College is something that no class, teacher, parent, or friend, can ever really prepare you for. You receive a plethora of advice from your elders or even some peers that have already gone through a year or two of college. Things like time management, getting enough sleep, putting yourself out there, going to class, and getting to know your professors are common tips that a newly emerging college freshman will receive. Last summer, as I was getting ready to embark on the new adventure in my life, attending Penn State, I heard all of this and then some from everyone in my life. I felt ready to take on the next four years. My mom and I raided Bed Bath & Beyond so I would have everything colored coordinated from my bedding, to my desk organizers, to my pillows, to my shower caddy. This was followed by going to staples and leaving with notebooks and binders galore. I felt ready to take on this next chapter of my life.
However, I believe you are never truly ready until you are actually there, emerged in the college culture. It’s a big, and sometimes scary, adjustment. In reality, nothing is stopping you from laying in your room all day, only getting up to get chicken fingers from the commons. Nothing is stopping you from going out every night until 2 in the morning. This new environment and responsibility can make it very easy to miss home and having your parents around, catering for your every need. I definitely felt this way the beginning of freshman year, as well as every time I come back after being home for a break. So I decided to look into the science behind being homesick.
What is homesickness?
HERE Duke professor Mark Leary gives his take on homesickness describing how it is an emotion that comes with feeling out of place and without your usual support system. This is exactly what moving away for college is doing so it is easy to see how this is an emotion that a lot of college students have felt at one point or another. Professor Leary also talks about how it can just be a plethora of emotions merging together to put one in the state of being homesick.
This article from CNN includes a personal story about Keila Pena-Hernandez and her experience when she moved from her home of Puerto Rico to the completely new environment of the University of Missouri. This is clearly a bigger move than someone like me who went from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, but still relatable. She talks about the hype and excitement of a new experience but after this honeymoon period the loneliness and anxiety start to hit you. The article makes an interesting parallel of how the emotion is the same for people of all ages and caused by the same type of change in environment. This was fascinating because I feel like the cause of certain emotions like sadness, fear, or happiness are different depending on your age, but that is not the case when it comes to homesickness.
How do you cure it?
There is no medicinal cure for homesickness but there are things you can do in your life to help alleviate the emotion. Obviously, as time goes on you will become more accustomed to your new environment. However, it is super important to get involved so you can build a support system at your home away from home. Keeping in touch with family and friends on a regular basis is important, but having people around you that you can call in a time of need, or just to hang out with will help keep you sane. Especially at a school like Penn State it’s crucial to find your place and make the big school feel small.