Homesickness: Refuting the Myths

Health and wellness

Daniel Botros

With three-fourths of the student body from outside of Ohio, it would come to nobody’s surprise that homesickness exists on Case Western Reserve University’s campus. However, the concept of homesickness is largely misunderstood. Here is a list of the top five misconceptions.

Misconception #1: Homesickness is most prevalent among students who come from outside of Ohio.

In-state and even commuter students have an equally difficult time adjusting to college life.  Homesickness is not a function of one’s distance from home but rather one’s ability to adapt to something to which they are not accustomed.

The transition from high school to college is a dynamic one: friends move away, responsibilities increase, and most importantly, support systems change.  This is reflected in the recruitment timelines of CWRU’s clubs and Greek life; both aggressively advertise early in the fall and spring semesters when students are most likely to seek out a sense of community.

Despite not being far form home in the literal sense, commuter students still face the daunting task of adjusting.  Psychologist, Dr. Aarti Pyati of the counseling center claims that commuters face a different kind of homesickness in which they find “difficulty fitting in different priorities from home and from school.” Commuters often have trouble immersing themselves into campus life and often miss out on non-formal forms of student interaction.

Surprisingly, international students less frequently show signs of homesickness. This may of course be due to culturally induced lack of self-reporting, but Dr. Pyati offers another explanation: international students often begin their U.S. education in high school and are better adapted to the transition to college. These students know what they are signing up for when they decide to study in a different country.

Misconception #2: Homesickness is easy to identify because it is usually found in sad introverts.

Both introverts and extroverts can feel homesickness. However, it can be manifested differently depending on the person. Dr. Pyati states how often the underlying cause of a student’s poor academic performance, relationship issues, and substance abuse problems is homesickness. Though there is a clear link between homesickness and other commonly reported issues, students are not likely to report the former.  Homesickness is perceived by many as a “childish emotion” and a sign of immaturity thus many students are ashamed to admit they are experiencing it.

Misconception #3: Homesickness is a mild form of depression.

Homesickness and depression are often confused. Dr. Pyati says the indicator of distinction is a person’s “functionality.” A person who is self-motivated to engage in activities and interact with others is not depressed, even though he or she may be experiencing homesickness. A red flag arises when a person,for an extended period of time, is no longer willing to participate in activities he or she normally would. Simply put, homesick people seek out enjoyment while depressed people do not.

Misconception #4: Connecting with or visiting people back home is a good way of alleviating homesickness.

Though it is not a bad idea to bring a memento or picture from home, reconnection with home too frequently can prolong or even worsen homesickness.  First-year coordinator Kaleena Rolitsky advises students to allow some time to make friends and find their niche in the campus community. She encourages homesick students to “try to stay on campus for at least two weeks before visiting home.”

Misconception #5: Homesickness is most common among freshmen.

You read that right; first-year students do not experience homesickness the most.  According to Dr. Pyati, seniors experience homesickness more than any other class.  Seniors often suffer from pre-emptive homesickness due to uncertainty about the future.  Difficulty coping with the idea of parting with friends, moving to a new location or entering the workforce contribute to this unique form of homesickness. Surrounded by peers enjoying their final year at CWRU, seniors are often reluctant to speak about their anxiety of graduating.

Maryam Zeinomar is a sophomore supplemental instruction leader and an avid member of the Muslim Student Association and Autism Speaks. In an interview she shared the feelings of homesickness she experienced during her freshman year.

Question: Did you feel homesick your first semester of college?
Answer: Yes. The first two months of college were the hardest of my life. Being away from my family was very difficult.  When my parents dropped me off I didn’t know what to do, I felt so alone.

Q: Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?
A: A little bit of both.  I value alone time but I like getting involved and hanging out with my friends too.

Q: Did freshman orientation lessen your homesickness?
A: No, for me it made it worse! It was too much at once and not gradual; I couldn’t handle it.

Q: What do you recommend to students who feel homesickness?
A: Talk to people you trust. Don’t worry about feeling judged; everyone goes through it to some degree. Chances are they will be able to relate.

Q: How does it how do you feel over a year after you were dropped off?
A: I still do feel a little homesick sometimes but it is not as bad as before. CWRU has become a second home for me, I have my own family here.

Daniel Botros is a senior biology major with minors in anthropology and chemistry. In his time at case he has been an SI, RA, and has studied abroad in Spain, Italy, and France. He has a particular interest in health education.