Just because I’m alone now doesn’t mean I’ll always be alone.
- Although I’d rather be with my friends/family at home tonight, being here in Eugene is okay.
- Being lonely doesn’t mean something is wrong with me. I can calmly experience loneliness and learn to grow creatively from the time with myself.
- Everybody — even the most popular students — get lonely at times.
- I don’t like being rejected, but I won’t be destroyed by it.
- Other people do care about me. (list them in your mind)
- I care about myself. I am here with myself, which is pretty good company, some of the best, in fact!
Finally, it is okay for a homesick student to come home occasionally to get emotionally recharged. Parenting at this age can be thought of as a balance between providing support and encouraging opportunities for independence and personal growth.
Brooks Morse, Ph.D.